Back in the day — and I mean way, way back — men wore loincloths, painted their faces, and went out with spears to hunt down a beast so the family could eat. Back then, manly tasks like hunting and building made it clear what men did and what they stood for.

But now, with smart phones, Netflix, and 0-percent down, 36-month leases, there's not as many manly things for us guys to do. This is a problem — men still want and need to be men, after all.

So I thought I'd list a few manly things I do, since I'm first and foremost a manly man (my cell phone isn't even a smart phone, so there).

One manly thing I do is use government-issued toilet paper. That's no big deal, you say? Well let me ask you this: Would you like to wipe with paper that was purchased from the lowest bidder? I didn't think so. Manly men with government jobs do this all the time, and we hardly ever complain about it.

I like to get these big jars of pretzels at the buyers’ club. They're great but they must have a gorilla putting the lids on, because opening them is surely a manly task.

What works for me is sitting in a chair with the big jar wedged between my vice-like legs, and then clutching and twisting the lid with both hands until the lid breaks free. This is actually quite a good upper-body exercise, and the accompanying grunting noises are sure to entertain all nearby. You didn't think opening pretzels could be a manly activity, but it is.

The electric drill is probably the most useful tool ever invented, and these days just about everyone has switched to battery power for the convenience and freedom. But real men take on the big jobs, and that means corded tools.

I still have corded versions of drills and saws, and trying to do good work while not tripping over the cord is very manly indeed. I always lay sheets of plywood on top of boards and cut them flat with a corded circular saw, and half the battle there — besides keeping the chips out of your eyes — is watching where the cord goes. Manly men know how to do this instinctively.

You ever pull into a gas station and see cars lined up because they're waiting for a pump on the "right side?" You know, if the gas cap is on the left, they want a pump on the left, etc.

Well, as a Manly Man, I'm proud to say I can pump from either side, thank you. Yes, I sometimes have to drag the hose over the car but what the hey, it makes the whole process a little more interesting so that's a plus. Manly men would rather struggle with the dang hose than wait.

I also do my own oil changes. On a nice day with the garage door open and the music blasting, it's not half bad, but doing them in the winter is not so much fun I'll admit. Oil changes involve lying on my back under the car with hot oil dripping down my arm right past my face.

I do save money, of course, but there's extra laundry to do I know, and the spills can be messy. Ironically, I just bought a car where the only way to keep the warrantee valid is by letting them do the oil changes, so I may not be doing so many from now on.

But check this out: If you have front-wheel drive, you have CV joints protected by rubber bellows knows as boots. When I do my oil changes, while I'm under there, I always apply rubber protectant to my boots, so my expensive CV joints will stay protected.

Meanwhile, the boots I wear on my feet are all worn out and dirty. Isn't it something that the boots I own that you can't see are beautiful, while the boots I own that you can see are a mess? That's how my life always works out.

I also do the following manly things at various times:

— Eat broccoli without oil and garlic;

— Listen to LP records;

— Drink unfancy black coffee;

— Get dressed in the dark so as not to wake the wife (that's why I often have two different socks on);

— Drink out of water fountains; and

— Eat raw clams (don't laugh — a local restaurant wanted me to sign a statement before serving me raw clams).

As you can imagine, there are some things a manly man like me will never do, I never:

— Run with scissors (Mom was right);

— Answer the phone (it's always for my wife or a telemarketer so why bother);

— Watch any movies or TV shows about doctors or hospitals;

— Order anything "small";

— Wear sandals with that strap between the toes (ouch!);

— Use any product that is "scented"; or

— Throw anything out of a moving car window.

Back in the day, it was easy to tell who the manly men were; today not so much. But, as long as there are oil changes to do and things to put together and stuff to be moved and strong black coffee, we'll be OK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was going to write about various hobbies I've tried and would like to try. In preparation, I looked up the word “hobby,” because I wanted to see what a hobby really is — for example, could writing about a hobby be considered a hobby?

When I pulled out my trusty Merriam-Websters's Collegiate Dictionary, my plans for writing about hobbies quickly got dashed, as the first definition for hobby is not what you would expect at all (gardening, model railroading, etc.).

Guess what the first definition of hobby is? It's "a small Old World falcon that is dark blue above and white below with dark streaking on the breast."

Huh?

I've been in plenty of hobby shops over the years, and I've not once seen a cage with a large, falcon-type bird of prey hanging from the ceiling. Seriously though, I find it amazing that, at my advanced age, I could find a word that has a totally different primary meaning than what I (and probably you) thought it was.

I mean, can you imagine if Atlanta's football team were called The Hobbies instead of The Falcons? Give me a break.

This got me thinking about quirky different usages of words and odd patterns of speech. When I was small, I vividly remember my Uncle Carmine. He liked big cars and often had a Cadillac or some other beautiful large luxury car.

I can remember very well him telling me, if you wanted to take care of your car, you had to "change the Earl" very often. Of course he meant "oil," but for a long time I thought he had some guy named Earl who worked on his cars and who for some reason he had to change for another guy named Earl every now and then. I'm not even kidding about this.

Then I had a friend who liked football. He was always disappointed when the team had to settle for a "field gold" rather than a touchdown (it's really called a field goal, of course).

This kind of pronunciation thing drives me crazy (and, no, I don't have that much free time, ha ha). One of these that really drives me up the wall is "acrost" instead of across, as in, "The park entrance is acrost that bridge." This seems to be a regional thing, as I've never heard anyone in the media or outside the Capital District say it. One more thing that makes us so cute and lovable, I guess.

Another one that gets butchered on a regular basis is "relator" when of course it's Realtor. You can forgive a layperson for making this mistake, but I've even heard Realtors mispronounce it. Since you'd think they want to present an air of competence and professionalism, this can't be good.

Perhaps their "ant" (meaning aunt) should tell them. I'm guilty of this one myself — I still lovingly refer to my Ant Lena. I know a lot of us do this, because saying aunt sounds a little fancy and pretentious. I hope all the other lovely ants out there don't mind.

Speaking of Ant Lena, when you went to her house, you could always count on having some "bizza and breadsels," that is pizza and pretzels. Ah, the good old days. You would have liked Ant Lena for sure. She's been gone for a long time now and I still think about her all the time.

How 'bout when you're watching the national news and a story comes on about Al-bany, not All-bany? I can sort of forgive them for this one. If you've never heard a regional pronunciation, how can you know what it is?

If you weren't from around here, how would you know how to pronounce, say, Valatie (val-LAY-shuh)? Still, Albany is the capital of New York, so mispronouncing it is kind of inexcusable when it happens.

If someone has a "couple a three" beers, how many beers did they have? My lovely wife says six but I know it's three. Don't ask me how I know this, I just do.

She did get me on one, though. Say you're listening to a ball game and it's the fifth inning. Guess what, look up “fifth” and you’ll see the pronunciation is listed as "fith" and that's the way she says it. The first time I heard her say fith I honestly didn't know what she was talking about.

I used to watch a lot of Met games and it was always the fifth inning, not the fith(!) inning, fer crying out loud, but it is in the dictionary so she's right as usual. I just know I'll never be able to get used to "fith." Sounds like some kind of a bad sickness to me. ("It's too bad, the poor thing's got the fith.")

Whenever I get a new GPS, the first thing I do is change the speaking voice to British English female. There's nothing like coming up to the end of Route 155 in Voorheesville and having that lovely English lady say in her fancy accent "enter roundabout."

Gotta love it. I get a kick out of it every time. You feel like pulling over for some tea and scones.

Without doubt, the most annoying pronunciation faux pas has to be the phenomenon known as "uptalk." This is where a declarative sentence is spoken as a question. If you've by some miracle avoided this auditory disaster, turn on the NPR radio show "Car Talk" and wait for a young female to call in.

Young women are the most notorious "uptalkers" by far. For example, the hosts might ask her where she's calling from. She's supposed to say "I'm from Philadelphia" but instead she says "I'm from Philadelphia?"

Then they will ask her what kind of car problem she is having. She is supposed to say "The check-engine light is on" but instead she says "The check engine light is on?"

This making every statement into a question, for me, is way worse than the cringe-worthy gold standard of chalk squeaking on a blackboard. It simply makes the speaker sound vapid and annoying.

I'm to the point where I have to change the channel when one of these women come on, or, if I'm at a party and someone starts uptalking, I'll remove myself from that conversation faster than Billy Fuccillo can say, "It's gonna be huge, Capital District, huge-uh."

So where did uptalk come from? One theory traces it to the late great Frank Zappa's only top-40 hit, "Valley Girl," where his daughter Moon Unit rapped and uptalked for three minutes in what was then known as "valspeak,” the language of southern California teenage girls. Back when it first came out in the early ’80s, it was kind of quirky and fun, but then it caught on big time and that of course ruined it.

Incredibly, many young girls and women still goofily talk like that today. I'm sure Frank Zappa is laughing his long dark curly locks off wherever he is, but I, for one, have had enough? Sorry, couldn't resist. Gag me with a spoon, as Moon Unit would say.

Now to get back to thinking about hobbies, and by that I mean leisure-time activities, not birds of prey.

There was an article in a local newspaper about learning how to do remodeling and home-improvement projects. It told about the many benefits of doing such work; including learning new skills; the pride gained from doing it yourself, and, of course, saving money.

It also noted that doing these kinds of projects, especially for first-timers, would naturally take longer than having a pro do it, or even an experienced amateur. One way to find this extra time, it said, was to drop any exercise program from your schedule, and use that time to work on the project.

Now, I've read hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles on getting in shape over the years. These articles always explain the importance of getting enough exercise and offer plenty of tips on how to squeeze exercise into our busy lives.

That's why I was so blown away when I read something telling me not to exercise. It was like my conception of reality was turned upside down.

I thought about this recently as I undertook refurbishment of a bedroom, hallways, and stairway in my home. This was a large-scale project — a lot of Sheetrock repair; a new door; new flooring; and, of course, fresh paint.

Like the newspaper article said, I took time that I'd normally use to exercise to do this work, but it wasn't by choice; I had arthroscopic shoulder surgery a couple of months ago, and I'm still waiting to get my full strength back so I can start exercising again. The funny thing is, even though I wasn't exercising in the normal sense, I sure got plenty of workouts.

When you're working on the second floor and your tools are in the basement, you face a dilemma — how many tools to bring up? You don't want to bring up so many that you'll have a ton to put away, but not so few that you need to make a lot of up and down trips either. No matter how you do it, the exercise you get from traversing two sets of stairs over and over adds up, let me tell you.

I had to remove lamps from the ceilings and patch and paint up there. Just working overhead is quite taxing, not only for the strength required, but also for craning your neck to see what you're doing.

Ouch.

It's also nice when the paint splatters on your hair and face; that way, when you look in the mirror later, it really looks like you accomplished something. Hey, some people pay big bucks to get their hair colored. I got mine colored for free.

I truly admire guys who do this work every day. I have a feeling that their own houses need work, because I'll bet the last thing they want to do at the end of the day is more of the same.

Think about that for a minute. You're a painter yet your house needs painting; you're a carpenter yet your house needs repair. No wonder why so many people play the lottery.

Do it your way

Aside from the workout you get (whether you want it or not), the really good thing about doing your own remodeling is you get the final say in every aspect.

For example, a lot of places sell painting supplies, but I only buy one very well regarded brand along with the best brushes when I paint. Painting is so involved that I only want to do it once.

The only time I've ever heard any valid reason to use less than the best was a landlord telling me he cuts his paint 50 percent when the tenants change because he's really just painting to clean.

If you can wait for the sales — and you can if you're doing it yourself — you can get the best at a good price, so that's what I do. Painting is just too much work to have to deal with inferior materials.

Don't forget, of course, when you work on a room, you have to get the stuff out of the room first. It's times like these when you realize just how dusty and dirty things can get when you don't deal with them for a long time.

Sometimes you'll even find something you'd thought you'd lost forever; I once found a much-loved belt-carried multi-tool, which had been missing for years, when I moved a desk. No such luck this time, but rooms look so much better when they're less cluttered that it's worth a painting job just as an excuse to clean things out. Less truly is more

With any kind of painting, the trick is in the preparation. If you can feel any kind of bump or ridge with your fingers, you'll see it when it's painted. So now you're into endless spackling, sanding, and priming; the problem is in knowing when to stop.

I always tell myself I'm not going for House Beautiful or whatever other magazines there are that celebrate such stuff, and the truth is you tend to focus on the flaws because you know where they are, but others may not even notice.

Others in this case does not include my lovely wife, because she has the impressive talent of being able to spot any drips, runs, or unspackled holes the instant she walks into the room, no matter where they are, in about two seconds. They say that all men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner; how true, how true.

Once all your prep work is done, the interior design aspect of the job begins; you have to chose colors and styles. Here is where I lose it totally.

I have absolutely no sense of style or what matches what. Believe it or not, I go by the names of colors more than anything else. For example, the color I used for the bedroom, a cool and calm light blue, is called Niagara Falls.

Doesn't that have a nice ring to it? I know, it makes no sense, but I have a wife to deal with color schemes and all that. She picks by look, I pick by name, and somehow or another it just works out, how about that.

You don't normally think of painting as exciting work but have you tried painting a stairway ceiling lately? You can use a roller on an extension for the main part, but that won't work for cutting in the sides.

Here — there's just no way around it — you need a ladder. I have a fancy new one where the legs can be adjusted separately, so I set it up on the stairs. Looking at it was weird; it just doesn't seem natural for a stepladder to have two unequal length legs.

Since I've had a ladder collapse under me, I'm very careful around them now. I gingerly got on it and, yes, it held and I was able to cut in the sides and corners, but I never felt real comfortable on it. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. It's going to take me quite a while before my faith in ladders is restored.

The finale

 When you're done and showing off your handiwork, People will admire it unless they're married to you or using a microscope; as long as you get things mostly smooth, you should be OK. If you want absolute perfection — true glass-like smoothness on all visible surfaces — be prepared to pay for it with lots of time or money. There is no other way.

I truly think most of the value from a painting project comes from the cleaning and overall freshening up that goes along with it. My new rules are: No shoes on the new carpets and less stuff in the rooms, including only the bare minimum of stuff hanging on the walls. I hope that following these rules along with the normal vacuuming and dusting  will mean I won't be doing this work again any time soon.

The good news is the project got done and the one bedroom along with the hallways and stairway now look terrific. The bad news is the rest of the house now looks way overdue for the same treatment, sigh. Once my shoulder gets better I hope to get back to exercising, so I guess now is the time to buy more paint while I still have some free time. I wonder if they have a color called Serenity Now?

Novel way to read a classic novel: Charles Dickens’s 1859 A Tale of Two Cities, can be read in electronic form now. Frank Palmeri sees both good things and bad — the best of reading and the worst of reading — in this.

An e-book is an electronic version of a traditional book that can be read on a computer or on an e-book reader like a Kindle from Amazon.com or a Nook from Barnes and Noble. About two years ago, I purchased a Kindle.

I liked it, but, around the same time, I seemingly became a magnet for regular books; I started picking up cheap or free books from the library, all kinds of charity events, and even my old books from my parents' basement when they moved.

For a book lover like me, this was just terrific, so I rarely used the Kindle. Lately, though, I decided to immerse myself in the Kindle, just to see, once and for all, what the e-book experience is really like. When it comes to real books versus e-books, I think one phrase the kids like to use is appropriate: It's all good.

My Kindle is called the Kindle Touch. There is only one main button on the thing — when reading, you simply tap the screen to turn pages.

If you're thinking of giving a Kindle as a gift to a book lover, the one caveat I'd say is that the person has to be at least semi-literate with a computer to take full advantage of it.

For example, I could take a Kindle, load it up with a hundred books, and give it to my mother, who does not use computers at all. I'm sure I could get her reading on it pretty quickly, but many of its functions and features would be so unfamiliar or unavailable to a non-computer user like her as to make the experience more frustrating than fun.

The last thing you want, when you give someone a gift, is to see it used once and then tossed in a drawer.

E-reader pros

Here are the pros of an e-book reader like a Kindle:

— Anything that gets more people reading is a good thing;

— You can literally carry thousands of books around with you;

— Besides books, there are newspapers, magazines, shopping, all kinds of games, and more;

— You get access to thousands of titles, many free or dirt cheap, at the click of a button;

— Font size can be changed on the fly. This alone is one terrific reason to read on something like a Kindle;

— E-ink (electronic ink) technology is really great. Though currently limited to black and white only, the stark black text on a plain white background looks just like a page in a real book. Unlike a computer monitor or a tablet screen, e-ink is very easy on the eyes, even for long periods;

— E-ink e-book readers have really long battery life (e-ink uses no power when just displaying a page). You can go a month without recharging;

— Just tap on a word to get its definition;

— Think about how much less shelf space you'd need if all your books were e-books;

— E-books are very environmentally friendly since there's no paper required;

— You can take out e-books from the library from the comfort of your home;

— You can lend and borrow e-books from friends with e-book readers;

— A specific word or phrase can be "x-rayed" to show all places where it occurs;

— Passages can be highlighted, and you can share your highlighting and view other's highlighting;

— There is a text-to-speech mode, where the Kindle will read out loud to you. You can choose male or female voices and the rate of speech, but it's so robot-like as to be almost comical; and

  • You can share what you're reading with social media like Facebook if you want.

E-reader cons

Now here are some cons of an e-book reader:

— Even though the battery lasts a long time, you still need to carry a charger around;

— Who really needs to carry a thousand books with them?;

— The user interface is not great: The book title and chapter title should be on each page, and, to read footnotes, you have to tap on the asterisk, leave the page, then use the go-to function to get back to the page or location where you came from;

— With so much storage, you need to spend lots of time sorting books and applications into Collections, or else you wind up with yet one more cluttered mess to deal with;

— It's too easy to use the thing just to play games;

— Any mechanical device can break at any time;

— Be careful how you hold it, because an inadvertent touch can change a page or do something unwanted;

— Like any gizmo, it will become outdated;

— It's not good for technical manuals (diagrams are too small; it’s hard to bounce back and forth between text and diagrams; and it’s not easy to photocopy specific pages);

— E-ink is currently only black and white;

— E-ink is hard to read in the dark (newer models have supplemental lighting);

— Giving or lending a book requires the receiver to have an e-reader as well; and

— It’s harder for older people to use all the features without at least some computer skills.

Book advantages

Of course, there are plenty of plain old books available. The pros of regular books are:

— No battery required;

— Excellent user interface;

— Available everywhere, often free or really cheap;

— Books can be dropped without any problems;

— Easy to copy diagrams or pages from technical manuals; and

— Easy to borrow, lend, or give away.

Book drawbacks

The cons for regular books are:

— You can't change the font on the fly;

— If you lose it, it's gone;

— Highlighting a phrase makes in appear black when you make a copy;

— Some are too expensive, big, heavy, or no longer available; and

— Many don't lay flat, which can be a pain (think recipes or technical articles).

Recently I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair on my Kindle. This is the classic workers’ rights book from 1906 that inspired the cleanup of the meat-packing industry. Reading this book on the Kindle was seamless and wonderful.

Then I wanted to borrow and read the e-book versions of New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell's latest books, Outliers and Blink, from the Guilderland Public Library. (Anything by Malcolm Gladwell, like his earlier The Tipping Point, is well worth your time, trust me).

For both of these, I was put on a waiting list — just like with popular real books, popular e-books are often all "out" at the same time. When they finally became available, reading them was fine. Getting to read two great books for free simply by using my Kindle, without ever having to visit the library, was great. Can't beat that with a baseball bat.

Since using a Kindle means you can take advantage of the library without ever visiting it, I'll include here a little song I wrote that was inspired by trying to make a left turn onto Western Avenue when leaving the Guilderland library.

If you've ever tried to do this, especially during rush hour, you'll get the drift I'm sure. You can sing this to your favorite blues riff or play along on harmonica:

Left Turn at the Library Blues

The Guilderland Library
is a place I like to be for programs, books, magazines,
seminars, movies, and DVDs.

All's just fine 
'til it's time to leave
'cause then you have to wear
your heart on your sleeve.

CHORUS

Look out left, look out right. Don't jump out
before the time is right!

Look out left, look out right.
Maybe someday
we'll get a traffic light.

A traffic light
would make it right;
hope no one gets killed
before they see the light.

Repeat Chorus

The community gathers
at the library
so coming and going
shouldn't be so scary.

Repeat Chorus

Go west, young man,
is what they say
but at the Guilderland library,
better hope it's clear and OK!

Repeat Chorus

E-book readers like the Kindle certainly have many advantages, and I'm glad I'm finally making full use of mine. Still, there's nothing like the tactile feel of devouring a good old-fashioned page-turner by someone like Tom Clancy or Mary Higgins Clark that you got at a used book sale for a quarter. Truly, it's all good. 

Picture this: You're crossing the street downtown in a big city like New York or Chicago. As you approach the curb, you glance down and see, amid the cigarette butts and beer-bottle caps, a single, spindly weed growing in a tiny crack between the hard, weather-beaten curb and the grimy, sticky asphalt.

The crack is maybe a millimeter wide, yet this weed has the audacity and tenacity to boldly poke itself up into the blustering, windy city, only one misplaced footstep or bad parking attempt away from destruction. Even putrid runoff from dogs relieving themselves at the nearby hydrant and toxic car and bus exhaust fumes can't keep this weed down.

This sucker is more than just a weed; it's a survivor, an underdog, and that's why you have to like it.

Now I live in suburbia, where the landscape consists of widely spaced houses separated by lawns that would love nothing more than to be like the manicured fairways of the world's greatest golf courses. The fact that many are not is only because of the immense expenditure of time (endless mowing, weeding, feeding, and watering) and money (mowers, fertilizers, pesticides, automated sprinklers) that it costs to have such a lawn.

I don't really care that much about landscaping, and I'm not very good at it, but I'm so trained that carpet-like grass and bountiful shrubs are the things to have that often I'll be walking along somewhere and have to stop myself from bending down to pick up a stray stick or pull out a choking vine. Living in landscape-obsessed suburbia does that to you.

That's why you have to love that single, solitary, growing-in-a-tiny-crack weed. It doesn't care about pristine suburbia or lush golf courses. It just is.

When there's a sport I don't know much about, I'll always find out which is the worst team and root for them. It's fun to root for the underdog.

No one wants to lose, so you know the underdogs are going to try hard, plus they may not even be that bad; sometimes, the ball just doesn't bounce your way. There is even camaraderie in rooting for a bad team.

The fans in New Orleans spent many years sitting next to each other in the Superdome with paper bags over their heads. You may not know the person sitting next to you, but, when you're both wearing paper bags with eye, nose, and mouth cutouts, there's a bond there for sure.

It's fun to root for an underdog. With no expectations, there's no place to go but up. Yes, it may take a long time to get there — look at the Red Sox — but, when you do, it's phenomenal. I just hope my favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, can win before I get too old and senile to actually enjoy it. Come on, guys, I'm not getting any younger here.

Let's get back to the dichotomy of that pesky weed. On the one hand, it's a true underdog, living in such a volatile environment, so you have to love it; yet, on the other hand, it's a weed, something random and not at all attractive or wanted, so (especially if you live in suburbia like me) you have to hate it.

This is rather painful, when you think about it, and I have thought about it quite a bit. It's a classic example of cognitive dissonance — a psychological conflict resulting from incompatible beliefs held simultaneously.

Is it any wonder I don't have a good time at parties? I'm sitting there feigning interest in small talk while mentally contemplating how weeds can thrive in cracks in city sidewalks. Yes, I really do this. Ah, the conundrum of the thinking man.

I've purchased plenty of supposedly squirrel-proof birdfeeders over the years. All of these have some special feature or design that theoretically should prevent squirrels from getting to the birdseed.

Too bad nobody contacted the squirrels first, because, for every one of these I've put up, the squirrels have had zero problems getting seed from it. They do it so cleverly it's hard not to root for them as well.

Talk about underdogs — these fancy feeders are designed specifically to thwart pests, and the pests just find a way to gorge themselves anyway. The crafty squirrels are truly amazing at it; I've seen them eat heartily while hanging upside down, using their little fingers to paw at the seed, while the chipmunks scoop up the spills. If these little *)%!@s didn't make holes all over the lawn and scare the beautiful birds away, you'd have to admire them.

There's one other thing that reminds me of hearty weeds and persistent pests — things you love and hate at the same time — and that's mob movies and TV shows. As an Italian-American, I am saddened that this genre reinforces the stereotype of Italians as mobsters.

There are some people I'm sure who don't know how warm, loving, funny, and family-oriented Italian people are. When they see these productions, they are sure to get the wrong idea about Italian people.

Yet I can't deny that these movies and TV shows make for compelling entertainment; there's not one bad scene in any of the Godfather movies, and many say The Sopranos is the best TV show of all time.

Instead of pulling that weed from the crack in the curb, I admire it; instead of scaring off the squirrel at the bird feeder, I'm amazed by it; instead of scorning the despicable characters mob shows celebrate, I'm endlessly fascinated by them.

It's this conflicting set of emotions that make many aspects of life so wonderful and frustrating at the same time. Oh well, guess it's time to go down to Robinson's Hardware and try to find a better squirrel-proof birdfeeder.

I'd like to use this column to give back in a way by providing some tips on how to write. Though my college degree is not in journalism, I've had much success with the written word:

— I won a New York Press Association award for humor writing;

— I've been published in many different publications including major magazines;

— I've edited several different club newsletters; and

— Around town, I'm often told how well-liked my Enterprise columns are.

I'm hoping that qualifies me enough to offer some tips. Writing, whether for fun, profit, school, or work, can be great fun. It's a wonderful creative outlet, too — you get to build something without getting your hands dirty (unless your quill pen leaks).

If you've never tried it or have and are looking to get better, here are 10 tips that might help:

— 1. Read, read, and read some more. All my life, I've been an avid reader. Reading anything and everything exposes you to so many different styles and words, you can't help but absorb some of it.

I've read interviews with many different authors, and they always say they read everything they can get their hands on in their chosen genre because it helps make them better writers. In your reading, be sure to include The New York Times, because it is considered the paper of record, as well as the award-winning Altamont Enterprise, especially the editorial page, because of the quality of the writing.

Reading for fun and pleasure and learning to write at the same time — it doesn't get any better than that.

— 2. Learn the rules so you can break them. All good writers break the rules now and then for many different reasons, but, before you can do that, you have to know what the rules are — grammar, spelling, parts of speech, and the basic tenets of journalism.

Pay attention in English class or get a good grammar book if you're an adult. (Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is a timeless classic for a reason.) Once you learn the rules, you can then tweak them to your advantage, which will really make your writing stand out.

— 3. Write about what you know. When I was a kid, I wanted to write but didn't think I had anything to write about. How wrong I was. We all know something.

For example, you can write about: what it feels like to get a sloppy wet kiss from a dog, going to the dentist, or locking yourself out of your car.

Quick example: For a writing class, my lovely wife wrote about buying a new purse. In this short piece, you got to know her whole outlook on life, how she was taught the value of a dollar, her value system, and more. Even if you'd never met her, from reading this amazing piece, you'd have a great idea of what a hard-working and thoughtful person she is — and all this from writing about something as simple as buying a new purse.

That's the power of good writing. The point is, there are endless things that you know about that would make for fascinating reading — all you have to do is let them come out.

— 4. Know your audience. Writing a love letter is different than writing a term paper. You have to know who your audience is and write accordingly.

When you tailor your writing like this, you're setting yourself up for success because you know the expectations and can plan and execute properly. Think about who you're writing for and you're on your way to getting great results.

— 5. Grab them in the first couple of paragraphs. As a writer, you are competing for your reader's time, which is precious to her. She has a zillion other things she can be doing. Why should she forgo any one of them to sit and read your writing?

It's up to you to make sure that, once she starts reading your work, she'll want to finish and not put on the TV or update her Facebook status. So do your best to reel her in at the beginning — it's the only chance you have.

Once you "hook" her, you can then make your point or tell your story in your own unique style. Then put the icing on the cake by wrapping up with a strong conclusion and you'll have created something you can be proud of and your reader will be glad she read. Good deal.

— 6. Keep it simple, direct, and flowing. There are writers like George Will who make a habit of slipping in long and fancy words as often as they can. He can get away with it because that's his thing, but, in general, you want to keep it simple.

Now, that doesn't mean you can't have fun with words now and then. In one of my columns, I decided to use the word "factotum" because I really like it and you hardly ever see it.

Just don't overdo it. Keep it simple, moving along, and flowing — almost like you're having a conversation — and you'll be on the right track. Reading your work, no matter the topic, should be an enjoyable experience. Don't make your reader work any harder than is necessary.

— 7. Respect your reader. If you expect someone to give you their time by reading your work, it's only fair that you treat them with the utmost respect. What does this mean? This means making sure your facts are dead-on, you're not BSing them, and that you're trying your best to make your point in as interesting and enjoyable a way as you can.

No one is expecting you to be Ernest Hemingway right off the bat, but they are expecting you to try hard. So respect your reader by trying your hardest to do your best work each time. Don't do it because it's necessary — do it because it's right.

— 8. Find your voice. You can rip a random page out of a book by Kurt Vonnegut, Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, Henry David Thoreau, and many other great writers and show it to voracious readers like me and we will be able to tell you in an instant who wrote it, because writers like these have a distinctive "voice" that is hard to miss.

It takes lots and lots of work to come up with your own voice, but, once you do, all your writing will be better. The only way to develop a voice is to write, write, and write some more. Practice works for musicians and athletes; why shouldn't it work for writers as well? Once you find your voice, you'll be well on your way to making a real contribution to society with your writing if you choose to.

— 9. Focus on a specific type of writing. The world of writing is as wide as the sky is blue. There are so many areas to focus on, you're sure to find one that you like. Focusing on a specific type of writing will give you the best chance of getting really good in that area.

I like reading and writing non-fiction personal essays in the Andy Rooney style. Others like thrillers, romance, poetry, or keeping up with a blog (a personal journal on the Internet) on any number of topics. The choice of what to write about is truly limited only by your imagination. How great is that?

— 10. Good writing is hard work. Like a simple weeknight dinner, you can slap a piece together pretty quickly if you want to, but good writing, like preparing fine cuisine, takes skill and effort.

I'm funny in this way — it can take me quite a while to get an idea, but, once I get the first sentence, I get the next thousand words pretty easily. Then, again like cooking, you need to allow the piece to "bake." This means you have to allow time to come back and edit it.

Unless you're covering a ball game or something else with a hard deadline, always give yourself time to let the creative juices stew, consciously and, believe it or not, sub-consciously. Editing (and having a good editor) is what can really make your piece great.

Famed sports writer Red Smith wrote: "Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed." Yes, yes, yes. All good writing must come from the heart.

Bonus Tip — writer’s block. Sometimes you hear about "writer's block," where you just get totally stuck. When this happens, you need to get your brain circuits rewired.

Try walking, traveling, sleeping on the other side of the bed, driving to work a different way, or doing a puzzle. Even taking a shower can help (some of the world's greatest discoveries have come in the shower). Just do whatever it takes — or do nothing at all (there's that sub-conscious mind working again) — until you snap out of it.

If you're currently writing, I hope these tips will help you in some way. If you're not writing, perhaps you'll be inspired to give it a try. It's really quite a fascinating hobby or vocation. Just look and listen — material is everywhere.

So don't be afraid to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard; you might be surprised at what comes out. It can be addicting, though — don't say I didn't warn you!

One of the things my lovely wife and I have always wanted to do is visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Wouldn't you know it the cards fell into place for us to go this summer, which was great, except for my wife still being on chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment. This added dimension made the trip especially interesting.

The museum is situated right on the shore of Lake Erie, a very beautiful location. The building itself, a glass tower designed by architect I. M. Pei, is not the style I would have chosen for a rock-and-roll museum. To me, something more along the lines of a big, funky barn would have been much more fitting.

Also, I would have added some kind of parking close by. You have to park by the science museum next door, which is fine if you can walk, but not everyone can do that.

When you're on chemotherapy for cancer treatment, you have good days and bad days. That's over-simplifying it greatly, but that's basically what it is.

On the day we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, my wife would never have been able to do all the walking required, so we brought along a borrowed wheelchair. She's wheeled around other disabled people before, but she'd never needed to be wheeled herself, and I'd never used one in any fashion, so it was all new to both of us.

After paying to park in an enclosed garage, I got the wheelchair set-up (took me a while to figure out how to do it). Then I loaded my wife in and proceeded to try to find my way to the hall of fame.

Finding anything for the first time can be a challenge, but doing it while pushing someone in a wheelchair? Now, that's just taking it to the next level.

For example, when we got out of the parking garage and up onto street level, we could see there were several ways to make it to the hall of fame. However, it was impossible to determine, just by looking, which would be the better way to go while dealing with a wheelchair.

All it takes is one link in the chain to be broken — an escalator, say, or a narrow passage or steep curb — and all of a sudden, you can't make it anymore. This is something you never have to worry about when you're a normal pedestrian, but is hugely important when you're not.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is described as being "handicapped accessible," and, sure enough, when we finally got there, there were ramps and wide doorways where the wheelchair could fit. Still, handicapped accessible does not necessarily mean you won't have any problems if you're dealing with a wheelchair. Three issues especially come to mind:

— 1. The museum itself has seven levels. There are escalators, stairs, and elevators. We, of course, needed to use the elevators because we were dealing with a wheelchair. The problem is that not all the elevators go to every floor.

So we found ourselves crossing the rather large expanse of the museum many times, back and forth, in attempting to switch to the widely separated elevator banks so we could see the various exhibits. I eat my spinach so I'm strong enough to do this, but for others who might not be, all the extra walking and pushing could be quite taxing I'm sure;

— 2. There was a long circular display featuring the early legends of rock and roll. Included were many sets of headphones and tablet computers. The idea is you first read about the artist, then put on the headphones and make selections on the tablets to listen to samples of their work.

This is all wonderful — if you're not in a wheelchair. The problem is the tablet computers are mounted waist-high for when you are standing. My poor wife had to sit up stiffly in the chair and crane her neck just to be able to see the display.

Clearly, whoever designed this wasn't thinking about users in wheelchairs, who, let’s face it, paid their full admission price just like everyone else so should be able to enjoy all the exhibits fully just like everyone else; and

— 3. The museum has lots of rooms and auditoriums where films highlighting various artists are shown throughout the day. One of these rooms is gotten to via a hallway where the walls feature signatures of many of rock's greatest performers. The hallway is long, curving, and dark, and there is special lighting that really makes the signatures stand out.

Here's the problem: the hallway itself slopes downward at somewhere between a 5- and 10- degree angle. If you're walking, you can easily deal with it; if you're with someone in a wheelchair, it's not so easy. Going down the hallway, you are forced to pull back on the wheelchair so it doesn't take off; going up the hallway (and it's a long hallway, remember) you are now pushing the wheelchair all the way up.

Again, I'm in shape and my wife is not heavy, but if I weren't in shape, or she were heavy, or if she were alone and had to move the chair's wheels with her hands, this would have been quite the ordeal, believe me.

Consider again that this place is advertised as being "handicapped accessible." Truly, after this experience, I would strongly recommend anyone dealing with any kind of walking issues to call first when visiting a new place. That's the only way to make sure you'll be able to handle it.

Quite frankly, I'm shocked that a place described as handicapped accessible was in so many ways problematic for a person in a wheelchair.

Before taking this trip, I had no idea what wheelchair users have to deal with on a daily basis. After this experience, I have much more respect and admiration for both the handicapped themselves and their caregivers in consideration of what they have to deal with.

All it takes is one un-crossable curb or stairway or whatever to just ruin their day. Long ramps and wide doorways may not be the most architecturally attractive building design features, and I hate walking from the back of the parking lot in the rain when all the handicapped spots are empty as much as anyone else, but we need to support handicapped accessibility in every way that we can — it's the only way to make sure all of us can safely get where we need to go.

Think about this, too — you or I are only one fall, sickness, or accident away from needing to use a wheelchair ourselves.

If you like music, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum is definitely worth the trip. I'm very glad we finally got the chance to go, even though we had to use a wheelchair.

I guess, when you consider some of the bumpy pavement we had to negotiate using the wheelchair, you could say we literally "rocked and rolled" our way through the Rock and Roll museum. How about that.

Location:

One time, I had a long-term thing going via phone with a female deejay from a college radio station. I was a big a fan and we'd developed quite a rapport.

Then we decided to meet, and I brought along my buddy. Despite our friendship, once she met my buddy, she was "off me" and "on to" him quicker than you can say "and now for a message from our sponsor."  Strike one.

Then there was another girl that I liked. Again, we'd been friends for a while and I wouldn't have minded if it went further. One day, I introduced her to another one of my buddies and that was it for me. She even wound up marrying him. Strike two.

Finall,y I went to a bar with a guy I work with. There was a barmaid there. Before we even sat down, she took out a slip of paper, wrote down her number, handed it to my friend, and said, "Call me."

Even though I wasn't interested in her, I'll call it strike three anyway just as a matter of principle. I mean, it starts to hurt after a while.

Guess what the common denominator in these three incidents was, and I'll give you a hint it's not that I'm that bad looking or un-funny or don't use deodorant. All three of my buddies who "got the girl" have blue eyes.

Yep, big shiny blue orbs like "Old Blue Eyes" Frank Sinatra himself. If I didn't see it happen so many times, I wouldn't have believed it, but twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend as the saying goes.

What really sticks in your craw about something like this is there's really not much you can do about it. You are what you are, warts and all, including having non-blue eyes.

Yes, you can try and change things about yourself (plastic surgeons, for example, make a fantastic living) but truly you are what you are. The bigger question is, why does something seemingly so trivial like eye color make such a difference to the ladies? I've given it some thought, as you can imagine.

If you walk around any office, you can't help but notice the wallpaper or background on all the computer screens, and the wall calendars and hanging photos. Many times, it'll be a picture of a sunny shore with perfectly blue water, or a cozy blue lake, along with the requisite clear blue sky, of course.

Blue is not only beautiful, but there's something calming about it as well. When your eyes remind a gal of the heavenly beauty of nature, you're one lucky dude, I'd say.

Then there's the scarcity factor. I haven't verified this, but I'd have to think there are many more guys with brown eyes than with blue.

That means that a blue-eyed guy is kind of rare, maybe not as rare as a blue lobster but rare all the same. So, like gold, blue eyes not only look good but they're relatively scarce, which can only increase their attractiveness.

Interestingly, when you're sad, you're said to be "blue," but if, when I was younger, I was getting the kind of action that my blue-eyed buddies were getting, I'd have written to Random House and told them to at least add an alternate definition for blue, for Pete's sake.

They say the eyes are a portal to the soul; must be the soul looks a lot better through a blue filter!

Remember the Bobby Vinton song "She Wore Blue Velvet?” Well, now you know why she did — she was obviously hoping to match up with a guy with blue eyes.

Now, I'm not saying ladies are shallow or anything like that in giving a guy's eye color such high regard. We all know guys can be much more shallow than that

But, as a brown-eyed guy who had better jobs and was funnier than not one, not two, but three guys who, seemingly only because of their annoyingly blue peepers, got the girl, it just gets frustrating after a while. Maybe if Van Morrison had sang about a Brown-Eyed Guy instead of a Brown-Eyed Girl, things would have been different — who knows, but I doubt it.

I know online dating sites are immensely popular. They spend lots and lots of money trying to come up with algorithms that can predict a good match. I can save them a ton of money right now — just add a check box to say if you have blue eyes or not.

From what I've seen, that should streamline the process big time. Let's face it, there has to be a physical connection for two people to hit if off anyway.

Apparently, for ladies, blue eyes is one very desirable trait in a guy. I've seen it with my own eyes, pardon the pun.

Now I'd like to end with some disclaimers, being that this is a sensitive issue:

— If you happen to be married to me, know that none of the ladies involved were as charming or sweet or intelligent or beautiful as you;

— If you happen to be a guy with blue eyes, know that I hate you (only kidding — not!);

— If you happen to be a lady, consider giving a guy with brown eyes a chance. Just like your cat, a guy with brown eyes can give you unconditional love if you'll only let him, and you won't even have to clean his litter box.

Crystal Gayle had a huge hit with "Don't it Make my Brown Eyes Blue." Well, don't it?

One time, when we'd been married about 10 years, my lovely wife and I were in a store looking for window treatments. At one point, my wife asked me if a certain colored curtain would match well with our bedspread.

I looked at her, and, in all honestly, told her I had no idea what color our bedspread was. Her response was succinct and to the point: "You're pathetic."

I know, you'd think I should have known something so obvious, but my male mind just doesn't register some things like it should, I guess.

I bring this up because, factotum that I am, I've again been forced to deal with window treatments on a grand scale. My son and parents both moved into apartments recently and I've been tasked with doing all the window-treatment installations. As taxing as that sounds, in many ways it's the easy part. The hard part is picking out and buying them in the first place.

My wife has really gone above and beyond in this regard, which is totally amazing when you consider she's on a chemotherapy regimen for breast cancer. She's supposed to be taking it easy between treatments, and she does have good and bad days, but the work she's done for my son and parents has been phenomenal. If you've ever shopped for window treatments you know what I mean.

Shopping for window treatments is quite a bit like shopping for cars. You have low end, high end, and everything in between. You can even buy used (think Craigslist), and sometimes a home or apartment's prior residents will leave them behind. Mostly though, buying window treatments involves lots of visits to lots of stores and a lot of standing around talking to helpful employees with a pad of measurements (and you hope you measured right!).

Picture a sunny summer Sunday afternoon. What you really want to be doing is pre-heating the grill and getting the drinks iced and the burgers made.

Instead, you're standing in a packed, narrow aisle under bright fluorescent lights, looking at all manner of shades (wood, vinyl, and more), curtains (tall, short, simple, fancy), and related sundry items like valences, rods, and drapes, in a seemingly unending assortment of sizes, shapes, styles, colors, and patterns.

Here's where I have to give my wife credit — you look at her standing there deep in thought and imagine the almost infinite combinations taking shape in her head, jugging the various permutations of style, color, and cost, while I'm standing there thinking of where the best place to watch opening day of football this year would be.

I just don't have the interest, ability, or desire to work out all the possibilities — what matches what, what's better for this room, room darkening versus room-lightening, etc. I get tired and bored just thinking about it. When you drive around a college housing area and see newspapers and sheets inside of windows, don't be surprised.

Interior design is like chili powder. You can only take so much.

When you finally find something you like, you have to then order them. Many times, this will involve custom cutting or sizing.

You really, really better have measured the windows correctly, because, if you don't, you'll wind up with an expensive mistake for sure (though if you order them too wide they can usually be shortened without too much trouble). Ordering window treatments correctly requires concentration and fortitude.

They should make it an Olympic event, with judging and everything. You know, "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" — window treatment shopping has all that in spades.

Once the products have been purchased, it's always my job to install them. Since I've done many of these, I know what tools to bring — tape measure, drill, etc. The goal is to bring just enough tools to get the job done but not so much that you're breaking your back and then have a lot to put away later.

I thought I'd had it covered until I went to install the first bracket. Sometimes you're installing these brackets in the space above the window, which is usually just painted drywall. When you install anything into drywall, unless you're lucky and happen to have a wood stud right at that location, you have to use some kind of drywall anchor for the screws.

If you don't, the screw will simply pull out of the drywall the first time you put any pressure on it, like when you pull the shade open. Always in the past, the manufacturer has included several of these little plastic thingies, often extras, too, just to be safe.

This time, there were none! Is the economy really that bad that they can't just for the heck of it include these little plastic anchors, which probably cost them pennies apiece, and that you almost certainly will need? Give me a break.

So now it's drop everything and run home to get some drywall anchors. That's the problem with doing anything like this on an occasional or part-time basis.

A "good man" would have some anchors with him in his tool belt, tool box, or, at worst, out in the van. Sigh. At least both of these apartments aren't too far from my house.

When I finally got these huge patio-door sliding blinds installed, I ran into another problem: The provided brackets were not long enough, such that, when you tried to open the slats perpendicular to the door, to let the most light in, they would rub on the door casing.

There was no adjustment possible; the brackets were at the maximum length. What's needed is to get those brackets further out from the wall.

The store agreed to provide some wood, but, even with that, now we're into making custom bracket extensions will all the attendant measuring, cutting, fitting, and, yes, swearing. I mean, first they don't provide the wall anchors, and then the brackets are too short? I don't know what gives, but I sure know I've had enough of it.

The window blinds we purchased came with this little plastic thing that's supposed to act as the pull. The thing is, it's split in the middle, and the only thing holding it together is a tiny plastic hook.

You're supposed to insert the three separate cords into this thing in such a way that it stays closed when you pull. Of course, it's so poorly made that it often splits open when you pull the cord.

Again, it would be easy to either purchase a proper pull, or fashion one out of wood, but why should you have to? It's tough enough dealing with this often-flimsy hardware in the first place; when the design is inferior, it makes it even worse.

Buying and installing window treatments is one of the times in a married man’s life when that Talking Heads song with the lyric "How did I get here?" comes to mind, like when you're waiting endlessly outside a ladies’ room, or holding your wife’s purse while she tries something on, or trying desperately to keep your mind from drifting during a "chick flick."

It just comes with the territory, I suppose. I have to admit, though, that, when you're finished, the windows do look nice, so there you go.

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