Friday, May 28, 2021

Goodbye Ye Olde Party Room, hello new Fitness Room

Wednesday morning, someone from Steiner Realty slid a key to our new Fitness Room under my apartment door.  I grabbed it and high-tailed it downstairs.

Finally, I’d get to see that room!

I was surprised, it was much larger than I anticipated.  John (one of our maintenance men) was down there, waiting for the arrival of a fourth exercise machine and for someone to install cable behind that new tv.

John said that besides the television & exercise equipment, the room’s door, ceiling, walls, flooring all got updated.  It sure smelled new down there!

Here’s two treadmills, and a stationery bike.  These machines are GINORMOUS.  (Did you know ginormous was actually a word?)  Anyway, I’ve owned a few home workout contraptions in my lifetime, but nothing like these machines.


There’s a weight lifting machine in the back, with a couple of benches, pulleys, etc.  John said they were also installing a rack for free weights.


And here’s John, one of Steiner’s finest!  I was surprised when he told me there were 12-13 residents who wanted access but weren’t getting keys.  When I asked why, he said they wouldn’t sign a waiver promising not to sue if they hurt themselves.  People today are lawsuit-happy. 


Just as I was planning to leave and return later, they brought in the fourth machine; one of those steppers, stair climbers, whatever you call it.  I LOVE THiS MACHINE.   

As soon as they finished setting it up and everyone left, I climbed aboard this thing and gave it a try.  I set it to ‘Cardio’ and Level 2, and began stepping. 

I didn’t last very long, barely 6 minutes on there.  The back of my legs (and my backside) couldn’t take it, they were VERY sore the rest of the afternoon.  But I went down again yesterday, and lasted 15 minutes this time (with a 1-2 minute break in-between).

Well, it’s a start!

Thanks for the new gym, Steiner

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Be careful what you wish for… because you don’t know how many wishes you’ll get

Sometime after my 13th birthday, I asked my 8th grade English teacher Miss King if I could sit in the front row of her class.  She told me she wanted to keep certain students in the front (the goof-offs, my word, not hers) and did someone put me up to this.  I said no, I just had trouble reading her handwriting from the back.

She wrote a couple sentences on the board and had me move closer until I could read them.  She said I could make the switch and gave me a note to bring home to my parents.  That night, Mom asked if I knew what it said.  I said no but I had an idea, and she said “Your teacher says you need glasses.” 

I said it wasn’t that bad, I could see better than Duke (my older brother).  Poor Duke had been wearing glasses since he was 5 years old, I was 13 now, a teenager!  I got my eyes examined anyway and a couple weeks later, on a Friday after school, got my first pair of glasses.

I liked them right away--everything was so CLEAR.  But as the weekend drew to a close, I dreaded the thought of Monday and wearing them to school.  We had some flurries Sunday night, and as I stood there watching the swirls, wished out loud we’d get enough snow to make tomorrow a “Snow Day” and no school. 

Sure enough, the next morning we awoke to a good foot of snow on the ground and the radio reporting all school districts were closed.  My sister said “Well, you got your wish!” and the thought occurred to me:  What if somehow I had a wish waiting to be granted and I just blew it on a snow day?

That’s not just me, right?  Making a wish, seeing it come true and wondering if you just wasted a real one?  Well, it just happened again.

Wednesday morning, I’m waiting at the elevator to go downstairs and get my mail, when along comes my neighbor Opal carrying a trash bag.  I ran over to open the trash room door but Opal said she was taking it downstairs to the dumpster out back—it’s kitty litter. 

I asked her what her cat’s name was again, she said “For the 20th time, it’s Razzles.”  I made a frown, and she said “I know, it hurts your jaw to say it!”  We both laughed and began chatting, and when the elevator stopped at the lobby, I stayed on and rode down with her to the basement slash parking garage (and dumpster outside).  As we headed back in, to the right was a gray, dented metal door: the infamous “Party Room”.

Across the front, it has these black & gold letters—the type you see on rural mailboxes.  PARTY ROOM

I ask Opal, have you ever been in there?  She says no, have you?  Nope.  We get on the elevator, ride it to the lobby, collect our mail—here comes Dave, a retired math teacher (and truth be told, my favorite tenant in the building).  A lifelong bachelor, Dave is 79 and paralyzed on the right side from a stroke several years ago.  Opal says “Here’s your chance, ask Dave--he’s lived here longer than anyone.”  Dave stops his shuffle and says “Ask me what?” 

I asked him if he’s ever been in the infamous Party Room in the basement.  Dave stood there a moment, stroking his chin and said “I’ve lived here…. 1981… 1991… 40 years this summer.  I’ve never been inside.  But I understand… Jehovah’s Witnesses… used to meet in there.”  I said “Really?  I wonder what happened to them.”  Dave said “Doug… I don’t think they ever left.”   

The look Opal gave me almost made me laugh and I said “Well, I can show you guys a picture of it, I saw it on their website a couple years ago.  But it kills me that this room is down there and no one uses it.  I wish they’d put some exercise machines in there and make it an exercise room.”   Opal said “Well, ask them!”  and I said “Fine I will!”

(From the Steiner website, the Party Room—dig that red piano)

Friday morning, I am sitting here on my sofa, eating a bowl of cereal and watching Morning Joe, my phone rings.  It’s Opal.  She says “I know it’s early, but are you busy?”  I said no and she says “Jesse just called me from her car, she says we should head down to the basement today and have a look.”

(Jesse is Opal’s 33 year old daughter, who lives with her mom.  She works downtown and parks in the underground garage.)  I tell Opal to give me 20 minutes to clean up and I’ll meet her at the elevator at 9am.

We meet up, get on the elevator.  I ask “What’s going on?”  Opal laughs and says “You got me!”  We ride it all the way down to the basement.  When we get off, directly to our right, we see this:

Both our mouths dropped.  Two days ago, this was the door to the Party Room.  I jiggled the doorknob but it was locked.  Opal said “Did you call them on Wednesday and ask for this?”  I said “Yes Opal, they didn’t waste any time did they—no I didn’t call!” 

We came back upstairs, I asked Opal if she’d let me be the first to tell Dave and she said “Have at it, I know you like that kook” and we laughed again.  I told her I’d contact Steiner and find out what was going on, but when I came back inside my apartment and turned on my laptop, I’d already received an email from them.

From: Steiner Realty West
Sent: Friday, May 21, 2021 9:26 AM
Subject:  Tiffany Fitness Center Opening Announcement

The Tiffany Fitness Center is ready to go & will be open Wednesday, May 26th, 2021!!! 

It’s location is the old party room on the basement level of the building.  Coming off the elevator it is on the right side near the door to the garage. 

The Fitness Room will always have a locked door. It will be available 24/7 to Tiffany Residents only.

It goes on to say that no family, children or other guests are permitted entry, we have to submit a waiver to get our own key, the machines will be cleaned twice daily, etc.  I can’t believe it.  I also can’t believe that TWO DAYS AGO I WISHED FOR IT.  Is this that Snow-Day wish all over again?  C’mon, this is some coincidence!

I’m grateful Steiner did this.  I’m anxious to see what’s in there, and begin a daily exercise regimen.  But if I knew this was a REAL wish, I’d be Tom Cruise or Daniel Craig right now.

Maybe I’ve got a third wish waiting to be granted… don’t they come in threes?  I’m going to be very careful what I wish out loud for next!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Shopping at Best Buy: I can see clearly now, the strain is gone

Do you ever wonder “Why do I make things so difficult on myself”?  Several nights ago I was watching my customary show before bed, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams and noticed the words ‘BREAKING NEWS’ in that news-ticker that scrolls at the bottom of the screen.

I jumped up from the couch to get a closer look and felt a POP in my right knee followed by a jolt of pain.  2 things sprang to mind:

  • I better get a knee wrap tomorrow (darn it, I haven’t worn one since retiring 6 years ago).

I’ve been mulling getting a new tv for around 4 years now, and here it is.  I am (almost) speechless.  I’m in real love.

When I bought my first LED tv back in 2011, a 32 inch Panasonic Viera, it was fine.  I had a narrower room then, and my tv only sat 3 1/2 feet from my sofa.  10 years and a much wider livingroom later, the TV still worked perfectly, but was now 8 feet away.

I could still see the picture okay, but even leaning forward and squinting, any text on the screen was a blur.  I have pretty severe astigmatism and my glasses take me from 20/140 and 20/200 to 20/60 and 20/80, which is still poor.

For things like foreign movies, where you have to rely on subtitles, I got down on the floor in front of the tv like a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons.  Once when I told Dr. Cho, my gastroenterologist that, she said “How do you get back up Douglas?  I can’t and I’m in better shape than you!”

I’d been holding off buying a new tv for a variety of reasons, none of which had to do with money:  I didn’t want a smart TV with internet doodads I didn’t want or need.  I didn’t want a big glossy screen (my Panasonic screen had a matte finish), I didn’t want to have to deal with accesories like a sound-bar (I heard today’s tvs had a tinny sound). 

I also didn’t want something that would consume my room.  Enormous tvs might be a fun addition to a family room, but not an apartment.  But it still had to be big enough to make a difference. 

Anyway, I got a smart tv after all (Consumer Reports warned not to buy a “dumb” tv, you’ll get lower quality components for the same price as a smart) and this was delivered a few days ago.  It’s perfect.

LG - 43" Class LED HD Smart webOS TV

  • Model: 43LM5700PUA
  • Vendor: Best Buy
  • Price: $269.99
  • 2 Year Geek Squad Protection: $39.99
  • Shipping: Free

You can’t tell the tv’s size in this photo, I should’ve taken a pic of my old one before packing it away.  My 32” tv left a half foot of space on both sides of the stand here, this 43” fits the width of the stand like it was custom-made.

This TV is coniderably taller too, and where my Panasonic had a 2 inch bezel (frame) around the screen making the picture even smaller, this LG barely has 1/2 inch.

The picture has 4 color presets so you don’t have to fiddle with the color, sharpness, contrast, etc.  I left mine at ‘Standard’, and it looks wonderful.  Same with the sound, you can choose from 4 settings including ‘Cinema’ and ‘Clear Voice’, mine is set on Clear Voice and sounds terrific—nothing tinny about it, no sound-bar needed.

The glossy screen isn’t at all what I imagined, I only see a dull reflection of my couch & lamp opposite the tv (when the tv is off).  It was a breeze to set up, took me all of 15 minutes.  I let the TV find my Xfinity internet and auto-update it’s software, then disconnected it from the internet. 

(The only thing my new TV wanted to do was update the apps for streaming channels like Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, Pluto, Tubi, Paramount Plus, etc.  I already get those same channels on my Xfinity box.)

Everything was just right, from start to finish.  Best Buy went out of their way with delivering my order, from bringing it inside the building to carrying it upstairs to my 4th floor apartment, to giving me numbers to call if it was defective or I needed help setting it up.

They even called me a few hours later to ask how things were going!   I was very glad I didn’t order this thru Amazon, I’m tired of running to them for everything.

.     .     .

It’s been 4 days now, and I’ve grown more accustomed to that 43” screen (unless I’m a couple feet from the tv, then I’m surprised by it’s generous picture).  From my couch, it’s a hugely comfortable watch.  I can’t believe how nice it is, how easy it is to see, and how much I’ve been missing.

What the heck was I waiting for!  Nerd smile

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Happy Birthday to my older brother Duke... wherever you are

This is my older brother Duke and myself in 1963.  His first name is Purri, but I only heard one great aunt and an elementary school principal refer to him by that. 

To the rest of the world he’s known as Donovan, in our family he’s Duke.

He was born May 16, 1959 and this Sunday is Duke’s 62nd birthday.  I’ve probably spoken to him 3 times in the last 30 years.  Truth be told, I’m not even sure where he lives these days. 

UPDATE:  I’ve recently learned Duke’s moving back to Greene County, the rural corner of Pennsylvania we grew up, where he left for good in 1977 and vowed never to return.  I hope it works out for him, I tried moving back home 5 years ago and only lasted 6 months. 

Before Duke entered high school (and cast me aside for friends his own age) we did a lot of things together.  We were in the same Scout troop, were both close to our Grandma Morris and spent Wednesday nights with her (after Scout meetings) for years. 

Duke would talk my ear off about books he was reading, and turned me on to SF authors like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov & Ray Bradbury. We watched shows like Star Trek and Mission Impossible together, and listened to George Carlin, National Lampoon and Cheech & Chong records for hours.  He often snuck me into movies our mom said I was too young to see.

In 1973, when I asked Duke to take me with him to see The Exorcist, he said “NO WAY!  I could barely contain you during The Omega Man after Charlton Heston’s woman became a mutant!”

Years later when I saw The Exorcist, I silently thanked Duke for sparing my young mind from it     
From as early as I can remember, Duke had plans to become a lawyer.  He succeeded, but I always thought his true calling was writing. 

When we moved to the farmhouse in 1970, he spent countless hours in his room, clacking away on a manual typewriter.  He had a 2 foot stack of short stories, all neatly typed.

(Maybe now, with Duke moving back home, he’ll take up writing again—or finding his fifth wife.  Unlike me who’s never married, Duke’s never stayed single very long!)

Something else we don’t have in common, Duke’s been the poster boy for the Republican Party since 1972, when Nixon was running for a second term.  When I said I liked George McGovern, he went ballistic and told me to find a hippie commune and move there.  Um.. I was 11 years old!

I do want to share one episode from our childhood that I found heroic and will never forget.  On October 31, 1969—my eighth birthday—I was allowed to go out with Duke trick-or-treating, no parents tagging along.  Our younger sister Shawn and brother Steve went with Dad.

Duke & I were late coming home, but had quite the night—we were lugging pillowcases filled with candy.  And that’s when a clown mugged me.

A) Our house on Cumberland Street  B)  The scene of the crime  C)  Margaret Bell Miller School (now a middle school, in 1969 this was our town’s high school)

As we neared the corner to our street, an older boy wearing a flannel shirt and clown mask came up behind us, grabbed my sack, knocked me down pretty hard and took off running. 

Duke dropped his bag and his ‘‘Land of the Giants’ mask (a giant bearded head with the eyeholes in the mouth) and took off after him.

That took courage… or some pretty real anger.  Probably a lot of both. 

I dont know what it was, but seeing your big brother going after your attacker… I will never forget it.  They fought and struggled in front of the old high school.

The jerk got away, and Duke returned with my pillowcase, now torn & empty.  And we had one hell of a story to tell our parents when we got home.  The morning after, as I met up with classmates Greg L, Jackie H & Chuck Z on our way to school, I shared the events of the night before and my brother’s heroism.  When we got to the high school (we walked past it everyday on our way to North Ward Elementary), the sidewalk was filled with kids talking and pointing up & down the street, and saying “some kid must’ve got run over here last night!”  

The street was littered with crushed candy bars, popcorn balls and other treats smashed and ran over.  I didn’t get my Halloween haul, but neither did my attacker.

Happy Birthday Duke

Thursday, May 6, 2021

A home cure for the Big Mac Attack: it’s all about the sauce, of course

Do you remember Big Mac Attacks?  Was that just a Seventies thing?  As a teenager in the 1970’s, God knows I had my share of them, attacks and Big Macs both.   At least at that age, most of us could eat and survive pretty much anything.

It’s been a little over 4 years since my last visit to a McDonalds.  (My brother-in-law Jim & I stopped there for breakfast when I was moving back to the city in March 2017.)  Strangely, I have a McDonalds less than 1 mile from me, but it might as well be 100; it’s at the bottom of a VERY steep hill, across a 5 lane expressway. 

As I no longer have a car, you couldn’t pay me to try walking there!

But I don’t need to, I don’t sit around craving McDonald’s anymore.  And then the other night, I’m in bed watching YouTube videos before going to sleep, when I see a thumbnail for “Best Burger Sauce Taste Test”.

There’s this pair of guys who make taste test videos on everything from fried chicken sandwiches to supermarket hot dogs, and in this one they were comparing hamburger sauces from McDonalds, Whataburger, Shake Shack, Wendy’s (?) and In-N-Out Burger.   (I wasn’t aware Wendy’s had a burger sauce?)

As I lay there drooling, they chomped down on a platter of hamburgers & sauces, giving serious appraisals of each one.  Which sauce was the winner?  The Big Mac sauce, of course.

For the first time in many years, I felt a serious Big Mac Attack coming on.  It was time to nip this in the bud.

I wasn’t about to pay a fortune to Uber Eats or Grubhub or any of those other pricey delivery services for a damn hamburger though.  For the last 15 years or so, I’ve sometimes attempted to find the right Bic Mac Sauce recipe.  Never did though.  Until now.

This was shared by a chef on some foodie message board, who said if you followed his recipe to the T, you’d have it.  NO SUBSTITUTIONS & NO ADD-ONS.

Homemade Big Mac Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons French dressing

4 teaspoons sweet pickle relish

1 tablespoon finely minced (dried) white onion

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

After you mix everything together, it’s going to be drippy, salty, bitter.  YOU HAVE TO LET IT CHILL for 1-2 hours in the refrigerator, where it will thicken and blend.


Here’s my version of a Big Mac; because of my limited jaw opening, I omitted the ‘bun in the middle’.  But I still used two all-beef patties (cooked together as one), special sauce lettuce cheese, pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.  And toasted the bun of course.

The trick is to use the same quantity of ingredients too.  I love a thick slab of onion, but you can’t do that here.  Just a little bit of chopped onion.  And only 2 pickle slices too.  I even put the slice of cheese under the hamburger, not on top. 

IT WAS PERFECT.  With a big dollop of that sauce, the taste was 100% Big Mac.


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Today is the first day of the rest of my life… and a penalty-free retirement

Today is a real milestone in my dorky life, a date which I thought would never get here.  Effective today, May 1 2021, I’m 59 1/2 years old and “penalty free”. 

I’m now eligible to withdraw funds from my IRA, no questions asked.  Woo-hoo!

To be honest, I don’t need or even want to dip into my IRA just yet.  I’m counting on it to supplement my social security in a few years.  Plus withdrawals count as MAGI (income) and would raise the cost of my health insurance premiums thru the ACA.  But if I really needed or wanted to, I can now make withdrawals without jumping thru hoops or getting slammed with a 10% early withdrawal penalty.   (There’s another bonus too, more on that in a minute.)

It’s been 30+ years since I began saving for retirement, but it sure seems longer.  In the late 1980s, I was working at my first IT position (computer programming) for Omega Systems.  Back in the days of those flickering green screens, we had no distractions like the internet or even e-mail.  Every 2 weeks, you waited for the Company Newsletter, on paper, to arrive in your IN basket on your desk. 

One such newsletter in the Fall of 1989 reminded everyone of the company’s new “401K Retirement Plan”.  401Ks were still pretty new and retirement was the furthest thing from my mind, so I called my company’s Financial officer Dick Smith, for advice. 

I loved Dick Smith.  He was a trim gentleman with steel hair & moustache, all business but honest as they come.  I asked him if I should sign up for a 401K.  He said “Douglas, how old are you?  23, 24?  What’s your hurry?”  I said I was 28.  He said “Geez, what are you waiting for?”

I signed over 5% of my pre-tax salary to that first 401K.  I’d increase the percentage when I got a decent bump in salary or moved to another company.  My last few years of work, I was contributing 15% of my pay to my retirement.

I don’t want to sound like I’m boasting, I know plenty have less than me, and am sure lots have more.  I’ve just noticed some interesting things along the way to building my retirement nest-egg.

1.  The check is in the mail.  Why?  After I ER’d, I decided to roll my UPMC 401K into my IRA so I could manage my investments in one place.  I figured the transfer would take all of 10 seconds. 

Nope.  When I contacted my former employer and asked what the holdup was, they said they’d get back to me.  A week later:  “Douglas, we put your check in the mail today.” 

What did they mean?  Was the check really in the mail?  We’re talking a hefty sum, and with my luck it would get lost or stolen.

A couple days later it arrived—along with a warning to deposit it in my IRA right away, or in 30 days I’d be paying half of it back in taxes and penalties.  When I called my brokerage to see how to get it to them as quickly as possible, they said “Just drop it in the mail.” 

2.  Pennsylvania’s a nice place to visit—and retire.  After you turn 59 1/2 years old in my state, you’ll pay ZERO state taxes on your 401K, 403B, Roth, IRA & Social Security.   

3.  Trust no one (stock, that is).  In 1997, when I left Omega Systems to work for GNCorp (the company that makes all those vitamins), I signed up for their 401K and was invited to buy GNC stock at a substantial discount.  I declined, preferring mutual funds over a company stock.  

Shortly after I left GNC in 2000 (to work for BNY Mellon), people began shopping online in earnest—vitamins included.  GNC stock plummeted to pennies on the dollar, and people like my former manager (who’s 401K consisted of GNC stock only) lost almost everything.

4.  Listen to your mother—most of the time.  When my retirement fund hit $50,000 I told my mom.  She said “My God, Doug!  What are you going to do with all that money?”  I said “Well…. nothing, Mom.  It’s for my retirement someday.”  She said “Oh honey, by then it won’t be worth anything!”

5.  And finally, it takes money to make money.  What took all those years to accrue has almost doubled since I retired 6 1/2 years ago.  How?  The magic of compounding and a too greedy market, I reckon.

After I kick the bucket, cash in my chips, you know what I mean—15% of my remaining assets are designated to go to three places:  the Salvation Army, Humane Animal Rescue & the Epilepsy Foundation. 

I’m takiing the rest with me.  Nerd smile