Humans have made many fantastic discoveries: fire, the wheel, refrigeration, Netflix, etc. But there is one discovery that has been truly revolutionary; without it, the entire world as we know it would not even be possible. That discovery, the greatest of all time I believe, is the tiny but mighty little marvel, the transistor.

Some of my fondest memories are of lying on a towel at either Rockaway Beach or Jones Beach, watching the beautiful blue ocean and the golden tanned girls while listening to a transistor radio tuned to 770AM WABC and “Cousin Brucie” in the sixties. Groups like the Supremes, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones never sounded better than on those tinny little speakers.

Of course, technology always marches on and transistor radios became “boom boxes,” which ruined it for everybody. But personal portable music in any form was still revolutionary at the time, and it was all made possible due to the transistor.

Prior to transistors, there were vacuum tubes that did the same thing, but they were delicate, got hot, and burned out often. It used to be you could actually take the back off your TV, pull out the vacuum tubes, and run down to the drug store where you could test them yourself in a special machine. Imagine that, repairing something rather than throwing it away. What a novel concept!

Transistors, by being so much smaller and more dependable than vacuum tubes, allowed all the technology we are so familiar with today — cell phones, computers, satellites, and so much more — to be possible. We take them for granted because they are invisible but they are working hard for us all the time.

Plus they are stone-axe simple, just a grain of sand (actually silicon) that has been “doped” with some other elements to make that sand into something special, by being able to conduct electricity some of the time, and not conduct it other times. That’s why transistors are called “semiconductors.” Let’s talk about how these mighty little guys work.

Imagine you’re driving down the Northway, past Crossgates Mall, and you get all the way to the end. Now you’re waiting at the light on Western Avenue. So you’re pointing straight, and you can only go left or right.

Well, a transistor has three leads. In our example, where you’re in your car staring at the light is one lead. To the east of the light, going toward Albany, is the second lead, and to the west of the light, going toward Schenectady, is the third lead.

From your perspective, when the light is red, cars can move east and west, but when the light is green, they can’t go anywhere. The transistor functions like a switch, just like the traffic light. This switching action is exactly what a transistor does, over and over again, very speedily, cheaply, and supremely reliably.

By functioning as a simple switch, transistors made cell phones and computers and ventilators and just about everything in our modern digital world possible. Digital means something that is “off” is represented as a zero, and something that is “on” is represented as a one.

All around us — in the air and in the wires and cables — these zeroes and ones fly around making us connected to each other as never before in human history. Without the miniaturization of the now-ubiquitous transistor, none of this would have been possible (for better or worse if you are on social media).

If all transistors did was this switching or on-off function, that would be enough to make them the greatest invention of all time. Keep reading though, because as they say on late night info-mercials: “But wait, there’s more!”

Imagine you’re outside holding your garden hose. If you squeeze the trigger just a little bit, you’ll get a little bit of water flow. If you squeeze the trigger all the way, you’ll get the most water flow. If you modulate the trigger between a little and all the way you’ll get a corresponding amount of water flow.

The point is: A very small movement of your hand controls the flow of a large amount of water. Well, if you put a little bit of electricity on one leg of the transistor, a little bit of it will flow across the other two legs, but if you put a lot of electricity on the one leg, a much larger amount can be controlled on the other two legs.

This ability of a small amount of electrical current controlling a much larger amount is called amplification. It’s what allowed those small speakers in the original transistor radios to make sound that we could hear without those big and bulky vacuum tubes.

This combination of switching and amplifying is what makes the transistor the greatest invention of all time. Nothing else comes close.

For me, every time my car starts right up I think of transistors. It used to be that cars had carburetors with so-called “automatic chokes.” Depending on the outside temperature and when the car had last run, you had to press on the gas pedal one or two times before you tried to start the car.

If you got it wrong, you flooded the engine and then had to sit there and wait. Not a good thing when you had to be to your class or your job right away. EFI, or Electronic Fuel Injection, which enables modern cars to just start right up virtually all the time, is made possible because of transistors. Wow. What a miracle.

Electronics hobbyists like me can still buy single or “discrete” transistors, but it’s much more common nowadays to find transistors packed in tightly on “integrated circuits.” Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel, stated many decades ago that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit “chip” would double approximately every 18 months, and by gosh he’s been right even to this day, though someday the laws of physics will finally stop it.

But consider this – the average smartphone contains 460 billion transistors. That is quite something!

In Albany and in Malta, we have “chip fab” plants that make computer chips. The most common kind of transistor they make for these chips is called a MOS-FET, which stands for Metal Oxide Semiconductor – Field Effect Transistor.

In fact, the MOS-FET is the single most produced item in human history, at thirteen sextillion (a sextillion is a 1 followed by 21 zeros) and counting. Holy moly.

Transistors are truly miraculous devices that help our cars start, let us fly to the moon and beyond, and make our lives better in so many ways. I’m just glad I got to be alive during the time of the transistor.

Handsome, strong, and talented boxer Muhammad Ali always said he was “the greatest.” To many, he was, but I’ll vote for the transistor any day.

On days when I telecommute from my home due to the coronavirus, I sit in my first-floor office, with the computer on the right and a window facing the street on the left. This setup presents an interesting dichotomy: the real world on the left and the world of work on the right. I’d really much rather be back in my real office, but at least I don’t have to wear a mask at home.

My day starts early in the morning, when I simultaneously open the window and boot up the computer. I usually have the radio on as well, either news or classical music (the early morning waltzes are really great, they make you feel like dancing).

Since I work in information technology, a lot of my job entails what is euphemistically called “putting out fires,” i.e., fixing stuff that is broken. Fortunately, things run pretty smoothly for the most part so that’s good.

There are still meetings and all the other tasks that make for a work week but, if you just stare at the screen, for all practical purposes, it’s like being at work, minus the small talk, doughnuts, water cooler, and the myriad other sounds and smells of office life. I never wanted to mix home and work like this, but it is what it is, at least for the time being or until I retire.

Then there is the window, my portal to the outside world. Surprisingly, things in the neighborhood happen in a very predictable pattern. In fact, it’s so regimented and repeatable my neighbors should be happy I’m not a thief, haha.

First, there are the dog walkers. In some cases, the dogs are so big it looks like they’re pulling along their person, who is acting as a brake. In other cases, the dogs are so small — some the size of cats — that they have to run to keep up with the person who is just walking.

There is even one lady who carries a small brown dog in a kind of harness, like a purse with dangling legs, a wet nose, and a tail. I don’t know what that’s all about.

Sometimes one of the dogs will pee right on my front lawn. When that happens, for the rest of that morning, every other dog that passes by will stop right at that spot and often add a little pee of their own.

Imagine what that’s like: “Hey, Mary was here, and she had asparagus last night! Let me congratulate her.”

What a different world dogs live in. I would love to have a dog, I really would, but trailing behind an animal with a plastic bag filled with its poop is just a leap I’m not willing to make at this time. What I’d really like to know is why it’s taking so long to invent Pampers for dogs.

There are a lot of couples that walk past my house on a regular basis. Many of them are neighbors I know. Interestingly, when they walk they just walk. It doesn’t appear they are talking at all.

When I walk with my wife, she is constantly telling me to lower my voice, because it’s naturally loud and she doesn’t want me to broadcast our family business. Maybe I should try not talking. Seems to work well for everybody else.

Of course there are bicycle riders. Some of them, all leaned over with their forearms on the handlebars and decked out in brightly colored clingy spandex, look like they made a wrong turn at the Tour de France. When I find time to ride my bicycle I’m sitting up straight and wearing sweatpants.

I like the idea of riding to get in shape, but I’m not sure I can handle “the look.” I know, if you ride 50 miles those duds wick away sweat and prevent chafing and all that. But you don’t need a helmet when you go running, so there.

One day a week, the guys in the big truck come by to take the garbage and the recyclables. One guy drives the rig, the other hangs off the back like a cowboy riding a horse side-saddle.

Then they both hook the pails to the big arm on the truck as it flips them to ingest the contents. You would think this was automatic, but the guys are there as this happens, moving stuff around, making sure the pails empty, and sorting stuff as it falls (lets face it, we all put stuff in the recycling bin that we hope is recyclable but is probably not).

I was so impressed watching these guys work — something I never saw when I was commuting to work — that I got them each a gift card to Dunkin. They do good, honest work; they work hard; and they deserve it. Any time someone does a good job for you, at a minimum, let them know how satisfied you are.

I live on the side of the street where the mail comes early, so that’s good. Yes, it’s mostly bills but I get magazines and packages and the occasional letter or postcard, so it’s always something to look forward to.

UPS is different — they are always in a hurry, hyper even. I like them, but I think their policy of not allowing facial hair is not right. Nicely trimmed beards and mustaches make a guy look handsome. And why are there no UPS ladies?

Sometimes we get FedEx. They’re more laid back than UPS but more intense than USPS. How interesting that they all have their little quirks.

There are a lot of kids out with their parents since the schools closed. Sometimes it’s like a mother duck or bear, with the kids trailing along in single file.

When they’re on bicycles, however, the parents usually ride sweep, so they can keep an eye on things from the rear. Whatever, it’s just good to see the kids getting outside. There is always time for TV and video games in the house (and reading if they know what’s good for them).

My wife doesn’t have a lot of free time, but she has been getting out for walks with several friends lately. That’s good. Wish I could join them. I have to wait until my work day is over, when I can use the saved time from not commuting to do something fun or something around the house.

Not a lot of traffic where I live, but there is some. Fortunately, in my neighborhood, the cars that go by generally adhere to the speed limit. This is good because there are no sidewalks and a lot of folks are out on the street as I’ve described.

You can often tell by the sound when a car is going too fast. Big trucks are easily noticed by the roar and the rumble in the ground. And when the riding mowers, leaf blowers, and weed whackers all start up, switch to the rock station and turn up the music!

There’s one guy who runs by every day in gym clothes. I call him “Rocky” because he looks like he’s training for a boxing match.

Then there are three ladies who always walk together in a row and talk nonstop. They’re the coffee klatch. And there are a lot of pretty young runners who fly on by. Some of them even pass me when I’m out jogging, the nerve of them.

It’s all good though. Nice to know there is life in the community.

The neighbors’ houses I can see from my window are all quiet during the day, except when the kids visit. Then it’s a flurry of activity as the flock returns to the nest, often with their own flock in tow. Busy, busy, busy! The cycle of life continues.

I didn’t ask to be a telecommuter; it was forced on me due to circumstances beyond my control. I’m slowly adjusting to it. Life goes on.

As the holidays approached this year, I wanted to do something special with the guitar, even though I’m only a new player. Due to all the sadness over the covid, I was hoping to spread some cheer for my family and friends by finding something to play and post on social media.

Then one day, in one of my lesson books, I found it: a slimmed-down version of “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven, played only with single notes on the first two strings, with no difficult chord changes to mess up. Even I could handle that.

I practiced the piece over and over. I never got to the point where I just had it “in my fingers” though; I still had to have the sheet music in front of me. But I figured the sight of me playing from reading sheet music would add to the whole “hell must have frozen over” effect of me playing any music in any way, shape, or form.

I’m over 60 and I’ve only just started playing. Making music is still very new and strange to me. When I even attempt it, I often imagine it’s kind of like how those iguanas that fall out of the trees in Florida when the temperature gets close to freezing must feel.

So I practiced, practiced, and practiced, until it was finally Christmas Eve. At that point, I arranged a chair and a music stand besides our brightly decorated Christmas tree. Then I roped my daughter in to assist.

I set my phone to record video, and instructed her to click record after counting down by saying “3 - 2 - 1,” at which point I would begin the piece. And then quickly bomb. This sequence of her counting down and me bombing happened over and over again. Sigh.

What happened was I got so nervous the minute she hit “record” that I could feel butterflies in my stomach, as the saying goes. At that point, I realized that practicing alone by yourself in your jammies at your leisure is not the same as playing “live.” I had been practicing the music, but I had not been practicing the performance.

Watching and hearing this, my professional musician wife chimed in: “Now you know how I felt when we’d have a party and you’d ask me to just go play something on the piano or the organ out of the blue.” Point taken.

She is of course right, but what did I know. It took me playing music myself to finally realize it. Good thing I do a good job taking care of her car and motorcycle, haha.

I’ve been a member of Toastmasters for years. This is the worldwide club for people who want to improve their public speaking and communications skills. I’ve won trophies in public speaking, I’ve won speech contests, and I’ve mentored other public speakers.

All this training and experience has helped me immensely in getting up in front of a crowd at work, at church, or any place where I need to communicate to a group. I still get a little anxious at first, so I tend to speak too fast until my breathing calms down, but I have no problem speaking in front of people.

Yet all this wonderful practice and training didn’t help me get the notes of the guitar straight once the filming started.

They say, as long as you keep learning you’ll never grow old. At this pace, I’m going to be immortal.

At any rate, I did post the video of me playing “Ode to Joy.” In it, you can see me grimace when I make a mistake. After about 20 retakes, I finally just posted one and washed my hands of it.

My friends and family gave me a lot of likes, so that was great, but knowing I’d done it so much better in practice leaves me truly humbled. Next year, I hope to find another piece, practice the hell out of it, and do better. Something to strive for.

I have many musician friends who play in bands and make it look so easy. In fact, one of my guitar books had a chapter on performing for others. It said, when playing live, just ignore any mistakes and move on, because most listeners won’t even notice them. Apparently this is one reason professional musicians find studio recording, where you strive for perfection, much more stressful than playing live.

All I know is I’m in awe of anyone who can play anything well in front of other people. My hat is off to all of you, from the neophyte fifth-grade musicians in the school band, to the top-notch orchestra at The Met that supports world-class tenors and sopranos, to each and every hardworking and dedicated choir member and church musician. You are all, each and every one of you, my heroes.

If you are a musician or have a musician friend or relative, I very highly recommend the book “Practicing: a Musician’s Return to Music,” by Glenn Kurtz, from 2007, www.vintagebooks.com. This heartfelt little book is about a very promising classical guitarist who returns to his instrument after many years of not playing.

The prose flows like honey, a visceral dive into the pain and passion a true music lover goes though in the dogged pursuit of his or her craft. This is a short book, so buy several copies and give them as gifts to your musician friends and relatives. You’ll be a big hit for sure, trust me.

Playing music in my twilight years after being a devoted listener my whole life is proving to be an exciting and immersive journey, a true “ode to joy.” Amazing.

P.S. If you promise not to make fun of my orange Crocs, or the fact that my shirt is on backwards, you can see my halting performance at https://tinyurl.com/y7dgwwpr.

The other day — Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in fact — I woke up dead. I knew I was dead because it was way past when I normally get up and I couldn’t feel or sense anything as I lay there in bed.

Surprisingly, being dead was not that much different than being alive. It was actually very relaxing, in a trance-like way. Kind of like being at a zoning board meeting.

There was one big difference about waking up dead. What happened was a movie started playing in my head. It was like the credits at the end of a movie, not the movie itself.

It started to list all the clubs I was a member of back when I was alive. Here’s the thing, though: I’ve been in a lot of clubs over the years, but the screen in my head was listing clubs I never knew I’d been a member of.

The first club listed was People who Blame their Parents for not being Perfect. Turns out this is a huge club (they listed the membership at the time I died and it was a big, long number with a lot of commas in it).

Among the reasons I was a member of this club was that I never got music lessons or swimming lessons or went to Disneyland or even had a yard or basement to play in. Still, I grew up in a loving Italian family and we ate like royalty every Sunday, so I was surprised I was in this club.

The things you find out when you wake up dead!

The movie kept scrolling. The next club listed was People who think they could have Done So Much More. This was strange as well.

I mean, when I was alive, I was a college graduate with a good job, a beautiful wife, and three educated, working, successful children. I had a lot of friends, tried to be a good person, and helped out whenever I could.

Then it pointed out that I at one time had a full scholarship to one of the best engineering schools in the country, but that I threw it away to live like I was in my own daily “Animal House” movie from my teens to my early twenties. Ouch.

I try not to think about that so much, because it really did happen. Somehow things turned out OK anyway, despite my best attempts otherwise.

Finding out when you’re dead what clubs you were a member of when you were alive isn’t always that great.

The movie screen kept scrolling. The next club I had been a member of was People who don't know when to Shut Up. Oddly, I had known all along when I was alive that I had been a member of this club, but that didn’t stop me from putting my foot in my mouth on a regular basis.

This is a really interesting club to be in. Why? Imagine you’re at a party and you ask the hostess, who is, shall we say, not slim, when she’s due. She then gives you The Eye and says “I’m not pregnant.”

From that moment on, for the rest of your life, you will be known in that circle as The Jerk Who Thought She Was Pregnant. That's why the People who don’t know when to Shut Up club is so extraordinary. It’s benefits never go away, even when you very much want them to.

I could go on but I’m sure you get the drift. Other clubs I had been a member of when I was alive, without even knowing it, kept on scrolling by:

— People who really don't want to know what's under those kilts;

— People who get suckered into political arguments on Facebook;

— People who wonder why men no longer have chest hair;

— People who are not as funny as they think they are;

— People who should listen more;

— People who shop at Walmart and then complain that nothing is made in the USA;

— People who think nobody can hear them passing gas;

— People who actually think the Minnesota Vikings will win a Super Bowl someday;

— People who hold grudges, like, for a long time;

— People who don't "get" cats even though the rest of the world is crazy about them;

— People who think pineapple on pizza should be a crime; and

— People with toenails that are in fact weapons.

Then the very last club appeared. It was called People who can Still Learn to Forgive.

The membership count for this club was, unfortunately, very small. This one was accompanied by a really deep, heavenly voice, like the guy in the Allstate commercial (“You're in good hands”).

The voice said, and I’m not making this up: “Frank, you did indeed wake up dead today but, if you agree to join this club — People who can Still Learn to Forgive — we'll agree to let you live so you can see your grandson again and ride your motorcycle and learn to play a few songs on the guitar. But you must promise to really make an effort to learn to forgive. It’s that important.”

The next thing I knew, my eyes opened, I reached over to feel if my lovely wife was still there (she was), and I realized that I was going to be allowed to live again. Hot dawg!

Waking up dead turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’ve already forgiven David Chase for ending “The Sopranos” (spoiler alert) with a blank screen, and I’m working on forgiving Stewart’s for getting rid of Star Gazer Lite ice cream.

Who knows who or what I’ll forgive next!

One of the most famous Old Testament stories is that of the Tower of Babel. It goes like this: After the Great Flood, all people spoke the same language. Then they got the idea to build a city with a tower as high as Heaven.

When God got wind of this, he didn’t like it at all. Maybe he hadn’t had his coffee that day. Truth be told, the Old Testament God was often a little cranky, to put it mildly. So he scattered all the people throughout the Earth, and as an extra bonus he made everyone speak different languages as well. Was he having a bad day or what?

I’ve always wondered how different it would be if one could approach someone from another place or culture and speak their language. Can you imagine how transformative that would be? It would be so easy to establish a rapport with them.

There is actually a language called Esperanto that was created to be one common world language but it never really took off. No one except language junkies has the time to learn an entire new language that hardly anyone else is speaking.

I was giving this some thought the other day when it occurred to me there is after all a universal language that many people from all over the world can understand. Can you guess what it is?

Hint: I’ve been learning to play the guitar, which means if you guessed the answer is written musical notation, you got it right. Yes, the notes and staffs from music class or the hymn book are indeed a universal language.

Though I never had any formal musical training, I always knew about written music. It was mostly where you got the words to the hymns in church (you got the tune from following the stronger singers). All those lines and funny little markings were cute in their own way, but it may as well have been Greek to me.

Then I married a world-class piano teacher, organist, and choir director. Over the years, she slowly got me to where I had some idea of what was going on with written music. That was great. But it was only recently, when I started learning to play guitar, that I finally understood the true power of this universal language.

A lot of guitar players — even some very famous ones — don’t know how to read music. Many of them just want to “jam,” as they say, and some go very far using various fret-board tricks and techniques. Still, there is real power in understanding written music.

Here’s one example: Once I was outside running during my lunch break at work. All of a sudden, I don’t know from where, this tune popped into my head. It was a really pleasant tune. So I stopped running and pulled out my flip-phone (this was a while ago), called my wife, and hummed the tune to her over the phone.

Would you believe she was able to take that tune and write it out, using music notation, such that it could easily be played on the piano? Man, that was so great. If you play any kind of music, why wouldn’t you want this awesome ability?

The real power of music notation is that anyone, anywhere in the Western world who knows even the rudiments of music notation can pick up a piece of sheet music or a hymn book and at the least get a feel for the piece or even play or sing it outright.

What is really incredible about music notation is how simple and straightforward it really is: You have just seven notes from A to G that repeat to give us the musical sounds; the staffs with horizontal lines and vertical bars, where each note fits on a line or on a space between the lines; the clefs (treble, bass, or other) to identify what kind of staff it is; the key (the tone or “pitch”) to tell us what musical range it’s in; the time signature (the beat); and various other markings to indicate speed (tempo) and dynamics (soft to loud).

Oh, one more thing: There are also sharps and flats, which are notes that are a semitone above (sharp) or below (flat) another note. Don’t get confused by sharps and flats; they are just the black keys on the piano (though some can be white keys as well).

Music notation is really not that complicated, yet what you can achieve with it is simply amazing. From “Happy Birthday to You” to Beethoven’s “Symphony #3 in E-flat Major” (the famous “Eroica” symphony), to everything in between, it can all be written out and played back in a language that many disparate people all over the world can easily understand, even if they don’t speak the same language. Wow!

It’s easy to extend written music from the foundation I’ve described above. You can indicate to play a note in an abrupt or disconnected fashion. This is known as “staccato.” Or you can make the notes long and continuous. This is “legato.” Or you can accent a note. This is “sforzando.” You can also play a bunch of notes smoothly and without separation. This is known as a “slur” (and it’s not a bad thing).

Have you noticed that many of these words sound very Italian? It’s because they are. Italy was where music notation really developed and took off. Just one more thing to thank us Italians for (as if great food, literature, science, music, painting, sculpting, and such warm, heartfelt, joyous and beautiful people weren’t enough).

In fact, from studying music notation, I discovered that very, very loud music in notation is called “fortississimo.” If you know me personally, you know that kind of describes me to a T, for better or worse. Oh well, I just like to have fun.

Another interesting part of music notation is the “rest.” It’s like a note except you don’t play or sing it. Turns out a lot of music depends on what you leave out.

You’d think this would be great for a beginner like me — fewer actual notes to play wrong — but you have to be careful to get your rests in at just the right time or it screws everything up. That’s right, it even takes skill to play well what you don’t actually play.

If you have any interest in music notation or music theory, I highly recommend the book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory,” second edition, by Michael Miller, Alpha Books, 2005. This book is easy to read and makes what many find rather boring or tedious very fun and exciting.

I’m basically reading it over and over in the hope that it’ll really sink in. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be able to write the tunes in my head down on paper myself without having to call my beautiful wife. She has enough to do as it is.

The Old Testament God was really having a bad day when he scattered folks all over the world and made them speak many different languages. However, not long after that we got the gift of music and it’s incredibly versatile notation system that to this day is shared all over the world by people of different cultures to allow us to enjoy the supreme gift of music. Maybe that was God’s plan after all.

The other day, my coffee maker died. Back in the day, as they say, you could try taking the thing apart and maybe replace the heating element, switch, or something else.

These days, small appliances like this are assembled with spot welds, one-way plastic tabs, and cheesy screws such that disassembling them without destroying them is virtually impossible. So I had to toss it in the garbage, though I did save the power cord. At worst, I can recycle the wire; at best I can use it to replace a worn out cord on something else.

In the old days, at this point I would have run down to Sears at Colonie Center. There I would have found probably a dozen different coffee makers in various price ranges. After studying them for about five minutes, I would have selected one and that would have been it. Done. But, as we all know, it ain’t that easy anymore.

Now there are numerous websites devoted to coffee makers. Here every aspect of them will be dissected ad-nauseum by their many aficionados.

Of course that will lead you to Amazon, where you will find even more coffee makers with many reviews to study. The thing is, can you trust any one review? No, because it could be, I almost hate to say it, “fake news.”

That means you have to read at least 20 reviews and then take the average if you want to be sure you’re getting accurate information. That’s a lot of work, even when you’re sitting in front of the computer in your pajamas while eating a whole can of Pringles.

That’s why Sears used to be so great. For me, it was one-stop shopping, especially during the holidays. You had your whole family covered at Sears, since you could get a blouse and a wrench and everything in between.

Going to the store in person meant you could easily look at and touch the merchandise as well, and get this: You often had to interact with people. What a novel concept. A lot of us should get off our phones and computers and try it sometime, haha.

I still needed a coffee pot when I found myself in the supermarket. I decided to visit the coffee aisle. They had exactly two models of coffee makers there.

One was a simple automatic drip type, like the one I’d been using for years. It was even marked down to 50- percent off. Yippee. I quickly stuffed it into my cart.

As my glasses were fogged over from wearing a mask in the store due to the COVID pandemic and I could barely see anything, I had to make sure not to set it on top of my hopefully someday ripe tomatoes. Such is life in the time of COVID.

At this point, many folks would have whipped out their smartphone, scanned the UPC code on the coffee maker, and quickly found out the cheapest price on Amazon and other websites in case they wanted to save a few bucks. I have that app on my phone as well, but I never, ever use it.

Here’s the thing: That supermarket did me a favor by stocking that coffee maker. By doing so, I could just run in and grab it. That supermarket pays taxes to my town, employs my friends and neighbors, and endeavors to provide a safe and clean place where I can shop in peace.

It’s more important for me to buy locally like this — heck, they were even giving me 50-percent off — and keep them in business than to save a few bucks. I sincerely hope many of you agree.

I know we aren’t getting Sears back anytime soon. That’s too bad. Having a place to go where you can pick up quality merchandise when you want it and at a fair price, with actual people to interact with, is a good thing.

If you remember, Sears was even kind enough to put registers in each individual section of the store. You paid for your blouse in ladies wear, from someone who knew about ladies wear, and you paid for your wrench in tools, from someone who knew about tools. How great was that?

I often had questions when buying gifts and I really appreciated having people to ask. Perfect example of what Joni Mitchell sings about so beautifully in “Big Yellow Taxi:” “…You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Amen to that, Joni.

Yes, I know there are other big stores that have a large selection of different merchandise, but Sears was special. They had Craftsman tools with the lifetime warranty, they had the big catalog, and they just had a good all-American “feel.”

Other mass market retailers — I won’t mention names — give me a creepy feeling. They carry a lot of cheaply made junk, there are never enough registers open, and while the prices are cheap so is the atmosphere. I can’t wait to get out of there when I’m forced to shop in those kinds of places. I never felt that way in Sears.

Like many of us, I buy stuff online all the time, but I make sure to support local stores whenever I can. Unfortunately, some of the stuff I need is so oddball (electronic parts, specialty tools, vintage motorcycle parts, etc.) no one local even carries it.

Other things I just won’t ever buy online, like shoes. They’re something I really need to try on first, unless it’s something simple like an orange pair of Crocs.

I looked at plenty of guitars online as well. Hours and hours, let me tell you. But it was only when I picked up “my” guitar in person, right in the store where I could touch and feel it, that I knew I had the right one. I know, a guitar is just another manmade inanimate object, but the “right” one will be obvious the minute you touch it.

I could go on but it makes no sense to lament the way things were. Life has moved on. I think I’ll make a pot of coffee instead.

When I was growing up, my family would often visit relatives or host relatives. It was always the same, like in every Italian household: The grownups sat at the big table, and the kids sat at the card table that was brought out for these occasions.

After a huge meal finished off with delicious pastries, the adults would then just sit there and talk over coffee. At that point, my brothers and whatever cousins were around would always leave the room to do something — anything — else.

Why? Because all the grownups would talk about were doctors and medicines and aches and pains and things like that. Kids don’t want to hear that; they want to play. You know where this is going, I’m sure.

The insufferable COVID-19 virus has prevented my family from entertaining and visiting friends and relatives. Thankfully, we still communicate in other ways.

In fact, being able to see my grandson on video calls has been a lifesaver. What we would have done without that I don’t know.

So we do keep in touch, and because we are now of That Age, we do talk about our various illnesses and whatnot. You can’t not. If someone has cancer, you want to know about it, period.

I’m in my early sixties. I feel great, yet I just had my fourth surgery in the last six years. This time it was rotator-cuff surgery on my right shoulder.

I had a nasty ground-bee infestation by my garage where I spent the better part of two weeks swatting at them. They’re gone now but they got the last laugh, as I think that’s what screwed up my shoulder. I know, I wouldn’t have believed it either, but it is what it is.

Never mind the surgeries. I’m at the age now where, when I look at the obituaries, there is a very real chance a relative, friend, neighbor, or co-worker will be in there. If you live long enough, that’s what happens. In fact, I’ve collected so many of those little plastic-coated prayer cards that they hand out at the funeral homes that pretty soon I’ll have a full deck.

Imagine there was no COVID and we were able to gather together for birthdays and other events. Surely, talk would turn to our various aches and pains, like it did in my family when I was growing up.

While it’s good to know what others are going through, you can’t extrapolate it to your own situation. That’s why you go to a doctor. Just because your buddy got this drug or that surgery doesn’t mean that will work for you.

As with cancer. Some get chemotherapy. Some get radiation. Some get chemo and radiation. Some live 20 years after diagnosis and are still going strong. Some die in a week.

The best we can do is offer encouragement and support. Each of us has our own unique physiology shaped by our genes and our lifestyles. While it may be kind of cool that your buddy goes around with a pig valve in his heart, you might need a pacemaker. That’s just how it is.

I’ve been using a CPAP [continuous positive airway pressure] machine to sleep for the last few years. Though it works well, it’s just very cumbersome and not something I’ve ever actually gotten comfortable with.

There is a new thing now where they implant a battery-powered device in your chest. When you go to bed, you click what looks like a TV remote-control to activate it, causing your tongue to move forward periodically and keep your airway open.

People who have this say it’s way more convenient than CPAP and a lot less intrusive. Downsides are it’s yet another surgery and you can no longer get a chest MRI [magnetic resonance imaging], but I’m looking into it anyway. I’ve always liked robots, so maybe I can become partly like one.

I think we have to realize that getting older involves the body breaking down, no matter what we do. Walking and exercising, eating well, having a good social support system, and keeping active with interesting activities can add years to your life and keep you mentally fit. It’s getting that to mesh with the aching joints, diminished endurance, and potentially awful diseases like cancer and diabetes that takes getting used to.

We all read about athletes having surgeries and then coming back to play again. In fact, it happens so often that we take it for granted.

Let me tell you, I for one don’t take it for granted. For my rotator-cuff surgery, I was told not to lift anything heavier than a cup of coffee with my right arm for a month, and then to start physical therapy. It will take at least six months from that point to get back to normal.

That means I had to miss the fall motorcycle riding season, the best time of the year to ride, but what can you do? It’s for the best.

We all have to cope with aging however we best can. I know for me, as long as I have access to a library and all the wonders within — books, movies, newspapers, clubs, and so much more — I’ll be OK.

I don’t care if I won a million dollars; that aspect wouldn’t change for me in the least. If I can start the day with a good newspaper like this one and end it with a good book, I’ll be happy as a flea in a doghouse.

My relatives used to sit and talk about their doctors, medications, and aches and pains all night, and it drove me crazy. I wish they were around now so I could tell them that I finally understand.

If you’ve been following me lately, you know that, after a lifetime of being a music-loving non-musician, I’ve started learning to play the guitar. As I continue on this journey, I’m more and more amazed about what an all-encompassing activity playing a musical instrument is.

Truly, anytime you see anyone playing an instrument really well, you are witnessing the fruits of much love, work, passion, and dedication. It’s just incredible that there are so many good musicians to enjoy, and so many who are willing to share their knowledge. Musicians are really great people.

Let’s break down the phrase “learning to play the guitar.” First of all, there are many kinds of guitars and similar stringed instruments like ukuleles, dulcimers, and banjos. Even keeping it strictly to guitars, there are six-strings, 12-strings, acoustic, electric, acoustic-electric, bass, classical, and guitars with various other string counts, shapes, sizes, and styles. So many choices for just one instrument!

Then there is the style of guitar music you want to learn. You name it and it’s out there: blues, rock, pop, folk, classical, traditional, flamenco, and on and on. The musical use of the guitar is limited only by one’s imagination and passion. It is hard to believe that one single musical instrument is so incredibly versatile.

Once you settle on a type of guitar and a type of music, you next have to consider how to study and learn. Again, there are so many choices it’s almost overwhelming: books, videos, YouTube, private lessons, group lessons, friends and family, church groups, or just listening and trying to emulate what you hear.

Many of the most famous guitarists had very little or no training, don’t know how to read music, and yet can play the frets off any guitar you hand them. The all-time greatest electric guitar player, Jimi Hendrix, was so poor growing up he started playing on a broomstick.

His version of “The Star Spangled Banner” as played at Woodstock still sets the gold standard for alternative versions of our national anthem all these years later. Not too bad. Maybe I should get a broomstick.

My first guitar instructor was not big on reading music or music theory. He was more about feel, repeating a few basic chords, and turning them into songs after a lot of practice.

My next teacher, a music-school graduate and professional musician, was all about music theory, reading music, and learning about all the technical aspects of guitar playing. He had a totally different outlook than my prior teacher.

Same as when you browse the countless learn-to-play-guitar YouTube videos — everyone has their own take, and it’s up to you to find someone you can relate to. So much involved in that one phrase, “learning to play the guitar.”

As far as actually playing the guitar goes, here again, there is so much to learn. One can be a rhythm guitarist, carrying the main melody of the song while others take the solos that we all love.

Of course you have “guitar heroes” like the gone-from-this-world-all-too-soon Eddie Van Halen, who made everyone want to quit their jobs and schooling to become lead guitarists who can “shred,” for better or worse.

You can concentrate on playing individual notes, picking out songs and hymns note for note. Or you can strum chords (technically three or more but sometimes only two notes at the same time) and maybe write songs and sing and play them to try to become the next Bob Dylan.

Of course classical guitar is a vastly different technique, and so is fingerpicking country-style, and bending/tapping notes like in heavy metal, and, and, and — you get the idea. You can study guitar your whole life, it seems, and still find more to learn.

Once you learn the basic mechanics of the guitar — to play all the notes and chords cleanly with good tone — you’d think you’re home free. Not! That’s when the whole “musical” aspect of it comes into play.

It’s one thing to play by yourself, but if you want to play with others, you have to be “in time” or “on the beat” at all times. You have to know when to “come in,” and when a simple nod of the head can mean to start or to stop or to take a break.

Music is really another language and, like any language, it has its often arcane rules. It helps very much to learn to “sight read” standard sheet music and “tab” (tablature, an alternative written musical notation) as well. Got all that?

As you can imagine by now, for any kind of guitar-playing, there is just so, so much practice involved to even do the basics well. Just getting your two hands to work together in a coordinated fashion is a challenge.

Heck, it even comes down to the individual fingers. When I was having trouble making a certain chord, my piano-teaching, organ-playing, choir-directing, lovely and talented-beyond-belief wife, Charlotte, said to me, “You tell that finger to just stay down there and not to move.”

Imagine that, now I’m talking to a single finger. Just when you thought you’ve seen and heard everything.

What it really boils down to is, if you want to play guitar or any musical instrument or even sing, you have to be dedicated, have a passion for it, and practice, practice, practice. The way we learn things is to repeat them over and over so we can develop “muscle memory” and then just do them without thinking about it.

I did this with touch typing, with motorcycle riding, and with various other skills. There is no shortcut, either. If you put in lots and lots of hard, consistent work, you’ll slowly get better and better over time. It really is as simple as that.

I’ve been telling people that every time I have a good practice session I get a tenth of a millimeter better. One millimeter is a tiny distance, about as wide as one of the letters in this sentence, and a tenth of that is that much smaller, but that’s truly how I feel.

The fact that I seem to be getting this tiny bit better over time is just enough motivation to keep me going. In fact, the other day my wife heard me practicing and said, “That sounds like music.”

Wow. For a beginning guitar player, that kind of compliment, coming from someone as accomplished as she is, is as good as it gets.

At a local music store, you had to fill out a form to get a free lesson. As I was depositing my entry, I couldn’t help but notice the completed form that was already on the top of the stack. On the line where it asked “What are your goals in learning to play music?” was this, scrawled in big, blocky, child-like letters: “MAKE ME A STAR!”

Forgetting about our celebrity-obsessed culture for a moment, if the person would have answered something like “to learn how to play to the best of my ability,” ironically, he or she may really someday become a “star.”

No one can make you become a star, or a good husband, teacher, mechanic, etc. You have to work, and work hard, to succeed at anything in life. One would think that was common knowledge. Guess not!

If you’ve been thinking about starting a musical instrument, an exercise program, learning another language, or whatever, I urge you to stop thinking about it and just get off the couch and do it. Now that I know learning music is something I can at least attempt, I only wish I’d gotten started 20 years ago. Sigh.

The best musicians started when they were kids. So don’t just think about it or wait for it to come. Reach out and grab it and do it! You can if you want to. Yes, you really can.

Music is a gift that transcends ages and cultures. To finally be learning to make it myself is truly a dream come true.

Every now and then you hear someone say something like: “He’s been a bachelor so long, he’ll never get married.” When I hear this, I think of some poor sap missing out on the joys of marriage and family life. I really do. There are many things I now know about myself that I would never have known if I hadn’t been living with my family all these years.

For example, I know that, at 6 a.m. in a dead-quiet house on a weekday morning, I can be heard at the kitchen table, “chewing,” way upstairs in a second-floor bedroom. Who would have ever thought eating a bowl of cereal while reading the newspaper would be anything but a solitary activity? Only someone married with children would know that.

I’ve also been told I should close the door when I go to the bathroom. Yikes. Fortunately, thanks to the miracle of Metamucil, I don’t have that problem anymore.

Apparently I close doors “too hard.” You probably think you just grab a door by the handle and close it. Not if you’re living with a family, you don’t.

The “correct” way to do it is to grab the handle, move the door to just before the closed position, then slow way down, turn the handle, gently move the door into the closed position, and then let go of the door knob very carefully so that the spring-loaded latch gently engages into the hole in the door jamb.

Got all that? Now how would a bachelor ever know that? You single guys are missing out on quite a bit, I think.

I never, ever knew that I walk up and down stairs “heavy,” but I do know now. Forget that I weigh a little more than 200 pounds. When it comes to stairs, I have to mentally imagine myself as male dancer effortlessly flitting about the stage.

But Frank, you ask, what if you’re carrying a bunch of tools up the stairs to fix a leak under an upstairs sink? No matter — don’t be “heavy” on the stairs. I’d never have known this was even a thing if I weren’t married with kids. Lucky me!

I’ve known for a long time now that I “get out of bed wrong.” Here’s the thing: You have to get out of bed in such a way that you don’t move the covers or shake the mattress or make a squeak, so that anyone else in the bed doesn’t even know you are trying to get up.

You bachelors, I feel very bad for you, since this is a skill that requires practice and dexterity. I’m still working on this one.

Let’s say you discover a new musical artist, for example, the simply wonderful Tamaryn, a young lady from New Zealand, who’s song “I’m Gone” is a swirling, ethereal performance filled with color and moods such that you are transformed into a trance-like state whenever it comes on.

If you were a bachelor or living alone, you might be tempted to turn up the old Victrola and blast that thing until you bask in all it’s avant-garde glory. But do you even consider that loud music can damage your ears?

When you live with a family like I do, loud music is not allowed under any circumstances. My ears are protected whether I want them to be or not. Safety first!

I’ve been told by family members that I don’t “wear my pants straight.” I can honestly tell you, if it weren’t for my loving and caring family members telling me this on more than one occasion, I would not even have known that there was a straightness involved in pants-wearing, even though I’ve been wearing pants my whole life.

Yes, the pants and belt need to be straight — belt centered under the belly button, seam in the rear going straight vertically down. Now, if I see a guy with “crooked” pants, I just assume he must be a bachelor. Poor sap!

Living with a family is healthy as well. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen something in the freezer like a gourmet ice-cream pop. Then I open the box and it’s empty.

Just think about that for a minute. Someone took the last ice-cream pop and left the empty box in there. Turns out that’s a good way to cut down on calories, so there you go. Think family, think health.

One day, I had finished painting something, but I knew I’d need to do a second coat, so I went for the aluminum foil so I could wrap the wet brush for the night rather than clean it. The aluminum foil has been in the same spot in my house forever, but it wasn’t that day.

Turns out the aluminum foil had been moved to a different location and no one told me. So a bachelor would never have found out that wax paper works almost as well as aluminum foil to store a wet paint brush overnight. You really do learn a lot from the family you live with. No way a bachelor ever would have found out that interesting fact.

Now just to be clear, I am loud by nature and I tend to run around like a bull in a china shop, trying to get my tasks done. Plus several in my family work odd shifts, which means they are trying to sleep during the day while I’m often running around like a maniac trying to get things done.

Believe me, if I could achieve “stealth mode” I would, but there’s only so much I can do to be invisible and unhearable. In the meantime, I’m glad I have so many loving family members watching and listening to everything I say and do.

You poor bachelors, I don't know how you get by.

Day 1: I was doing a major outdoor project near the house, by my garage. I had wood, power tools, and extension cords all over the place. At one point, I noticed a huge bumble bee hovering about. Hmmm, that’s strange, I thought. There were no flowers where I was working.

Day 2: I’m working hard with a power drill. All of a sudden, I look up and I see not one but two huge bumble bees. Now I’m thinking: Hey, what’s going on here? All of a sudden — yow — I got stung on my left shoulder.

I don’t know what guys do who aren’t married to someone who knows everything, but I went screaming into the house, yelling for my wife. When she saw what it was, she got some water, dragged me back outside, mixed the water with some dirt, and slapped it on my shoulder. Surprisingly for something that crude, it actually worked. According to my wife, the mud draws the stinger out. How about that. Lucky I married up.

Day 3: I’ve dealt with nasty yellow-jacket ground nests before, so I reached into my playbook from that since I still had a ton or work to do outside. What I do when confronted with ground nests is to first find the hole. That was easy in this case.

The bumble bees were clearly coming and going from a hole close to the house on the side of the garage, right where I was working. I hooked up my shop vacuum cleaner and placed the hose — with as long an extension as I could rig up — so that it was right next to the hole. Then I watched and waited.

Sure enough, as bees returned to the hole — probably filled with pollen from flowers — they got sucked into the vacuum. Even ones that tried to exit the hole got sucked in as well. That’s a great trick you might want to file somewhere.

Let me say right here that I love bees and their symbiotic relationship with humans. We need them very, very much. However, when a nest is so close to your house that you or yours are getting stung, it just has to go, period.

Day 4: I went out early in the morning after putting the shop vac away the night before. I thought I was all done with the bees. Ha! Little did I know it was just the bee-ginning.

The bees started right back up, entering and exiting the hole again. I didn’t want to use the shop vac again because it’s rather loud. Instead, I got a fly swatter and, believe it or not, I was able to achieve a very high kill rate with that simple plastic tool.

If you sit by the hole, you can just see the yellow on their backs as they start to emerge. Then it’s like a game of whack-a-mole. The returning ones are trickier, as they circle the hole fairly rapidly, and only slow down when they’re sure it’s the right location. That’s when you get your chance to whack them.

Unfortunately, often the first whack doesn’t kill them; they can still crawl around for a very long time afterward unless you whack them several more times. Believe me, I took no pleasure in this, but it had to be done.

Day 5: I had thought I was all done by Day 5, but then another hole appeared and there were so many more I had to drag out the shop vac again. Yes, it was that bad. I have dry, sandy soil in that location, which turns out to be perfect for ground-nesting insects. By this time, I had finished the outdoor project, and now it was all about controlling the bee problem. I was a man on a mission.

Day 6: No vacuum needed but there were still so many bees coming and going that I would go outside, and if I just stood there for five minutes I was sure to see at least one or two. So that’s what I did all day, go in and out every now and then, hunting and killing bees.

I don’t know how many I got in total, but if you add in the ones sucked into the shop vac it has to be in the triple digits. I also put out a 2-liter soda bottle with the top cut off, stuffed back in upside down, and sugary soda inside. I read that bees would be attracted to the scent and get caught. Didn’t work. Got a lot of ants, though.

Day 7: Unbelievably, I had another hole develop and there were still more bees coming and going after a week. I was going bee crazy at this point! I looked up methods on YouTube for ground nest removal.

Some people are just nuts. Muriatic acid? Pouring gasoline into the hole and lighting it? Truly crazy stuff. Apparently bees don’t like the smell of garlic or cinnamon, but I was too far gone to try deterrent methods like that. I needed to end it sooner rather than later.

Day 8: The morning started with yet another hole in the same area. I sat there with the fly swatter and killed about 25 of them before the action stopped. I dug up the area but could not find the nest or the tunnels. Then I got out a big tarp and used concrete blocks to just cover the whole area. I checked in on it periodically after that and it appeared to have done the trick. Appeared.

Days 9 to 15: Every day with the tarp on the ground started out with about 25 angry bees wondering what was going on. They were so mad their incessant buzzing sounded like screaming. I was able to get most of them with the swatter, but boy were they angry.

Serendipitously, I heard a report on National Public Radio about ground-nesting insects like bees, ants, and wasps. Turns out some of them don’t have hives, but rather live alone underground where it’s cool and they can produce their larva. I think that’s what I was dealing with, though why there were so many I have no idea. Probably it was building up over time, and I only noticed it when I had that large outdoor project to do.

Day 16: Finally, no more bees. Hallelujah! My plan now is to put in patio pavers and stone to get rid of the sandy soil that attracted them in the first place. I’ve had my fill of bees for a long, long time. I don’t even want any honey these days.

Bee-lieve me, I bee-moan the fact that this bee-came such a beeg thing, truly bee-yond the imagination, and I’ll bee much more cautious bee-sides the house from now on. Un-bee-lievable. Just bee hopeful they don’t bee-set you next.

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