— Photo by Frank L. Palmeri

Using index cards, Frank L. Palmeri maps the notes on the music staff to the strings and frets on his guitar.

There are some things that are so perfect they can’t be improved on. A few that quickly come to mind are the #2 lead pencil, the Victor mouse trap, the Zippo lighter, and the Swiss Army knife.

Today I’d like to talk about another perfect thing that we really take for granted, and that is the standard 3-by-5-inch index card. Yes, those ubiquitous little white, lined index cards are among mankind’s most powerful intellectual and organizational devices, even in the computer age. Index cards rock.

What got me into index cards recently was my continued study of music. I’m to the point now where I can actually pick up sheet music and attempt to play songs.

Don’t take this lightly, believe me, because there are many well known, extremely rich and famous musicians and songwriters who have said publicly for years that they don’t know how to read music. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I know I want to be able to look at written music and, if nothing else, at least get a feel for the piece.

So I needed a way to map the notes on the music staff to the strings and frets on the guitar. What I did was make up six index cards, one for each string. Each card clearly shows me which notes on the music staff map to which notes on the guitar fretboard.

By doing it this way — one string to one index card — I get the power of “less is more.” It is much easier to learn it one string at a time, at least for me.

This is where index cards shine. By limiting the sheer amount of information they can comfortably contain, they force you to pare down to its essence whatever it is you are studying. How great is that?

I can still remember my kids making up index cards or “flashcards” to help study for tests. We’d go over the material with them, reading the questions off the cards, over and over, until they got it. What an effective way to study.

Just having to make up the cards in the first place is helpful, and then the repetition, over and over; you can’t beat it. Heck, if you’re not careful, you could also learn the material by doing this kind of studying with them, haha.

I like to read thrillers and mysteries. Often I find myself thinking how it was possible for the author to keep track of so many characters and plot lines. Turns out some of our greatest writers use index cards to help organize all this stuff.

A popular method is to stick index cards up on a large cork board or lay them out on a large table, and then move them around as necessary to complete the “story arc.” Apparently Vladimir Nabokov of “Lolita” infamy was a huge proponent of writing this way. What a great idea. To think that these simple little cards can assist in creating truly great writing is pretty amazing.

Speeches, books, scientific research — all of this creative activity and more has been powered by the humble index card. Before computers, they were used to form personal contact databases as well (the classic desktop “Rolodex” was essentially a rolling collection of sorted index cards).

Again, when you write the information down yourself, it just helps to reinforce it. Contrast that with someone handing you a business card. Not the same.

I have a little spiral-bound book I was given for Christmas one year in which I write my favorite recipes. My wife and her mom used index cards for their favorites. Some of their cards, like the one for lasagna and the one for apple pie, are well worn because we use them so much.

The great thing about using index cards for recipes is you can organize them into those little boxes that make it so easy to find them later. Maybe I should switch.

I’ve been to plenty of training sessions where index cards were used to jot down ideas for group reflection and discussion. I think Post-It notes, because they can be stuck on whiteboards and walls, have usurped the index card in the business world for brainstorming activities. When you think about it, you realize that a Post-It note is simply an index card with sticky stuff on the back, so it’s still kind of the same thing.

If you’re old like me you must remember the card catalog that was used in libraries for years and years. The cards allowed you to search for a book by title, subject, and author.

In fact, these cards and the index searchable model that they represented became the basis for the computer databases that are used today for library cataloging. The system, enabled by the humble index card, was so versatile that the computer systems created from it can easily handle the DVDs, CDs, magazines, and all the other great stuff that libraries so wonderfully make available to us. Awesome.

These days, when you attend a class or presentation, the first thing everyone wants to know is if the PowerPoint (the computer slide show) will be made available. That’s great if it is, but how often do you really go back and look at it later?

A better thing to do is, as the presentation goes on, to write the main idea of whatever point the speaker is making on the back side of an index card. Then you can write the details on the lined side.

The advantages of doing it this way are that it is an active process — you are writing down information, which will help retain it — and the cards are very portable so you can take them with you and easily pull them out at a later time. I wish I’d known about this method of note-taking when I was in school.

In researching index cards, I came across something I’d never heard of before — a “cropper hopper.” This is the generic term for a box used to store photographs, but which can easily be repurposed to store index cards in an orderly way. Just do a search on “cropper hopper” and see what you find. Pretty great idea.

My new guitar-note index cards are going to help me learn to read sheet music. Now that I know how powerful index cards are, I’ll be using them for many more things in the future I’m sure.

If you’re still not convinced how great index cards are, let me leave you with this:

“Father emptied a card file for Margot and me and filled it with index cards that are blank on one side. This is to become our reading file, in which Margot and I are supposed to note down the books we’ve read, the author and the date.” — Anne Frank

Next time you’re in the dollar store, pick up a pack of index cards. You’ll be glad you did.

As he faces 2,000 empty seats from the grand stage at Proctors, Frank L. Palmeri imagines what it would be like to entertain an audience there.

As he faces 2,000 empty seats from the grand stage at Proctors, Frank L. Palmeri imagines what it would be like to entertain an audience there.
 

Every now and then I find myself standing on the stage at the beautiful and historic Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, facing 2,000 empty seats on two levels, imagining what it would be like to actually perform in front of a full house (being married to a professional musician has its perks).

How amazing it is to stand right where so many amazing performers have appeared. It is really humbling; I mean, how many of us could entertain a huge crowd for an evening? I’m pretty sure my guitar-playing, storytelling, and jokes would not pack ’em in, but it’s always nice to imagine doing just that when I find myself alone on that great stage, staring out at all those empty seats. It never hurts to dream.

Before COVID, we went to so many shows. How hard it has been these past 20 months, forgoing all kinds of public entertainment. Oh man, that’s been depressing for sure. What I wouldn’t give for a concert, an opera, or even a movie.

Let’s hope things get back to normal sooner rather than later. In the meantime, here are my top five events I’ve seen at Proctors over the years:

— You probably wouldn’t think an author would make this list, but when Tom Friedman from The New York Times came to Proctors, the house was sold out and he had us from the get-go. He’s written many books, including “The World is Flat,” which tells about the ramifications of having people in other countries willing to work for pennies on the dollar.

Nobody understands the big picture of global economics and what it means for us like Tom Friedman. When I left that show, I wondered why more great writers and thinkers don’t get invited to big halls like this. Great night, and I hope he comes back soon;

— Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music came to Proctors a couple of years ago. It was on a cold Tuesday night in November. I couldn’t get anyone to go with me so I went alone. Good thing I did: The place was packed and didn’t stop rocking for two hours straight. Unbelievable power and energy.

Roxy Music isn’t big in this country for some reason. Their only big hit here is “Love is the Drug,” but they are huge in Europe and the rest of the world. That night, many of the original band members were there, along with others who were just outstanding as well. Bryan did many Roxy Music classics, from the lyric ballad “Avalon” to the bring-the-house-down rocker “Both Ends Burning.”

If you were there that night, you know exactly what I’m talking about. That may have been the greatest concert I’ve ever been to;

— 3. You may have heard of Blue Man Group, since this iconic show plays all over the world. We saw it at Proctors and again in Boston. The best thing about BMG, similar to the all-time classic British TV show “Mr. Bean,” is that the humor is so transcendent and timeless you don’t even need to speak English to enjoy it.

I’m not going to reveal anything else about BMG because that would just spoil it for you. Trust me, if you’ve not yet seen the Blue Men and you get the chance, go for it. You will absolutely love it;

— 4. My daughter studied dance for many years. The highlight of this was always the end-of-year recital at Proctors. To see your kid up there doing all the moves and looking so beautiful; it don’t get any better than that. Imagine this: The curtain opens, revealing 30 toddlers in their little pink tutus, and the entire crowd, at the same time, goes “awwwwh.” That’s what it’s like.

One year, a poor little girl peed herself right up on stage, bawling so bad until someone came out and rescued her. It can’t be easy for toddlers to take all that pressure. Hey, if I found myself wearing a pink tutu in front of 2,000 people, I’d pee myself too, haha. Still, the dance recitals were always a tremendous show. I admire all the dancers and the teachers for working so hard to bring some joy and beauty into this world; and

— 5. When there is not COVID, Proctors holds a monthly noontime organ recital put on by the local theater organ group. This show is free and always fantastic. The Capital District is home to many world-class organists, including my lovely wife, Charlotte.

“Goldie,” the beautifully restored Wurlitzer organ, lives in the basement at Proctors and, when she majestically rises up to stage level, you know it’s going to be a good time. The theater organists always play a rollicking program consisting of standards, pop favorites, show tunes, and more on what is without doubt the world’s greatest instrument, the organ.

When you get to hear a well-played organ on full song, there is just nothing like it. As soon as COVID ends, I’m hoping these fantastic concerts will resume. I and many others I’m sure are just starving to hear “Goldie” ring out once again.

Finally, I have an idea for what I think would be a great show at Proctors. The famous author and raconteur Studs Terkel wrote a bestseller called “Working,” where he interviewed regular folks from all walks of life about their occupations.

The book was great because you got perceptive insight into what hard-working people, our friends and neighbors, do with their days. I find this kind of thing fascinating.

What’s it like to put on a roof in the dead of winter? Or to try to collect rent from someone who lost their job due to COVID? How does a massage therapist give a great massage at 4 p.m. when he or she’s been doing it all day and is flat-out exhausted?

So interesting, on so many levels. Maybe when I retire I’ll go down to Proctors and offer to host this kind of event. I’d call it, simply, “Conversations,” and just ask regular everyday people about their jobs, their hopes and dreams, what makes them happy, etc. Wouldn’t that be great? Who knows, maybe I’ll interview you!

We all can’t wait for COVID to be over so we can get back to normal life, including dining out without worrying and attending sporting events and shows. Let’s hope it won’t be too much longer. In the meantime, get vaccinated, get boosted, mask up, wash your hands often, and stay safe.

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

— From “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
 

The other day, I was rooting around in a drawer and found a box of matches from the long-gone but not forgotten Bavarian Chalet, that beautiful German-themed restaurant and bar on Western Avenue in Guilderland. I hadn’t thought about that place in a long time, but seeing that box of matches brought back all the old memories. Boy, do I miss that place.

Think about it: We used to have a world-class German taproom and restaurant right in town. How great was that? The only thing comparable is the bar and restaurant at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, which is a five-star resort and destination in its own right.

Yes, we had a place much like that right here in Guilderland at one time (minus the sweeping mountains and the whole “Sound of Music” vibe, of course). Wow.

The bar at the Bavarian Chalet had rich, deep woods, with consummate craftsmanship and accouterments. They had all the German beers on tap, and served them in those tall glasses that are so nice. The bartenders always wore fancy black and white uniforms, truly elegant.

Same with the servers: It was a very high level of atmosphere and service. There was always a wedding or banquet there as well, but the thought that you could just meet friends at a classy place like that, right in the neighborhood, is truly mind-boggling to me now. You really don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

I work with technology all day. Believe it or not, that’s not so bad. Where there is a problem, in general, if you look at the last thing you did, there’s a good chance you’ve found out what’s wrong.

So technology is fairly easy to deal with, in that it has rules, is predictable, and responds to clear, organized methods of work. It’s the people involved with technology that are harder to deal with.

People have good days and bad days, can be moody, sometimes spray you when they talk, get frustrated, etc. I’m sure you know what I mean. Even yours truly can be difficult to deal with at times I’m told, haha.

One day a long time ago, I had a really tough day at work. Everyone was being a jerk. It was miserable.

When I got home that day, I announced to my lovely wife, Charlotte, that I’d had a bad day, and because of that I wanted to go to the Bavarian Chalet to relax with a couple of beers. Many of you reading this know my lovely wife, but for those of you who don’t, be advised that she doesn’t need to take an assertiveness-training class.

“Hi, I had a really bad day at work, so I’m going over to the Bavarian Chalet for a couple of beers to take the edge off. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”

“You aren’t going anywhere.”

“Um, I don’t think you understand. I had a really, really bad day at work. I need to relax for a while. I’m stressed out.”

“I understand perfectly. While you’ve been playing around with computers all day, I’ve been here cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, vacuuming, answering the phone, and getting ready for dinner, all the while keeping two small children clean and entertained.”

“I know, but ….”

“There are no buts. You aren’t going anywhere. Instead, you will help with dinner, then you will give these kids baths and get them ready for bed while I give piano lessons to help pay the mortgage on this house.”

“But I had a bad day!”

“End of discussion. You aren’t going anywhere. Get used to it.”

In 35 years of marriage, that was the one and only time I had made that kind of request. Some guys would have just gone straight to the bar after work, but I’m not like that.

I really have always tried to do the right thing when it comes to my marriage and family. She was right, of course, but still. I could so badly have used a couple of those tall German beers on that awful day.

One time, my office booked the Bavarian Chalet for our annual summer picnic. There was a huge field outside where all kinds of animals could be seen.

That year, we had a pick-up two-hand touch football game. At one point, one of the ladies from my office was playing quarterback. She took the snap and then lateralled the ball to me.

Just in case you don’t know the rules: In football, if someone throws you a forward pass and you drop it, the play is over, but if someone laterals you the ball and you drop it, that’s a live ball, otherwise known as a fumble.

So with all my co-workers watching, the pressure was on big-time. Well, I grabbed that lateral, juked and jived a few guys, and then took off like a scalded cat and scored the touchdown. That really happened!

Just for that one sweet moment if nothing else, the Bavarian Chalet will always have a special place in my heart.

One of the best things about the Bavarian Chalet was the architecture of the building. It featured several graceful arches and an adobe style roof if I remember correctly. I don’t know about you, but I just love arches on buildings. That style is so elegant to me.

They also had a lot of windows looking onto their beautiful property; many long, decorated hallways that got you around efficiently; a large basement room for private parties; and of course that lovely u-shaped bar. The more I think about it, the more I miss all of it. Dang.

I’m not sure what actually happened to the Bavarian Chalet. I guess the land where it used to be is now a housing project and the Guilderland Senior Center. I’ve been in the senior center: It’s beautiful there, and the people who work there are awesome.

But, unless they start serving ice-cold German beer in tall, lovely glasses, it just isn’t the same.

The Bavarian Chalet was a true jewel, a neighborhood place that felt like a five-star resort. It is gone but it is most certainly not forgotten. Tschiirs!

I grew up in Brooklyn and, while I did a lot of different things in “the city,” two things I never did were learn how to swim and hang around pools. In fact, my first real pool memory is, at a teenage pool party, getting thrown in.

I had to frantically grab onto this girl who had no idea what I was doing to pull myself out and not drown. That’s about all I ever had to do with pools until I got married.

My in-laws have a beautiful in-ground pool. Lately I’ve been responsible for taking care of it. Let me tell you, I have a new respect for pool owners and maintainers. There is a lot of work required to have a nice pool. I had no idea. It’s been quite eye-opening, in fact.

As my kids grew up, they always got excited when they knew they’d get to swim in Grandma and Grandpa’s pool. When we’d go over there and see this large expanse of clear, blue water — the pool is 16-by-32 feet — I just assumed it was always like that.

How little I knew what it took to keep that pool looking clear and clean all those years. Now that I know what it takes to keep it that way, I feel guilty I didn’t do more to help maintain it. Yes I’m making up for it now, but still.

A lot, and I really mean a lot, of work was done to keep that pool crystal clear so my kids could swim in it. That was really nice of my in-laws to do.

A pool is very much like a person, in that it has good days and bad days and really needs daily maintenance and attention to be at its very best. I’m not being facetious here, believe me: A fellow I know who maintains several pools says you really need to check on them each and every day. That’s quite a responsibility to take on but, if you want a clean, enjoyable pool, this is really how it is.

The basic thing with a pool is you are always testing the water to determine what chemicals you need to add. You can buy water-testing kits, but many pool stores will test it for free in the hope you’ll then buy the chemicals needed from them.

In my case, I bought countless five-gallon jugs of chlorine in order to keep this pool looking good. The reason it needed so much is we hadn’t used it in a couple of years, so it had gotten quite green and murky. Like anything — or anyone — that requires attention and doesn’t get it, a lot of work was needed to set things right.

There are all kinds of other chemicals the pool needs from time to time, depending on use, rainfall, how it is maintained, and plenty of other factors. All I know for certain is it can be quite expensive to keep a pool looking clear and clean.

The good thing is, at least with a pool, you can get a good idea of what kind of shape it’s in just by looking at it. Not so easy to do that with people, haha.

This pool had been stored correctly by having a winter cover placed over it; however, because the pool hadn’t been used in a couple of years, the cover had become an ecosystem unto itself. There were all kinds of leaves and pine needles and green, scummy water on it, such that you could see endless amounts of tadpoles swimming around. That’s right, the frogs had taken over.

To set things right, I had to pump off the water that was on top of the pool cover before removing it. That was quite a job and took several days even with an electric pump working hard for hours and hours.

The revealed pool water itself was deep green, like a pond, and it was full of frogs as well. Yikes. To remove the frogs I corralled them in the mesh at the end of the long-handled pool skimmer.

It was like playing whack-a-mole at the fair, as they were dunkin’ and jukin’ big time. Once I got them in the mesh, I could then gently toss them over the fence onto the grass and shrubs. The war wouldn’t be won that easily, unfortunately.

In one corner of the pool is the skimmer. This is where water gets pulled in by the pump for filtering. There is a little basket that catches all the debris like pine needles and leaves.

Apparently the skimmer is also a five-star resort for frogs as well, as I found frogs of all types and sizes, alive and dead, in there just about every day. The frog population thinned out significantly once I started adding copious amounts of chlorine, but they like the pool so much I’m sure they’re just waiting to come back in full force again.

The pool has a very large filter, controlled by a pump that runs on a timer. You can filter the water, or just recirculate it. Or you can “backwash” the filter, or just waste the water to lower the level in the pool.

You can also hook up a vacuum that runs off the pump, so you can clean the scum off the sides and the bottom. If you are gathering at this point that there is a lot of work, knowledge, time, and expertise in keeping a pool looking its best, you are correct.

I used to think the ubiquitous “pool boy” that is a plot device in so many books and movies was just a joke, but now I know better. Those young, good-looking guys, if they are doing the job correctly, are more than just eye candy for bored housewives with money who happen to be home during the day.

To keep a pool nice and warm, you can put a solar cover on it. This large, expensive piece of bubble wrap rolls up onto a big winder when not in use. When rolled up, it is on wheels but it is still big, heavy, and quite unwieldy.

At the end of the season, using various ropes and knots, my father-in-law — an old farm guy who expertly knows how to tie and untie all the useful knots — would somehow hoist this thing up onto the ceiling, by himself, suspending it on large hooks such that he could park his truck under it during the winter.

I did this once, but I had to use two ladders and pray hard the whole while that I didn’t kill myself or cause some other kind of damage. Again, had I known all this time that he was doing dangerous stuff like this all by himself, I would have been there to help, believe me.

To winterize the pool, there is an arcane sequence involving drain plugs, anti-freeze, shop vacuums, plugs, fittings, and secret incantations. I’m not even kidding.

It took my hard-working wife and I many, many hours before we felt confident that the pool is bundled up correctly for the winter. And to think all that work has to be undone to get it going again in the spring. Sigh.

Now I know why they invented margaritas (and be sure to drink yours in a plastic cup as we do not want glass anywhere around the pool for obvious reasons).

I had no idea all these years what a sheer amount of time, hard work, and money my in-laws spent to provide a clean and shiny pool so my kids could swim. I would have helped out a lot more with the care and maintenance had I known, no question.

If you get to swim in a clean pool, be sure to thank whoever takes care of it for their hard work and dedication. Trust me, they have earned it.

One thing I like to do, when I’m at a party for example, is point out how things don’t have to be the way they are. I might mention that, in other countries, it’s common to shut down for a couple of hours in the afternoon so that a nice, relaxing lunch can be enjoyed, perhaps followed by a nap. Doesn’t that sound great?

In some countries, I’ll observe, everyone has health coverage and access to higher education. I could go on — dedicated bicycle lanes, plenty of clean public bathrooms, etc. The point I’m trying to make is that many things can be different, and in some ways certainly better, than they are here.

When I espouse this line of thinking, invariably I’ll get some version of, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you just leave?”

Often it’s not as polite as that, but you get the drift. Please note that I’m not saying I don’t like it here. I, in fact, love living in the northeastern corner of the greatest country in the world. I just like to point out that there are other ways of doing things, that’s all.

A lot of us make fun of some other countries because the people there don’t bathe as often as we do. That is true in some cases, but here’s the thing: They use bidets, which is something we generally don’t do here.

I guess the thinking is, if you can keep that delicate area clean, it’s easy to keep everything else clean without that much fuss. Well, I’m about to put that to the test myself, as I now own and use a bidet.

It used to be that you had to buy a dedicated bidet or a conventional toilet. However, now all you have to do is replace your toilet seat, and voilà, you have a bidet. To get water for the bidet, you install a tee on the water supply to the toilet.

Then you have to plug it into a GFCI [ground-fault circuit interrupter] outlet, because it requires power. Once you do that, you’re all set for quite a new experience.

The one I have is fine; however, as with a lot of products, the instructions aren’t the best. There is a combination off/turbo button. Yes, turbo. The way this works is, if any bidet function is operating — and there are a lot of them — you can hit the off button at any time to stop it.

But, if you hit the off button a second time, you activate the turbo function, which jacks up whatever is happening to make it more intense. So the first time I used it, I completed the wash function and then had activated the dryer function. This actually blows hot air on your nether region to dry you off.

The thing is, it blows for five minutes and I didn’t want to sit that long. So I got up, hit the off/turbo button, and immediately shot a huge plume of water over my head and into the sink in front of the toilet.

Turns out the dryer function is not related to the off/turbo button. When you select “dryer,” it just blows warm air for five minutes, period. Of course, they should have said that in the manual. Sigh.

This bidet has many functions. There is the general wash function, which shoots a stream of warm water right up your rear end. There is a male button and a female button.

Other members of my family who have used the female button at first told me it wasn’t “hitting the right place.” However, in a case like this, you have to think like an engineer.

Consider: They have to design this for both genders and all ages, heights, and weights. So what really helps is if you use good posture when sitting on the bidet. I assure you, if you do this, the water will hit the right spot.

This particular bidet has as many functions as a high-end car. While the bidet is running, you can adjust the temperature of the water, the position of the wand that shoots the water, and even engage an “oscillating” function that is almost like a perineal massage, if you can believe that.

There is also a heated-seat function as well, but I never use that. I prefer my toilet seat, just like my whisky, to be at room temperature, thank you very much.

Despite the plethora of functions, most times I just want to do my business and move on to the next thing in life, so I wind up just using the basic wash and dry functions. Even just using it this way is pretty good, though. You really do feel a lot cleaner down there.

You may be thinking at this point that this bidet business is all a lot of silliness and a big waste. I mean, we’ve all been wiping forever, right?

But think about this: When the pandemic started, what was the first item that cleared off the store shelves? If you said toilet paper, you are right.

So now, between the bidet and the miracle that is Metamucil (go ahead and make fun if you must, but this stuff is just great), I literally do not need toilet paper anymore. So there you go. I’m ready for the next pandemic, haha.

It seems obvious to me that, if you eat a lot of fast food, or have a bad diet in general, or have some other stomach or digestive issues, a bidet can be a game-changer. You still have to shower now and then of course, but this could really help to eliminate a lot of daily wiping. However, cleaning up your diet is always a good thing health-wise, bidet or no bidet.

If you’ve never used a bidet, I’ll admit it does take some getting used to. But like so many things in life, just because bidets aren’t big in this country doesn’t mean they can’t be a good thing. The bidet won’t eliminate my daily showers — I don’t think I’ll ever get there — but it is nice to have it for sure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to use the bathroom.

What do these three people have in common?

— A photographer whose work so eloquently captures the sheer majesty of creation that her pictures are used in publications like National Geographic;

— A violinist who can make the instrument cry and sing like it’s alive;

— A professor who has a waiting list for all his classes and regularly appears on TV as a subject-matter expert in his field.

Know what it is? Each one never gave up. It’s as simple as that.

You might think you have to be born special or be connected or have some other fantastic act of luck to reach the top of your field. Maybe with something like setting a marathon running record, this is true; you really do need to be born with the right mix of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers to excel at distance running.

But with just about everything else, it is sheer hard work, determination, and simply refusing to give up that will get you there, if you want it badly enough.

The world-renowned photographer, the concert violinist, and the top professor all got there by working relentlessly and by making every mistake there is to make in their field. If you work so hard that you make, and then learn from, all the mistakes in your field, you will reach the top.

A lot of becoming the best at something requires delayed gratification. This is where you hold off on immediate pleasure as you pursue a long-term goal.

Many, many people have trouble with this. I still remember one Monday night a long time ago. It was the night of the college football bowl game that would decide the national championship.

This was a year when Miami had at least a dozen players who would go on to be exceptional pros. I wanted to watch that game badly, but the next day I had to go to work, followed by night school. I knew if I stayed up I’d be worth nothing the next day.

I skipped the game, and of course it was a game for the ages, but I was able to go to work and go to school the next day with no problem. So there you go.

At some point, if you want to succeed, making proper choices like this is key. Believe me when I say this, because I’ve made enough bad choices in my life to know the difference, yes siree.

Not many can throw away a full scholarship to a top college like I did and still graduate and have a good career, but I was able to do just that. At some point, the “light” went on for me. Skipping that championship game was a big part of it.

There is a very famous psychology experiment that has been repeated over and over and perfectly exemplifies what I’m getting at. They put a small kid in a room with a hidden camera. There is a cookie on the table.

The moderator explains that the kid can eat the cookie now, but if she waits a few minutes while the moderator leaves, the kid can have a second cookie upon his return. When the moderator leaves the room, some kids immediately gobble down the cookie. Others look at it longingly, but hold off because they’d rather wait to get the second cookie.

They have gone on to track these kids over their entire lives, and over and over, the kids who waited for the second cookie have much better outcomes: health, success, happiness, etc. That is the power of delayed gratification.

I think a big problem we have is that, due to being saturated in media, we see all the very best at everything all the time. Then, when we try something and see how hard it is, we just give up because there is no way, we think, we can ever be that good.

Think about how many guitars go unplayed, how many golf clubs sit in garages, and how many rusted hulks of former classic cars sit in fields or barns, waiting to be restored. Doing anything that is non-trivial requires the big three: drive, determination, and tenacity.

You can’t buy these, either; you have to have them inside you. The good news is they are always waiting around for you to discover them.

As I write this in August, I have now lost 26 pounds and 2 inches off my waist since February, and am continuing to lose. This requires quite a bit of discipline on my part. Who doesn’t like huge ice cream sundaes, fresh crusty bread, and going back for seconds and sometimes thirds?

But I have made up my mind that nothing tastes as good as losing weight, period. It’s amazing what you can do when you set your mind to something. Too bad you can’t bottle and sell it.

Some of us have been fortunate to join payroll-deduction programs at work. This is where a small amount of your pay goes into some kind of long-term investment for retirement.

I call this kind of thing “paying yourself.” If you let them deduct it for you, you don’t even feel it. Then, when you retire, it’s something there to help with whatever pension and Social Security you might have earned.

Yet many people choose to live paycheck to paycheck, and have little or no savings at all. In fact, the Social Security Administration estimates that 21 percent of married couples and 45 percent of single people rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. This is really sad.

Social Security was created to give our seniors some dignity in their retirement years. It was never intended to be their only income. Yet delaying gratification — saving now to have for later — seems just to be so hard for so many.

It’s difficult to promote saving for oneself when the country is trillions of dollars in debt and looking to borrow even more. Yes, the proposed programs are all great and much needed, but I know if I owed anybody anything I’d be canceling cable and eating rice and beans until I caught up.

It’s a shame we as a country don’t see how powerful that is. I’m no economist, and I know they say borrowing promotes spending, which creates more revenue, but crushing debt is crushing debt no matter how you look at it. What a message it would send if we as a county could show some fiscal restraint for once.

Learning how to delay gratification means learning about discipline, or about controlling yourself. Eating, spending, swearing, and many other behaviors are all waiting for you to exercise control over them. Can you do it? You’ll never know if you don’t try.

— Photo from Frank L. Palmeri

Jackson, Frank L. Palmeri’s grandson, “gets so thrilled about everything,” he says.

“Never have children, only grandchildren.” — Gore Vidal

Due to the pandemic slowly getting under control — thank God for those vaccines — I’ve been able to see my 2-year-old grandson Jackson more and more lately. Seeing him on video chat during the long lost COVID year was better than nothing, but actually being able to hold him and play with him again has been like a breath of fresh air. I feel alive again.

Whenever I see him, if the weather is nice, I prefer for us to play in the backyard. Being outside getting dirty is what little boys — and even big boys known as grandfathers — are meant to do. What’s funny is, whenever Jackson goes from one thing to the next, like from the dirt pile to the wading pool, he always runs. When I told this to my daughter, she said: “He doesn’t have any time to waste!” Think about that for a moment.

Here’s a 2-year-old boy who is so thrilled to be outside with his grandfather running and jumping and playing around that he has no choice but to run excitedly between things. He has so much energy and gets so thrilled about everything. A bug, an errant ball, or a stick of wood can totally captivate him. When was the last time you were that excited? The last time for me was probably when I walked my daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Good thing I didn’t run then!

We can really learn a lot from Jackson, especially during these chaotic days of COVID, “fake news,” climate change, etc. For example, the other day he was peeling a banana. He came upon a brown spot in the banana, so he picked it off and gave it to me. He’s smart enough to know that it’s OK to give the brown spot in your banana to your grandfather. No one had to tell him that’s what grandfathers are for. I like that.

In this country we get up early, get to the office or the job site, and bust our tails until closing time. Not Jackson. He is full of energy all the time, yet at 1 p.m. he goes down for a nap. He doesn’t chug a Red Bull or down two cups of strong black coffee to keep going all day like many of us do. He knows there’s a time for play and a time for rest. Good for him. At two he already has more wisdom than many of us.

Jackson has a few favorite TV shows, like “Thomas the Tank Engine,” the classic British kids show, and “Stinky and Dirty,” about two best friends, one a garbage truck and one an excavator. But that’s about all the TV he watches. He’s outside whenever he can be, or playing with his trucks and trains, or reading a book. Limiting TV time — thanks, Mom and Dad — is a great way to get kids to do real-world things that they’ll enjoy and remember for a long time.

Like me, Jackson is a voracious reader. He probably has a hundred books. I never had that many, but I made up for it by reading cereal boxes and things like that. His parents don’t take a daily newspaper, though. How is he supposed to read the comics? I’ll have to figure that one out for him, I guess. But Jackson will often just grab a book off the shelf, plop himself in your lap, and expect you to read it to him. Nothing better than that. In fact, it’s an absolute joy.

Jackson, even at 2, has an amazing vocabulary. My daughter and son-in-law have done a great job of reading to him and interacting with him in many different ways. The other day, we were sitting at the kitchen table and he just blurted out, “Are you kidding me?” and laughed his head off. I thought that was great. Kids really do say the darndest things. Many times he will just randomly tell you “I love you,” often accompanied by a big hug. If that doesn’t melt your heart, nothing will.

Sometimes Jackson will drop what he’s doing, yell out, “Let’s run!” and then just take off. I’ve seen him do endless loops between the living room and kitchen that would make your head spin. So much pure joy and energy. My thing when I was his age — yes, I really can remember that far back — was jumping up and down in my crib, over and over and over, to the point where my parents had to move me to a bed because they thought I’d jump out of the crib and kill myself. All I can say is, and I’m sure Jackson would corroborate, is it’s just a lot of fun and exciting to be an energetic little boy with a whole big world to explore.

There was a time during the height of the pandemic when we were allowed to see Jackson only outside, and had to maintain a six-foot distance. Of course that was awkward but it was better than nothing. At one point, Jackson told his mom he wanted Grandma and Grandpa to come inside the house to play. He knew something was wrong, poor guy.

Once, he was trying to get up onto a hammock. He looked at me with those big eyes and said “Grandpa, help!” Don’t tell my daughter, but I reached out and helped him up. I know it was wrong and I’ll probably get yelled at but what can you do.

To see the circle of life continue as you interact with your grandkids is a supreme pleasure for sure. I even said to my daughter that I wish Jackson could stay age 2 forever. Of course, I’m not the one changing diapers, so there’s that I know, but still. Enjoy your grandkids if you are lucky enough to have them.

P.S. Just when I though “America’s Mayor” had completely lost his mind, I found this gem from Rudy Giuliani: “What children need the most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, and lessons in life.”

Thanks, Rudy. At least we agree on one thing.

Working from home has some advantages, mainly omitting the commuting time and saving wear and tear on your vehicle. It also has one big disadvantage, that being having easy access to food all day

Back in February, I was having trouble putting my pants on, ouch, so I decided to lose some weight. As I write this in June, I’ve lost 20 pounds and now weigh under 200 for the first time in many years. I feel great! Before I share how I did it, let me give you a big warning.

All of us have different physiologies. What works for some may not work for others.

For example, I heard on the radio about an obese 18-year-old girl who needed bariatric weight-loss surgery. Clearly, she needed more than what I’m about to describe.

So it is vitally important, before making any changes to your diet or exercise routine, to talk to a medical professional. It’s so important to do this. Getting in better shape by losing weight should be good for you, not dangerous.

Our distant relatives had a “hunter – gatherer” lifestyle. What this means is they never knew when their next meal would come. The adaption they made was to store excess energy from food — let’s call this calories — as body fat.

This allowed them to fatten up when the food was plenty, and then have reserves for when it was scarce. Great for them, when they were running around all day looking for prey. Not so great for us, when we spend so much time in front of screens or sitting on the couch.

To lose weight then, when our bodies are predisposed to store excess calories as fat, we need to do a combination of two things: eat less and exercise more. Let’s talk first about eating less.

What I did to clean up my diet was actually very simple. I eat three meals and two snacks a day. The thing is, I still eat anything I want, but I don’t “pig out” anymore.

That means having one and only one plate of whatever it is at dinner, and making the snacks healthy, like yogurt, fruit, or vegetables. This is really not a drastic change from what I was doing before but, unless you are constantly thinking about it, it’s so easy to eat an entire can of Pringles or a bunch of cookies. I call this kind of diet eating sensibly, and it has worked very well for me.

Now don’t get me wrong; we all need a “cheat day” now and then, and there is not a day that goes by when I don’t think of hopping on my motorcycle, riding down to Nanuet where the nearest White Castle is, and gulping down 5,000 calories of sliders, onion rings, fries, and shakes.

The good news is, when you start eating right, you really don’t want to eat that much at any one sitting any more. Still, “the crave,” as White Castle truthfully advertises, is always there, so you just have to be aware of and watch out for it.

Now for the exercise part. Truly, as long as you are doing anything except sitting on the couch, you are ahead of the game. My in-laws did not do any formal exercise for many years, but they gardened like crazy and were always lean and fit.

Any kind of movement is great, really, but if you have a desk job like me you have to add some exercise to counteract the deleterious effects of sitting on your butt all day. So here’s what I came up with.

For many years, I’ve walked and jogged outdoors, all year long. As you can imagine, this was not fun in the winter. The cold really doesn’t bother me, but the chilling wind and pitch black darkness in the early morning, combined with frequent ice and snow, are no fun at all.

That’s why I finally broke down and bought a treadmill. This is not something to do without a lot of thoughtful consideration. Treadmills are big, heavy, and expensive, yet now that I finally have one, I wish I’d gotten it years ago.

I’m using it three days a week and it’s great. I put on my music playlist and then have at it, with no regard to weather or anything. Depending on how fast and far I go, I can easily start the day, before having eaten anything, with a calorie deficit of 200 to 300 or more. How great is that?

Three other days a week I do calisthenics: back stretches, crunches, push-ups, chin-ups, dips, deep knee bends, and heel raises. If you don’t think body weight exercises can get you into shape, check out our gymnasts when the Olympics starts soon. Your muscles don’t care where the resistance comes from.

Also, don’t get hung up on how many repetitions of a particular exercise to do. It’s more important to just do what you can. Some days I have a lot of energy and do a lot of reps; other days I have less energy or am fighting a cold and don’t do as many. Doesn’t matter. Doing any amount is way better than doing nothing at all.

If you are interested in overall health and fitness, or especially if you are curious about your own body, then run, don’t walk, to your bookstore or library and get “The Body” by Bill Bryson. If he doesn’t win a Pulitzer for this, it’s a crying shame.

This book is like an owner’s manual for that bag of bones we all have to live in. It just blew me away.

Here’s one useful takeaway from it: The single best thing you can do to stay healthy is to wash your hands often. Simple, effective, and it really works

I also learned this: The saliva from her baby will cause a nursing mother’s milk to change based on what antibodies, microbes, and nutrients the baby needs. How amazing is that?

This is just a fascinating, interesting, and practical book on so many levels. Thoroughly recommended.

Having pants that don’t fit anymore is not fun but, with a little thought, effort, and commitment, you really can lose weight. If you want to get started, start by repeating this over and over throughout the day: “Nothing tastes as good as losing 20 pounds.”

Trust me, repeating this all day will really help you stop “pigging out.” Good luck and good health to you.

When you consider how many ways we have to do ourselves in — falls, cuts, crashes, etc. — I’m amazed we mostly make it through the day. I don’t know about you, but I’ve sure had my share of near misses though.

The other day, we finally got to take a road trip to see our grandchildren. This after getting vaccinations and quarantining at home for 10 days just to be allowed into our daughter’s house (she’s a stickler when it comes to COVID safety precautions).

So now I’m loading stuff into the back seat of my truck. At one point, I stepped up on the running board, as I’ve done many times before, to rearrange things, Tetris-like, in the hope of fitting it all in. I extend my leg to go up but this time, instead of my head going inside the truck, I wound up bashing it right above my hairline, on the top of my forehead.

There is a metal loop up there on the truck that the upper door latch catches on, and I hit it hard. There was blood all over the place. What a way to start a road trip.

I ran into the house screaming with blood all over my face. My wife used paper towels to stop the bleeding. Quite frankly, no pun intended, I’d felt a sharp pain in my neck when I bashed my head, so I was thankful I’d gotten off with only a cut.

Still my wife thought it would be a good idea to get it looked at. I wound up having three staples put in my head to close the gash. Yes, staples. When I had them removed a week later, I could see they were made of fine metal wire with three prongs each.

I never heard of this before but they did work. I felt a little like Frankenstein.

The other day, I was sharpening some lawn-mower blades. Of course you have to check to see when you’re done. Normally I can do this with just a gentle pat of a finger, but this time I sliced myself and drew more blood. Are you sensing a pattern here? Yikes.

So many times I’m doing some kind of work on something, and I get so into it that time just passes. Then later on, when I go to take a shower, I notice cuts, scratches, and scrapes, having no idea how they happened. I honestly don’t know how that is possible. You would think you would feel those kinds of things.

Maybe your nerves get less sensitive as you get older. Or maybe when you’re really into something you get less sensitive to pain. Who knows.

One time, I was taking the kids to a church service. I had them in car seats in a mini-van. After I parked, I got out, opened the big, sliding side door, and reached in to get the first car seat out.

I don’t know what happened but I misjudged it badly and bashed my head into the top of the car, very hard. The funny thing is that was one service I really enjoyed. Maybe some sermons just go well with a light concussion.

A new thing that people do now that is very dangerous is get so involved with their phones that they will literally walk out in front of a car or walk into an open manhole cover. That is just scary. Nothing on your phone is that important.

In fact, I often forget to turn on the Bluetooth when I’m driving. When that happens and the phone rings, I just ignore it. I’m not going to risk an accident to answer a phone call, period. Whatever it is just has to wait.

I’ve had a bunch more of these kinds of unforeseen incidents over the years. I have:

— Walked into a patio door that was so clean it might as well have been invisible;

— Walked into a streetlight lamppost due to not paying attention;

— Grabbed a pot on the stove without an oven mitt;

— Showed someone how I cut myself while slicing a bagel, and in the process proceeded to cut myself exactly the same way again;

— Hammered my thumb;

— Stuck a screwdriver up my nose;

— Fell off a ladder (at least twice);

— Bashed my toes into many different things;

— Stepped on Legos while going to the bathroom in the dark.

And on and on and on. I guess I’m lucky to be alive at this point.

Mr. Webster defines an accident as “an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance.” There is a lot of wisdom in that.

For example, I still work on my own cars as much as I can. Sometimes you have to work underneath the car, which means jacking it up and putting it on stands. When I do this, I examine things every which way from Sunday to make absolutely, positively sure everything is solid and safe.

You would think that’s enough but you can never be sure. I received notice that many jack stands of the same brand I use had been recalled. The advice was to stop using them immediately.

I ran out to the garage and checked my numbers. Fortunately, I don’t have any of the ones that are in the recall, but what if I did and they collapsed while I was under the car? Or what if the ones I’m using now get recalled in the future?

All you can do is, whatever it is you’re doing, think safety first at all times, always. And pray.

You should always be aware of your circumstances and be careful at all times, but at the same time you don’t want to obsess over it. It’s possible to get so worried about potential calamities that you don’t ever want to leave the house, commonly known as agoraphobia.

Oh man. I don’t know about you, but being stuck home during the pandemic means I’m dying to travel and get outside to have some fun again. As soon as things open up, that’s just what I plan to do. I guess I’ll just try to be careful, hope for the best, and try not to bash my head while getting into vehicles.

When I write these columns, dear reader, I try to find topics that I think will be of general interest in the community that this wonderful newspaper serves. Today, I’m going to take a different tack, by writing a column that I myself would love to read in a newspaper. Excited? I sure am, so here we go.

Hey, all you guys and gals who work, no matter what your job is — roofer, nurse, farmer, or even computer jockey like me — thank you for your service. By working, you are contributing to your family by putting food on the table; to your community by supporting your friends and neighbors through your taxes; and to your country by continuing to support the work ethic that makes this country great.

You rock! Feel free to pat yourself on the back, if you have that kind of range of motion in your shoulder.

On the political front — are you kidding me? Gag me with a spoon!

On the transportation front, I’m seeing electric vehicles are gaining run time as battery technology continues to improve. I don’t know if we’ll see it in our lifetime, but someday private vehicle ownership will be rare or gone.

Instead, you’ll open an app on your phone and a driverless pod-like contraption will show up at your door and take you to your destination, where it will drop you off and then continue merrily on its way. I just hope, when that happens, the car and motorcycle guys will still be allowed to have their old fossil-fuel-burning relics to play with.

On the pollution front, it is estimated that by 2050 the weight of discarded plastic in the oceans will be more than the weight of fish. My family has been ordering take-out during the pandemic to support local restaurants, and I just can’t believe the amount of plastic required for a take-out meal.

Somebody smarter than me — there are plenty of you out there, obviously — please figure out a way to reduce single-use plastic in take-out meals. Please.

On the sports front — wait, forget about sports. I’m a huge sports fan but there is too much coverage of sports as it is, especially when we have so many urgent, real problems to deal with.

On the competing-priorities front, I have tons of great recipes yet I need to lose weight. Maybe you do too.

You’re going to eat sweets anyway, so try this: Pour a dry chocolate cake mix from a box into a bowl. Add a can of black beans, with the liquid. Add a tablespoon of cinnamon. Mix in a blender or food processor until the skins of the beans are gone. Bake for the time and temperature listed on the box.

Let cool then cut into brownies. Maybe not health food but they taste great and have to be better for you than normal brownies because of the beans. At least that’s what I tell myself.

On the interior-decorating front, I don’t care what paint, wallpaper, and flooring you use: If your house is cluttered, it will not look good. Apparently a lot of folks are with me, because when I go to the landfill, I often see stuff on the pile that is better than stuff I’m using. Clean out the junk, now.

On the obsession front, I’ve now read everything by Kurt Vonnegut, Haruki Murakami, and Lee Child. Now I have to find some new favorite authors (starting with David Baldacci).

On the we-all-could-use-a-good-laugh front, a guy was asked if he woke up grouchy. “Heck no,” he replied, “I let her sleep.”

On the facts-not-mattering-so-much front: Consumer Reports does an annual car issue. Every year they say Jeeps are too expensive, noisy, and unreliable. Yet you see more and more Jeeps all over the place. So much for the facts mattering.

On the it’s-about-time front: I don’t care what your religion is or if you don’t have a religion — if we could all simply treat each other the way we’d like to be treated, the world would be a much, much better place.

From my great quotations file: “If you’re lucky enough to be living your passion, no matter what your business, I congratulate you. And if you’re not yet doing so, what are you waiting for? Start working at it — you’ll never be bored or unhappy.” — Steve DiFillippo, owner of Davio’s Restaurants, from his really interesting memoir, “It’s All About the Customer.”

Let’s take a break right here and list some of my favorite shows on National Public Radio: Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me; The New Yorker Radio Hour; Radio Deluxe; Le Show; Freakonomics; and Fresh Air. If you aren’t listening to these shows, you don’t know what you are missing. Long live NPR.

On the reality TV front: I don’t watch any — zilch — so-called “reality TV,” which is in fact the furthest thing from reality, except for “Forged in Fire” on the History channel. This is where four bladesmiths from all walks of life compete in a timed trial to make a knife.

It’s just great on every level — craftsmanship, fortitude, perseverance, etc. Yet because it is indeed reality TV, they put the commercials right at the key dramatic parts. Still, if you have any interest in the age-old trades of blacksmithing and knife-making, it’s must see TV.

On the fashion front: The other day somebody asked me — me — about fashion. I know nada about fashion, but I know that you could put a natural beauty like my wife, Charlotte, in a potato sack and she’d still be a knockout. Still, I support the fashion industry because it provides lots of jobs and it juices the economy. Gotta love that.

On the I-could-do-without-it front: There are a bunch of very common activities that I don’t do at all: swimming, skiing, fishing, dancing, hunting, shooting, and golf. Of all of these, the only two I even care a little about are swimming, since it could save a life, and dancing, since it gets you close to women. It’s not too late to learn either of them, thankfully.

On the very under-appreciated front, let’s give big props to mathematics. Do you realize when they send a probe to the outer planets, they have to figure out where the probe and the planet will be literally years in the future?

The fact that the walls in your house are at right angles, and the bank can figure out the compound interest on your loan and on your savings is mathematics in daily practical use. Video games, the internet, efficient farming, and so much more are all possible because of mathematics.

Even music, which we all love, is very mathematical. If teachers harped on the sheer beauty and daily utility of mathematics instead of rote memorization we’d all be a lot better off.

Some people use drugs and alcohol to escape reality, with often terrible or even fatal results. I have a better idea: Sit down and read “The Hobbit,” written in 1937 by J. R. R. Tolkein. I just read this recently for the first time and I was blown away. Sheer joy. I can’t wait to read it to my grandson. Immerse yourself in “Middle Earth” and you won't need any other way to escape reality.

From the amazing animal facts department: A hummingbird weighs less than a penny, a cat’s lower jaw cannot move sideways, and penguins have an organ above their eyes that converts seawater to fresh water.

Here are three great smells: a baby’s head, fresh asphalt, and early morning out in the country on your bicycle or motorcycle.

If you don’t know these names, look them up on YouTube and be prepared to laugh until you cry: Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Lucille Ball, Bob Newhart. You don’t have to be dirty to be funny.

If you’re looking for something fun to do while there’s a pandemic, have you considered motorcycling? The helmet is your mask; motorcycling is by default socially distant, and it’s just plain fun. Hudson Valley Community College offers the beginning rider course where you get your motorcycle license when you finish, which is a great way to get into riding.

When you’re out on a nice day with the sun at your back and the wind in your face, COVID will be the last thing you’re thinking about.

Finally, to everyone who works in supermarkets, hardware stores, restaurants, and all kinds of offices, which all require wearing a mask all day— thank you. Your perseverance and dedication are what have made this truly awful time at least bearable. We all appreciate you very, very much.

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