Sep 152013

So for reasons that I don’t quite understand and can’t completely articulate, I’ve recently been drawn to the time period about 100-150 years ago.

Maybe it started with some of the research for Connecticut Jerks and/or my fascination with Abraham Lincoln, and then has been fueled by the discovery of my strong resemblance to my great-great-grandfather, but I suddenly find that era very compelling—and not for the steampunk potential, either.

Sometimes "cool" is completely lost on me. And then there's ... *this*

In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.

His book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.

Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.

Anyway, in addition to looking at the earliest photographic images I can find, I also have been increasingly viewing YouTube clips like this.

Yes, that was from a century ago, which is remarkable to me—both in the sense that we have moving images from 100 years ago and that life seemed to be so very different than it was now.

I think it’s safe to say that our world has changed more from 1912 to 2013 than in any other 101-year span that you can pick in all of human history—in that time frame we’ve gone to the moon, split the atom, eradicated smallpox, broke the sound barrier, transplanted hearts and created technology that puts almost everything known to Man in the palm of your hand. And that’s really a fraction of what’s happened.

When I look at these images, it seems that the human race has physically changed, too. Yes, we’re more obese than ever, but we’re also living longer and despite illnesses associated with excess, are in better health. Kids are not dropping dead from polio any more, you know, unless they live in a part of the world where forward-thinking humanitarian warlords have banned immunizations to further their own agenda, or are one of Jenny McCarthy’s immunization-free kids.

Currently, the American life expectancy is 78.7 years; in 1912, it was 53.9 years, so on average we’re living 25 years longer than ever before—a full quarter century, which is astonishing. Again, with all due respect to natural selection and evolution, I doubt there has ever been such a jump in that aspect of homo sapiens in such a short period. I’m surprised that we haven’t gotten whiplash from such an abrupt change …

Then again, looking at the way we live at times and things we choose on which to focus, maybe we have.

Anyway, part of my curiosity has also been stoked by watching classic films on TCM—primarily the oldest pictures that are available. The other night I was watching Ah, Wilderness from 1935, which itself depicts life in 1906.

So many odd little quirks and things that seem to have been forgotten by history … in one scene, one of the characters sits down at the breakfast table, takes his cup of coffee and pours it into his saucer and drinks it out of that—and apparently, that was perfectly acceptable behavior for the time.

I saw The Searchers another night—it was interesting the way the handled horses, how they only rode them for a while, then walked them for a while. You don’t really see that practice in modern westerns, but it was standard operating procedure.

I’ve also watched silent films featuring Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and although they play exaggerated characters, I’m reminded at how few possessions people had up until recently—usually one suit, one hat, one pair of shoes (maybe borrowed from someone else). Sure, in films about bygone eras we might see lavish costumes, but the reality was that for the vast majority of humanity, fashion was not a concern.

But other key points of our daily routines have been lost in the shifting sands of time, too. Outside of film, I recently read about how all of humanity used to have two sleep periods per night. In fact, it was such an accepted part of life, that no one even really commented on it at the time. Here’s an excerpt from the article link in the previous sentence:

In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.

His book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.

Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.

Amazing, right?

I wonder what things we take for granted will be forgotten by future generations … like the keyboard on which I’m typing? Rotary phones? Pogs? If things go as they’re supposed to, I’ll never know … probably.

Sep 082013

Through the gauzy mists of sleep, I sense my wife gingerly rolling out of bed … “What time is it?” I ask before she can escape the bedroom.

She says

“7:12 a.m.”

Only six more hours to New York Jets football, I immediately think. (Sad but absolutely true.) I get out of bed and head to the shower. Even though every NFL analyst has predicted that the Jets will be the worst team in the NFL this season, I still am filled with unbridled optimism at the season that might be. Check with back with me in 12 hours.

7:32 a.m. I cut my fingernails so I won’t be tempted to chew them off during the game.

7:56 a.m. I begin one of my most longest-standing game-day rituals—doing my laundry. I’m not quite sure how this started (possibly in quest of having a special “good luck” shirt ready for kickoff), but it’s what I do now. If anything, it provides a distraction, and besides, there’s something very calming about folding clothes still warm from the dryer.

8:17 a.m. I sit down at the computer and start going through the roll call of NFL sites that I feel that I can stomach, which admittedly has been greatly reduced over the past years as the Jets have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Other than my cyber buddies over at TheJetsBlog, there’s not an iota of optimism out there regarding the Jets or their chances for winning today. It may be a long day, and an even longer season. Sigh.

9:46 a.m. Time for a snack. I *really* want Pop Tarts, but for some reason, pouring 30 grams of processed sugar into my already buzzing system doesn’t seem like a particularly smart plan. I opt for a pear. Yawn.

10:02 a.m. I check on my fantasy football team. The real NFL season started on Thursday night with the Baltimore Ravens getting their butts handed to them by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 49-27, and although disastrous for the defending Super Bowl champs, it was good for my B.A.L.L.S. …

Yes, at the behest of my son Kade who is starting to get into fantasy football, we named our team the Bendici ALL Stars, or B.A.L.L.S. for short. At least he’s actually 12 . . . I don’t have an excuse.

Anyway, thanks to Thursday’s high-scoring game, we’re already winning 38-5—we’re going to need every point as we’re up against a team that has Tom Brady. Hopefully, rather than seeing the TD-throwing machine that normally is Brady, we’ll see this guy later today—

Oh Tommy, I know it was only a second in time, but it has brought me HOURS of laughs.

Again, check with me later.

10:29 a.m. Screw it, Pop Tart time! I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Besides, I plan on running off my frustration later. How often does the NFL season start anyway?! (Very weak rationalization, I know.) GIVE ME SUGAR NOW!!!!!

11:05 a.m. SUGARRRRRRR!!!! YEAHHHHH!! How can it only still be 11 am? What the hell?!!

11:12 a.m. Another game-day ritual—a pregame phone call with my buddy Bob, a diehard Patriots fan. He invites me over to his house to watch football (the Patriots-Bills contest will be on), but even as he does, he knows that I will decline to watch the Jets. We make plans to get together for the Pats-Jets game on Thursday night, talk a bit of fantasy football and wish each other well, even though we both not-so-secretly hope each other’s team loses. Like on any given Sunday, I’ll be hearing from multiple times later in the day.

11:30 a.m. I put on the TV to try and watch some NFL pre-game stuff, but quickly turn it off. I used to be glued to these shows, but now it’s just a bunch of shouting heads shouting at each other about the most inane stories—mostly insipid off-the-field story lines and very little actual analyses of NFL games, which is what I—and true NFL fans—prefer. These shows are for the casual fans, and they are welcome to them.

Noon One hour to kickoff! Time for some lunch—I’ve never did a bunch tailgate thing as most regular Sundays, I’m watching Jets games by myself or just with my sons. (For other games, I tend to go out with my friends to sports bars and the like.) Today, my feast is salami and provolone on wheat bread, a nectarine and a few chocolate chip cookies. I make pb&J for my sons and try to keep both my anxiety level and lunch down.

12:38 p.m. Start getting myself situated in front of the TV, opening up various windows on my laptop—Twitter feed, Jetsblog feed, fantasy football scoring … football in the 21st century is a multitasking affair!

12:48 p.m. I finally look through some of the pregame shows. I see on NFL Network’s show, a monkey actually has picked the Jets to lose today. I guess that makes it unanimous. We. are. doomed.

12:59 p.m. I am so fired up I may throw up!!! Let’s get this started!

1:00 p.m. J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS!

1:17 p.m. Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith completes his first NFL pass for 26 yards. I already like him better than Mark Sanchez!

1:26 p.m. First score of the season—a safety as the Buccaneers snap the ball out of the back of the endzone. NYJ 2 TB 0. Not exactly how they draw ’em up, but we’ll take it!

1:45 p.m. Touchdown!!! …. Bucaneers. Ooops. TB 7 NYJ 2. I curse loudly, which startles Kade, who is playing on his DS and half-watching the game with me. That’s good for moral support, though.

1:57 p.m. Jets answer with a field goal to make it TB 7 NYJ 5. Looks like a baseball score … but that’s okay, the Jets should have a couple more swings before this one is over. Most importantly, no butt fumbles!

2:11 p.m. Jets QB Smith fumbles on his own 5 yard line and Tampa scores a TD on their first play. TB 14 NYJ 5. Ugh. This Jets team is not built to come from behind, so this may be over already. Double ugh.

2:20 p.m. Another Jets turnover, via interception. Did I say ugh yet?

2:23 p.m. Wait, keep your hands inside the rollercoaster as the Jets defense gets an interception of their own! It’d be nice if they can convert some points before halftime.

2:33 p.m. And they do! Geno Smith to Kellen Winslow Jr. for a 7-yard TD pass, Smith’s first in the NFL. TB 14 NYJ 12. It’s a game, people! Kade and I do our “J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS! fist bump routine because that’s what guys do!

2:34 p.m. Halftime. I’m going to bust out a Coke because that sugar from the Pop Tart is loooooong gone and my nerves aren’t going to fray themselves, you know.

2:55 p.m. Second half under way. A few plays in and center Nick Mangold is down. I know most people don’t know much about offensive linemen, but this is a huge blow to the Jets if he’s out. He’s taken to the lockerroom—never good.

3:14 p.m. Nick Mangold (which would make a great gay porn name—not that there’s anything wrong with it) is back in the game. Every little bit helps with this team.

3:28 p.m. End of the 3rd quarter, the score is still TB 14, NYJ 12. Hope—always dangerous—remains.

3:54 p.m. After going back and forth in the middle of the field, the Jets finally get close enough to kick a field goal and go up 15-14 with 5:04 left. I see how it’s going to be this year and I’m not sure my heart is going to be able to take it!

4:07 p.m. Two-minute warning and the Bucs are moving down the field. Glad I cut those nails this morning because I’d be biting them off right now! I might have to start on Kade’s.

4:16 p.m. Tampa Bay kicks a field goal to go up 17-15 with 38 seconds left. Backbreaker! My heart sinks … but Kade is there to pick me up. “Come on, Dad! Have hope! There can be a miracle!” He’s right—although the Fat Lady is certainly warming up her pipes! Still the Jets will get the ball back for a last-ditch try.

4:21 p.m. Do you believe in miracles?! Somehow the Jets have moved it down to midfield. So close …

4:22 p.m. Penalty?! Against the Bucs!!! Putting the ball at the 31 yard line with only 7 seconds left! The Jets trot out the field goal unit for a 48-yard attempt, snap the ball and it’s …..



4:23 p.m. And there was much rejoicing.

4:35 p.m. I get on my running shoes and head out to the track for a victory lap (or 14) to celebrate—and bring my heart rate down. There will be time for watching highlights and basking in the glow of sweet, sweet victory later. What a great turn of events! Glad I started blogging it all this morning … I love a happy ending.

Hey, I don’t know what the rest of the season will bring, but today, it brought a big smile!


Sep 022013

As everyone heads back to school, it seems like a good time to talk about what I did on my summer vacation …

To sunny Miami!!!

That’s right, I’m now Mr. 305, the King of South Beach, a regular Florida gator … or not.

We flew down to Florida to visit my sister Joni the Whore, who lives in Miami, and spent a great week hanging out with her and checking out south Florida, where I’ve never been before! We also visited with my cousin Paul, his wife Lisa and their sons, which was also great. Good times all around. Good times.

Anyway, like any expedition to a place that I’ve never been before, there’s lots of new sights to see, things to do and places to visit. In fact, here are—

The Top 10 Things I Learned About Miami

1. It’s hot. And humid. Okay, that might be like, “Uh, DUH!!!” but it’s like, really, really hot and humid, especially in August. Oh sure, there’s a breeze by the ocean, but that’s like saying, “Oh, if you jauntily wrap yourself in Osama’s beard, hell is a little cooler.”

2. No bugs? We ate out almost every night—literally, in most cases, in Coconut Grove area (where we stayed), there’s plenty of excellent al fresco dining options. And through almost a dozen meals (including lunches), I think we saw one fly. One. No bees, no wasps, no dragonflies, no ticks, no roaches, not even a cicada.

How does that happen? Miami is a clean city, but is it *that* clean? Florida is mostly swamp, but I guess something about being near the ocean eliminates some of that—the cool breezes? We saw tons of birds, lizards and other critters that feed on bugs, but are they that prevalent that they make such a big difference? Apparently.

Of course, it could be that it’s just too darn hot for them.

3. Terrible drivers. Look, I’m not going to tell you that Connecticut has terrific drivers, because we don’t, but holy guacamole, the “drivers” in Miami are awful in a way that makes my brain a-splode!

Here’s some actual footage from a Miami highway to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

Seriously though—I’ve never seen anything like it. Speeds change randomly, no one uses signals, cars just stop in the middle lane of the highway for no apparent reason, tractor trailers drive in any lane and at any speed, everyone has a cell phone in hand and is texting, and like The Road Warrior, there truly doesn’t appear to be any rules other than the strong survive … oh, and that the traffic lights are a minimum of five minutes each. Crazy.

I guess I get it to an extent—with so many senior citizens on the road, there’s bound to be some … unpredictability. And when you’re so close to the end, who wants to pay attention to the rules?

4. Speaking of the end, I-95 does. So weird—as we were driving on I-95 from the airport south to our hotel, we saw a sign that says, “I-95 Ends.” And it did. It just went from a highway to a three-lane road with traffic lights, which is also US-1.

It’s just such a major thoroughfare here that I’ve driven thousands of times, plus it always has tons of cars, which has always made it seem sort of this odd, living infinite entity. But all good things—and even crappy ones like highways—come to an end.

5. Habla español? Between having studied it for a semester or two in college and my wife being bilingual, I’ve had to understand a bit of Spanish (especially so I can know when my wife and mother-in-law are talking about me). Thus, Miami wasn’t so jarring to me. But just be warned—it’s not the first language for many down there, and most expect that you understand it.

The good news is that there’s lots of excellent Cuban cuisine to be had, and we definitely partook with gusto. My wife’s favorite part of the entire trip was a 75 cent cup of cafe Cubano that she got while we were in Little Havana.

On a side food note: As good as the Cuban food is, the Italian food is not—again, we’re spoiled by living near New Haven, but calling your restaurant “Real New York Pizza” doesn’t make it even close. Ugh.

6. Not a lot of fatties. Maybe it’s the South Beach diet working for everyone, but like when we went to Denver, I noticed that there were a lot of people in really good shape here. Despite the heat, many people love being outside, and there were plenty of bikers and runners.

One thing I noticed though when it came to exercising—there are those who are genuinely concerned about their health and will jog in the morning before it gets too hot or in the evening, and then there are those who work to be seen—jogging in minimal “exercise” clothes along South Beach at midday, chiseled and tanned bodies glistening in the hot Florida sun.

Did I say "not a lot of fatties"? That's clearly when I'm not in the picture, like here.

I guess if you got it, flaunt it—and that attitude is enthusiastically encouraged in Miami.

7. Apparently things don’t really get going in Miami until well after I’ve had my warm glass of milk and am tucked between the sheets. Not really a shock to anyone that knows me … but then again, we were here to visit with my sister, not shake our booties on the dance floor until the sun comes up. (That is how the kids still say it, right? No?)

8. Did mention that it’s hot? And humid.

9. Everyone is fake. And by that I mean that there is literally a plastic surgery center on every corner. Seriously, like we have Walgreens everywhere, they are lousy with laser skin, body reconstruction and breast implant surgery centers. Apparently, they take that whole “beautiful people” thing quite seriously, which is another reason why I’ll never quite fit in.

10. Miami loves gelato. But I don’t—and I don’t understand the love for it as it’s more expensive, the portions are tiny and it’s just not quite as tasty as the best ice cream here. I appreciate that it’s something different and supposedly more exclusive than what we normally get around here, but it did not wow me at any point to make me go out of my way to have it again.