I saw in the paper the other day that a guy died while working on his car when it slipped off the jack stands and killed him. As a guy that regularly works underneath cars supported on jack stands, this kind of thing always catches my attention.

Let’s face it, accidents happen. The only way to be totally safe is to do nothing at all, but even then a meteor can come crashing through your roof and conk you on the head so even the couch is not totally safe when you really think about it.

Another one that happens all too often is a guy working out with a barbell and getting killed when it crashes down on his neck. I work out with weights too and I have a bench with support racks but I still get nervous.

What if the rack breaks? Exercise is supposed to be good for you, not kill you. Yet people even die while running when their heart suddenly goes. There’s always something to worry about, it seems.

Tools are another potentially disastrous thing I deal with on a regular basis. If you’ve ever worked with a bench grinder you know it can shoot things straight at your face if you’re not careful. It’s also easy to have it pull in your hair or your shirt sleeve if you’re not paying attention.

That’s the key right there, paying attention. It’s so easy to let your mind wander or to just get lazy.

I read all the manuals for everything I buy including tools. They always say to tie back your hair, roll up your sleeves, and don’t wear jewelry.

Yet you look around and people are drinking beer while riding lawn mowers, smoking cigarettes while working on engines, hammering away at anything and everything without wearing safety glasses, etc. It would be comical if it weren’t so sad. We are so often our own worst enemies.

I’ve been woodworking forever, yet I still have all my fingers, knock on wood. The closest call I ever had was almost taking off a thumb when I was too lazy to walk down to the basement to use the table saw and instead tried to cut a small piece of wood held in my hand with a circular saw. That was a close one.

Hint: Don’t be lazy any time you’re working with tools. Take the walk to the basement if that’s what needs to be done. Much better than almost losing a thumb.

Sometimes I see roofers hanging right over the edge of the roof, working on the lower course of shingles or on the gutters, one leg swinging freely right out in the air. When I see that, I get a physical sensation of dread that is totally unsettling.

There are safety harnesses available, but these young, strong guys are invincible at that age, just like we all were when we were that young. When I think back to all the trees and roofs I used to climb with my buddies (we once even climbed up onto an elevated subway platform, from the street), I can’t believe how stupid I was. Boy, hard to believe I did all that and got away with it, looking back now.

I’m lucky to have a beautiful new grandson to play with, which is great. It’ll be interesting to see and assist his parents as he gets into one potentially dangerous situation after another.

This from a guy who as a kid stuck a bare wire into an electric outlet just to see what would happen. They say there are folks who have to pee on the electric fence just to make sure it’s really on. Yikes! Let’s hope my little grandson is not that type.

Of course these days danger is not limited to working on cars, lifting weights, and using tools. If you click on the wrong link or open the wrong file attachment, your computer can be taken over by bad guys who will then attempt to get mucho dinero from you to unlock it.

The takeaway here is there is computing and then there is safe computing. It’s incumbent on you to practice safe computing if you don’t want this kind of problem.

Yes, it involves an investment of time to learn what to do and, more importantly, what not to do, but that’s the price we pay to be on a worldwide computer network in the kind of world that we live in. It just comes with the territory.

Let’s wrap this up with a true story. One time, a friend from Canada was visiting with his wife and toddler. I had a pot of pasta that was just about done on the stove. I removed the colander so the pasta could drain. Then I picked up the pot of boiling water and headed toward the sink to drain it.

As I turned from the stove with the pot of boiling water in my hands, I felt something and the toddler, out of nowhere, was tangled up right in my feet. To this day, I honestly don’t know how I didn’t drop that pot of scalding hot water on myself and on that baby.

Gives me chills just thinking about it. What’s the saying? “God takes care of fools and babies.” He certainly took care of both of us that day.

Better safe than sorry. Words to live by.


I work with a guy whose name is, for the sake of this story, Art. Many years ago, Art and I had a lot of common work-related projects, so we’d be in meetings together quite often. Then, as the years went on and our responsibilities no longer overlapped as much, I might only meet with Art once or twice a year.

At some point, Art and I no longer had any meetings together anymore, but I’d still see him around every now and then. Just another work acquaintance like we all have.

One day, I was walking around the hallways after not seeing Art for many years when he showed up just like that, so I said hello. He gave me a big smile as usual, then looked me straight in the eye and shouted out, “Hi, Joe!”

At first, I thought he must be talking to someone behind me but I looked around and there was no one there, so I just laughed. Now, to this day, every time he sees me he calls me Joe.

This is a little odd, especially when others are around that know both of us. He probably forgot who I was after so many years, but not all the way, and then somehow associated my face with the name Joe for some reason. Who knows why he did it, but I never correct him because, quite frankly (no pun intended), I get a kick out of it.

In my normal life as Frank, I continue on as just another average guy who works in a Dilbert-like office complete with cubicle and pictures of the wife and kids on the walls — yet another working stiff with a family and all the responsibilities that come with that.

Very plain-vanilla I must admit — just another average Joe, haha. So whenever Art calls me Joe, for that brief little time, I imagine that I really am Joe, and I have such a good time with it, it’s unbelievable.

In my Joe persona, I’m no longer stuck at a keyboard all day. As Joe, I’m either a roofer, carpenter, electrician, or auto mechanic, depending on my mood. The good thing is: As Joe, I go out and Get Things Done — real, tangible things that anyone can look at and see, not like the ethereal software that I normally create and maintain.

As Joe, I have a much more physical presence in the world. When I’m Joe, I can grunt and really mean it.

As Joe, when the day is over, I get home, and there’s a happy wife and a hot meal waiting for me always. In my mind, all the hard-working blue-collar Joes of the world get that as a matter of course.

Then, depending on the night, I’d do what all good Joes do: crack open a six-pack and watch the Yankees, or go out and play in the bowling league, or attend the poker game. Of course, if it’s the weekend, there’s lawn-mowing and barbecuing one day, then fishing and family time the next.

Joe doesn’t do a lot of different things but the things he does he just loves and does them as often and as heartily as he can. Joe is all about the flag, baseball, and apple pie. Nothing wrong with that. Good for him.

I sometimes imagine what it would have been like if Art had called me another name instead of Joe, like Sergio. Now there’s a good name. Think of great shoes, a nice sport coat, a flashy silk shirt, and of course a dark tan and great hair.

As Sergio, I’d be so good-looking and full of confidence the ladies would really notice. Then again my lovely wife wouldn’t be so happy with that, I’m sure. Maybe it’s a good thing Art called me Joe instead of Sergio. I don’t need any more problems; I have enough already, thank you very much.

This whole thing about being called Joe instead of Frank has given me another idea. You know when you go to an event and they give you a peel-off label that you’re supposed to write your name on and then stick on your shirt? Who says you have to put your real name on there, anyway?

Maybe I should write Joe on there next time, or maybe Morris or Sheldon. I know Morris and Sheldon aren’t sexy like Sergio, but with a name like Morris or Sheldon I might finally have the discipline to forgo immediate pleasure and sit down and write the next great phone app. There’s a reason why great coders are often named Morris or Sheldon.

Now that I think of it, as much fun as it is being Joe every now and then, what if I’ve been mistakenly calling someone by the wrong name all these years? Hey, if it can happen to Art, it can happen to me. We’re about the same age after all.

Maybe this would help explain the weird stares and nervous laughs I get all the time. Or maybe it’s just my personality. Let’s face it, it could be that very easily. Gulp.

If you hear someone call me Joe, don’t say anything. Just go along with it. Why spoil it after all these years?


You often see sentinels on the side of the road, sad reminders of a tearful tragedy, on a busy street corner in the city, or out in the middle of nowhere. There might be a display of flowers, maybe with ribbons and bows. Sometimes it’s just a lonely cross stuck in the ground.

The memorials that stand out the most are the so-called “ghost bicycles,” often with flat tires because they’ve been there so long. These somber remembrances are placed by grieving relatives or friends of a cyclist who died in a traffic accident, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to them.

My cousin lives on a corner in a busy Queens neighborhood. There was an accident there where someone died. A memorial was placed on the corner — lots of flowers and a cross.

Then once a week relatives and friends would come to visit and have a little service. Mind you, this is right out on the street in front of my cousin’s house. After a while, getting to see that over and over again, no matter how good the intentions, just gets old. Cemeteries exist for a reason, after all.

There are two main routes that I take to work. For many years, there was a ghost bicycle on the corner by a gas station where a young lady got killed while riding her bike. The accident was tragic no doubt, as she was young, beautiful, full of energy, and a well-respected small-business owner.

But, twice a day, five days a week, I had to be reminded of her untimely death. That got depressing after a while.

That ghost bike is gone now, thankfully, but another one has appeared on the other main drag that I use almost every day. This one was also a bicycle accident. (See a pattern here?) So now, again, I’m reminded of death oftentimes twice a day, when all I’m trying to do is commute back and forth to work. As if commuting needed something else to make it even worse.

If you’re like me, busy just about all the time, you probably don’t think about death too often in your daily routine. You know it’s going to happen eventually but you don’t dwell on it.

In my case, once I hit age 50, I can honestly say I don’t even fear it any more. The idea of resting peacefully for a long time after a full and active life actually sounds pretty good in many ways.

The thing is, I normally don’t think about it, but then I see the flowers, the crosses, and the ghost bicycles — and I get sad. It’s not good to be reminded of death all the time. Had I wanted that, I would have gone into the very lucrative undertaker business.

I don’t know if there are any laws against creating your own public memorial at crash sites. Even if there are, it would not be fun telling a victim’s relatives their memorial is not welcome.

Though the intention is honorable, the practice of making memorials in public places just doesn’t sit right with me. We already have cemeteries. I know people are grieving, but why do we need to be reminded of it, often twice a day, every day? It sure is a bummer, I can tell you that.

My dear departed mom is buried about an hour from my home. I visit her grave maybe two or three times a year. I don’t need to place a cross outside the apartment where she last lived. I don’t need to place flowers outside the hospital where she finally died.

I don’t need to visit here grave weekly or even daily like I know many grieving relatives do. I just know that she lives on in my heart and I think about her all the time. I’m sure she’d be happy knowing that.

A friend of mine who, like me, was a huge Minnesota Vikings died recently. I just heard that his lovely wife drove all the way out to Minnesota to sprinkle his ashes at the new stadium. I have to say that’s pretty cool, and I’m sure Bill would have loved that.

I’ve instructed my wife and my friend to put some of my ashes in the gas tank of my motorcycle when I die, and then to have them ride the bike up my favorite road, Route 30, north into the Adirondacks when I die. What a nice way to have one last motorcycle ride. I just hope the fuel filter doesn’t get clogged.

Note that, in each of these cases of final memorials with ashes that I just described, there is no permanent display left to sadden any commuters or any residents who happen to live where something bad happened. I think this is appropriate.

In fact, I’ll go one step further — make sure you tell the people you love most how you feel about them while they’re still around to hear it. It’s much better for them then a cross on the side of the road or a ghost bicycle with flat tires sitting chained to a pole somewhere.

Speaking of ghost bicycles left as memorials — how about, instead of letting a perfectly good bike sit outside to rust, try cleaning it up and donating it to the City Mission or the Salvation Army? Letting a kid use it for what it was meant to be used for is much better, I think. I’ll bet the poor accident victim would feel the same way.

We all grieve in different ways, no doubt about it, but when your grief has to cause poor commuting working stiffs to feel sad twice a day, maybe there’s a better way to grieve.


Living in the Capital District is heaven if you’re a motorcyclist (except for when they salt the roads). There’s nothing like cruising on the many curvy back roads and enjoying the wondrous scenery to make your senses come alive.

Often when I’m riding I'll pass what seems like acres and acres of treed lots, with not a structure in view, where the only thing spoiling the pristine glory of nature is the myriad red or yellow “Posted” signs nailed into some poor random tree like a stab in the heart. I know what “posted” signs mean —  private property so keep out — but a recent confluence of events caused me to look at them in a different light.

The first thing that happened was a visit to Newport, Rhode Island to tour the Gilded Age mansions. These are the huge, no-expense-spared palaces built, right on the ocean, by the railroad, oil, and precious-metal tycoons before the government even had an income tax.

Think of families like the Vanderbilts and the Morgans. These icons of industry and ruthless business dealings had so much money they literally couldn't spend it fast enough. Many of the mansions that resulted, complete with full butler, maid, and groundskeeping staff and adorned with lustrous gardens and landscaping, are still standing and available to tour so you can see how opulently the rich and famous lived.

When I tour these mansions, I do it simply to enjoy and marvel at the amazing architecture, the often exquisite building materials, and the engineering and construction details. I have absolutely zero interest in how the rich people that lived there spent their days.

For example, the well-heeled ladies of Newport society changed their outfits up to seven times a day, and, if you were seen in the same outfit more than twice in a season, you were considered low rent if not outright insulting.

Who wants to live like that? I'm just glad that there is a preservation society working hard to preserve these grand, beautiful structures so we can marvel at what our most talented architects and designers can do when money is no object.

The most extravagant of these mansions are right on the ocean, with unobstructed views of majestic rolling blue waves as far as the eye can see. However, between the mansions and the ocean is a public walkway that anyone can use both to enjoy the ocean view and see the mansions.

This is surely a great thing. Why? So that normal folks like us can enjoy the ocean views that otherwise would be locked behind some private property or “keep out” signs; there are no “posted” signs behind the mansions, thank goodness.

What a great way to allow both the rich and regular folks to share the wealth (the views, in this case). There are beautiful public beaches in Newport and the surrounding areas as well. You have to love that. Ocean access should be a public right for all of us, not just the super rich.

“The Power Broker”

The second thing that happened was my finally taking the huge, Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Power Broker” by noted author Robert Caro out of the library. This massive tome, which Caro almost went broke writing during during the seven years it took to research it, is the story of Robert Moses.

You may have heard that name before, especially if you are from or have visited Long Island, but if you are a New Yorker you certainly have been directly affected by him every time you visit a park, a beach, or drive over a bridge or on a parkway in this great state.

Robert Moses, while never having been elected to any public office (and never even learning how to drive), did more to influence the physical reality of New York State than anyone. Jones Beach, Robert Moses State Park (of course), Sunken Meadow State Park, the Northern State Parkway, the Southern State Parkway, and so much more infrastructure including many bridges and tunnels and even Lincoln Center, all directly exist because of Robert Moses (and in our area, securing the land for Thacher Park and much of the state land around Lake George were Moses projects).

While he has his critics — he favored the automobile over public transportation way too much, most notably — every time you visit a public park or beach anywhere in New York chances are you have Robert Moses to thank for it. What he did in New York was so innovative and transformative it was copied by virtually every other state in the nation, for better or worse.

A lifelong New Yorker, Robert Moses grew up in the city in a family with money. After a fine education at Oxford he dedicated himself to public service and trying to clean up corruption in government (think Tammany Hall).

Soon he realized that it was one thing to have dreams of public parks shared by all, but quite another to actually have the power to make those dreams happen. He gradually learned how to play the system — you could even say he invented the system — and that's why now we can go to someplace wonderful like Jones beach, which otherwise would most certainly have become a bunch of rich guys’ private backyards.

Those same billionaires who owned the mansions in Newport also owned all the prime property on the north shore of Long Island. Even with the power of Robert Moses, his plan for the Northern State Parkway had to be greatly altered due to the pushback from the lords of the manor, bypassing their estates, golf courses, and even entire towns.

Caro points out in the book that, because of the rerouting of the parkway, endless more commuting hours, additional fuel use, and more pollution are in place in perpetuity. That’s what the power of rich guys with money can do, and what Robert Moses devoted his early life to rail against.

He did much better with the Southern State Parkway and the south shore of Long Island. When you drive to the beach, you don’t think too much about where the roads came from, but landowners never want to give up land without a good payoff.

Moses was able figure out how to do it, “by hook or by crook,” as the saying goes. You may not agree with his methods, which often included back-door deals in smoke-filled rooms and all that, but he knew his way around a bill in Albany, and he knew how to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s so that he (and really us, when you think about it) got his way in the end.

I mean, somebody had to stop the super-rich people from keeping the best of everything for themselves. If Robert Moses didn’t do it, who would have?

Moses’s legacy is far from perfect: The myriad roadways and bridges he built destroyed many old, existing neighborhoods (just like the Empire State Plaza forever changed downtown Albany by razing it’s poor Italian neighborhoods). His car-first priority resulted in eyesores like I-787, where prime downtown scenic city river access is covered or blocked.

He favored his “friends” over others like so many politicians do. He let his brother, a talented engineer in his own right, live in relative squalor, even preventing him from getting gainful employment. He was used to being treated royally, including being driven around in a limo all the time.

Basically, it got to the point where he was so used to getting his own way that he forgot or ignored what his decisions and policies did to others. His endless bridge-building phase destroyed entire, thriving neighborhoods, helping to create the blight-filled ghettos that are unfortunately so commonplace in urban areas.

Some even say he was racist: It’s said that he kept bridge overpasses on the parkways going to Long Island low so that buses from the city couldn’t pass, and that he kept the water in his city-based public pools intentionally cool so that black people wouldn’t use them.

I don't know about all that, but I've been going to Jones Beach all my life and I’ve always seen the same thing: Right before the entrance to Jones Beach, which costs $10 to park, is the entrance to Captree State Park, which is free to park.

So most if not all of the minorities go to Captree and most if not all of the white people go to Jones. As I said, I’ve been going there for decades and it’s always been like this. Did Moses do this intentionally? Only he knows and he’s not around anymore to tell us.

The complete life story of Robert Moses is much too big to recount here. If you;re not enamored enough to tackle the 1,200 pages of “The Power Broker,” I’d urge you at a minimum to look him up on Wikipedia.

In fact, his effect on the lives of all New Yorker is so important, even to this day, that I really believe his story should be taught in all the schools in this state. Remember, he started out as a reformer, and only after accumulating great power (more than even the mayors and governors he reported to had) did he become so full of himself that it became “his way or the highway,” so to speak and no pun intended.

It’s the classic tale of absolute power corrupts absolutely, truly a lesson that never gets old.

Moon for sale

Did you know there is a company that accepts money for lots on the moon? Apparently, some guy believes that he found a legal loophole allowing him to “claim” the moon as his, and he has been “selling” lots there for decades.

This is totally true — many famous people have “purchased” huge tracts of the moon already. So someday, when our great-great-great grandkids get ready to build their dream house next to a big crater on the moon, there may be many “Posted” signs already there and waiting for them. Sigh.

“Posted” signs have a purpose — to keep people off of private property. But when I’m riding my motorcycle through richly forested areas on a bright, sunny day and see animals roaming freely where I’m not even allowed to tread, it somehow makes me feel sad. I’m sure Robert Moses would have felt the exact same way.


If you’ve been reading my column for a while, you know that I’m a voracious reader. I generally have two books going at all times, usually from the library. I prefer library books because our tax dollars have already paid for them and you don’t have to store them. Those are both big pluses. Hooray for libraries!

One thing I’ve always been proud of is in the more than 50 years I’ve been using libraries I’ve never once had a late fee or failed to return a book. This is really a matter of pride for me.

I’ve read many times about books finally being returned after decades, as if that were a good thing. It’s not! A book never should have been treated so carelessly in the first place.

When I borrow a book, I treat it as my own. I don’t spill stuff on it, crease the pages, or write in it. Treating it as you would if it were your own is just the right thing to do. If you really need to highlight or write in a book, then go buy your own copy.

So the other day I had just finished reading “Approval Junkie” by Faith Salie. She’s a comedian/journalist who appears regularly on the wonderful NPR radio show, “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” and she’s also a correspondent on “CBS Sunday Morning News.”

I’ve always enjoyed her and, while the book was great, it was very female oriented — lots of stuff about clothes, hair, relationships, and pregnancy. Because of all that, it didn’t really grab me so much, but I still enjoyed it.

I had been reading this book while sitting in a beach chair with my feet up on the back bumper of my F150 truck. This vehicle has a broad, flat bumper, with multiple heights making it perfect for propping up your feet and providing a place for your phone, drink, or whatever.

It’s my favorite place to read when the weather is nice. The only problem is, every now and then, I’ll forget to remove something from the bumper and then drive off and lose whatever was there. (I lost a really nice ashtray fashioned from an old motorcycle piston this way.)

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Shortly after reading the book, I had to run out and do some errands. When I came back, I set up the chair, getting ready to start my next book (I really do read a lot) when I realized I didn’t know where “Approval Junkie” had gone to.

We had house guests that weekend, so there was more commotion than usual. I checked all the usual spots but it was nowhere to be found. Finally it dawned on me that I must have driven off with it on the bumper.

I got in the truck and retraced my route. The neighbors must have thought I was critiquing their lawn-cutting techniques. Alas, the book was nowhere to be found.

I was so depressed by this, it was all I could think about for several days. I truly have never paid a library late fee in my life, much less actually lost a book. To finally have to join that club was making me ill.

n my mind, I was using my Toastmasters’ skills to craft a speech for Tim Wiles, the director of the Guilderland Public Library. In the speech, I would apologize profusely, beg for forgiveness, and promise to never let it happen again.

I’m pretty sure I was going to offer myself up for corporal punishment as well. I mean, they trusted me with a valuable library resource and I had let them down.

I was really, really bummed out. It was not a good feeling at all.

Then I was at a concert and randomly decided to check my email when this missive appeared from Heather Nelson, a senior clerk at the Guilderland library:

“Hi Frank, a patron found the book you had checked out, “Approval Junkie,” in the middle of the road near Suzanne St. I checked the item in so it is no longer on your record. I then placed another hold on it for you and you have until July 18th to pick it up here. If you no longer want the item, let us know and we will cancel the hold.”

Holy cannoli, Batman! I could not believe it.

One of my neighbors must have found it and returned it to the library, just like I would have done if I had found a library book in the middle of the road. What a welcome surprise. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Now my no-late-fee-and-no-missing-book streak would still be intact. Whew!

Public libraries are one of the great achievements of modern society. These clean, efficient institutions allow the wealth of human knowledge to be shared by lucky community members.

They offer so many services — books, magazines, newspapers, movies, and all kinds of programs — that it’s almost unbelievable. We are so, so lucky to have our community libraries.

Thank you to my neighbor who returned the library book for me. You made my day. Heck, you made my year!