Visiting Stef At Deal or No Deal

As a parent it was cool going around with Stef. Everyone seemed to know her and like her.

deal_or_no_deal.jpgNo work today. I have to turn around and work tomorrow morning for Gil who is recuperating from some scary problems which followed ankle surgery.

Have I mentioned, no work today?

With a lack of commitments this became the perfect time to visit Stef at work. She is working on the daytime syndicated version of “Deal or No Deal,” taping this season at Sonalysts in Waterford.

“She makes this drive every day?” I asked rhetorically as we drove past the Niantic/Flanders exit on I-95. It’s around an hour from home to the studio.

Sonalysts is an actual movie lot in Eastern Connecticut. There are large sound stages and an open California-like feel.

As it turns out this was also the day Francine–Queen of Hair, saw the show. She, her daughter and a friend joined us as Stef conducted the grand tour. We went up-and-down stairs, in-and-out of hallways from building-to-building.

We walked down the hallway with Howie Mandel’s dressing room. I know that because it said “Howie Mandel” on the door! Also, because Howie walked out as we were going by.

“He’s wearing a lot of makeup,” Helaine said. “You know about that,” she added while looking at me.


Most TV studios are smaller than they look at home. Not this one. The Deal studio is expansive with the audience surrounding the platform where Howie, the contestant and the producer’s phone stay. We sat down in the front, just a few feet from the action.

After a brief warm-up the show began. This is a well oiled machine. The show ran with a few tiny problems easily fixed in post-production. Though this is the 30 minute version the game ran much longer. Again, easily fixed in post.

During a commercial break Howie stood alone on a rise near my seat.

“Howie,” I called out, “Howie.” He looked up. If Stef would have been with me she would have crawled into a hole. I told Howie we had a mutual friend (Howard, best man at Helaine and my wedding) and mentioned I’d been on Buffalo TV while he was living in Toronto.

As a parent it was cool going around with Stef. Everyone seemed to know her and like her. She was treated as a grown-up. This part could not have been better for Helaine and me.

The show went really well. The audience does get drawn in, yelling for the contestant to take the deal… or not. I didn’t think it would be as emotional for me as it was. A young woman from Waterford who wanted to win enough to take her family to Italy won enough to take her family to Italy.

Alas, Stef’s TV career ends Friday when Deal finishes production after 130 episodes in Connecticut.

How I’d Change Baseball

I don’t think it’s good for the game… and by ‘the game’ I mean ‘the fans.’

mlb-logo.jpgIt’s the last day of July. It’s the Major League Baseball trading deadline. Two reasons not to like the day.

August has always been the lesser summer month to me. Not sure why. Maybe it’s the finality associated with it.

My objection to MLB’s deadline is a little more flushed out. I don’t think it’s good for the game… and by ‘the game’ I mean ‘the fans.’

Teams should work with whomever they had when the season began. They should be able to move players up-and-down from their farm system, but not team-to-team.

No more ringers–and isn’t that what trading to get Lee or Halladay really amounts to?

No–let me use a stronger term. They’re mercenaries.

Contending teams trading for stronger players and mortgaging their future for short term gains upsets the natural balance and chemistry a team has. Think Terrell Owens and the Eagles, but imagine it in mid-season!

Picking up players also removes certain strategic components of the game-within-the-game just as having a designated hitter does.

At the same time it’s disrespectful to the fans of the ‘donor’ team. Remember them?

Cleveland and Toronto I feel your pain even though, as a Phils fan, it’s my potential gain.

My Friend Lucy and Cottage Country

Her family owned an island in Canada. Woodmere Island is right off of Tobin’s island on Lake Rosseau in the Muskoka lakes. It is close to Port Carling. The island itself had been passed down through a few generations. Alas, it is no long in the family.

lucy_hauserman.jpgOne of the cool things about Facebook is coming across old friends. Recently I stumbled into Mary Lucy Hauserman. I met Lucy nearly 30 years ago in Philadelphia. I was a disk jockey back then.

Lucy was a teenager who wanted to get into radio. She made herself well known in the business and stuck with it. She is the production manager for a large cluster of stations in Philadelphia.

By the summer of ’81 I was in Buffalo. These were pre-email and cheap long distance days, but Lucy and I kept in touch.

Her family owned an island in Canada–Woodmere Island. Lucy tells me it’s right off of Tobin’s island on Lake Rosseau in the Muskoka lakes. It is close to Port Carling. That’s a nice way of saying it’s way out in the boonies.

The island itself had been passed down through a few generations. It is no longer in the family.

This area of Ontario north of Toronto is often referred to as “cottage country.” It’s quite a drive from Buffalo, but doable.

When invited to spend the weekend on Woodmere Island I jumped at the chance. Lucy’s entire family was going to be there and I was looking forward to meeting them. Who knew there would be blogs by now–no notes. There are some parts of the weekend I still remember vividly.

Going to Canada from Buffalo wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary. Canada was where you went for Chinese food! I drove along for a few hours then stopped for a bite. I ordered a sandwich and Coke, handed the clerk a US $20 and received $22 Canadian in change! What a country.

By the time I arrived at the lakefront it was well after dark. The Hauserman’s were already there and settled in. The night was mild and calm. An beautiful classic wooden boat–I think mahogany–was waiting at the dock. I got on and Lucy gunned it!

I’ll let her pick up the story.

“I remember you screaming STOP we’re gonna hit Rocks or an otter or something! But you knew I knew the islands silhouettes like the back of my hand….I knew where all the buoy were too! So Funny!”

The island itself was beautiful. It was pristine and rustic. There were a few buildings as I remember. Nothing was fancy but everything was substantial. The lake water was very cold. Too cold for me.

I was only there once. Lucy was there every summer.

“I loved our lodge with the big tables and the wonderful fireplace. the boathouse , the beach, the cabins, the walkways with the hand made lights. Water skiing off the dock, hanging out with my family, the sound the water made when it lapped against the dock, the smell of the pine needles in the sun as you rounded the path towards the boathouse….It was incredibly special to me.”

I remember Lucy’s folks being very nice to me. I immediately felt I was part of the family.

On Saturday Lucy’s mom told me of the family’s plans for Sunday church. She said I could sleep in, but I asked if I could come along?

Sunday morning we all piled into the beautiful wooden boat and went to church. Though I am Jewish I found the whole experience as warm as it was foreign to me. Not to play down the religious aspect, but all I could see was how sweet this family was.

“That little church was so amazing on top of the rocky hill….and our antique boats that took us everywhere! What in incredible gift ! I am so happy to have shared it with you, for there are not many that I can speak to… that can understand the incredibleness of Muskoka and Woodmere Island.

I am very lucky to have a friend like Lucy. Don’t think I don’t know it.

Par For The Dollar

Back in 1980 I was working in Buffalo. My Philadelphia friend, Lucy, invited me to join her for a weekend at a family owned compound in what is referred to as “Cottage Country,” north of Toronto.

On a frigid, crystal clear lake, reachable only by their classic mahogany power boat, it was pretty close to heaven. For that weekend I was part of her family, joining them for every activity. I even went to church with them (and throughly enjoyed that experience too).

While driving up, I got hungry and stopped along the road for some food. I bought a sandwich and a Coke, handed the clerk a US $20 bill and got $22 Canadian change… plus my food!

What a country!

Actually, all that meant was, the US dollar was worth a lot more than its Canadian equivalent. As of today, they’re of nearly equal value. I think the proper term is, they’re at par.

I’m not an economist, but I’m pretty sure the value of a nations currency is directly tied to the strength of its economy. Our dollar is weak.

Over times, things tend to even out. A weaker US dollar makes our exports more reasonably priced overseas… at least it does with those things we still make here. Conversely, imports continue to cost more. That’s an incentive to buy American, here and abroad.

Still, having the US and Canadian dollars at par troubles me on an emotional level. Our dollar being more valuable has always been a given. It’s the first time in my life it’s not.

I don’t personally see signs of a weak economy, but obviously, others do. Our cheaper dollar is screaming that to anyone who will listen.

Greetings From Birmingham, Alabama… Y’all

I was planning on leaving for Birmingham a little before 4:00 PM. Helaine had a suggestion – leave earlier.

How do you react to that? You really have no choice, because if you leave ‘on time’ and miss the flight&#185 it’s incredibly embarrassing. On the other hand, what’s a little time in the terminal?

I left early and the trip was even quicker than I had anticipated. It took 20 minutes door-to-door.

This is not LAX or JFK I was going to. This is Tweed/New Haven Airport. This little field is a gem. All it’s missing is frequent service! Right now, you can fly to Philadelphia via USAir (prop) and Cincinnati on Delta (jet) and no place else.

I’ve attached two pictures to give you a feel for the place. The first, a residential street scene is actually the last street you drive on before you get to the airport.

Tweed is in a neighborhood.

The second shot is the ticket counter. This is not a cropped shot. This is everything. The whole shooting match. USAir’s on the left. Delta’s on the right.

What’s good about the airport is that it is so easy to get around in. Everything is close. Everyone is friendly.

I hear about people driving to New York or Hartford and say, “why?” Yes, sometimes these bigger airports are appropriate, but Tweed has so much going for it and too few people use it.

I cleared security and headed upstairs to my gate. Though there is a jetway, these little jets (mine was a Canadair CRJ40) board from the tarmack.

In the gate area, a TV suspended from the ceiling was showing Fox News. I looked up. The picture was an Air France passenger jet on fire at Lester B. Pearson Airport in Toronto.

Oh my God!

The dozen or so of us watched attentively. What kind of omen was this?

The flight was called and we all walked back downstairs and onto the field. I had brought both my bags as carry-ons. The bigger didn’t fit in the overhead.

The one advantage smaller jets and prop planes have is the ability to check something at the plane. You get a little ticket, watch it get put into the belly of the jet and then pick it up at as you deplane. No waiting for checked baggage. It’s sweet.

As we took off, fully nine minutes early, the plane accelerated like a little sports car. Other than my ride in a Navy F/A-18, I can’t ever remember a takeoff with this much ‘push you into your seat’ kick. The climb was swift and smooth.

I’d liike to say the flight to Cincinnati was smooth. Instead, we bumped our way up to 32,000 feet.

The CRJ40 is a very nice plane. It is about the right size for a single aisle regional jet. There are 40 seats and a crew of three.

I didn’t have a tpae measure, but it seems like the distance between rows is substantial. The width of the seats is not. I’m 5′ 9″ and I was too tall for the bathroom!

We landed in Cincinnati (actually, Northern Kentucky) about 7:15. We were sent to C72 with my connecting flight at C12. It’s as far as it sounds.

As I walked through the terminal, I looked at the TV screen to see my flight and an earlier flight to Birmingham, leaving in ten minutes. Was it possible?

I got to the ticket counter and explained how I had just flown in, was scheduled to leave later, but would gladly take a seat on this flight. No problem!

I walked onto the CRJ 700 and settled into the aisle seat in row 17. The man sitting at the window was speaking to someone on his cellphone. Swedish possible? It had that ring to it.

Whereas the 40 seater is sized right, this 70 seat jet is all wrong. It is cramped and much too long for a very narrow single aisle.

For takeoff and landing, one of the two flight attendants sits in a jump seat centered on the rear bulkhead. I turned to her and asked if this was punishment for something she had done wrong?

We were in Birmingham by 7:30 CDT. That meant it took three and a half hours to fly from New Haven to Birmingham. Unreal. That’s more than I could have ever asked for.

I walked into the terminal and, seeing the courtesy phones used, called the Radisson on my cellphone. Ten minutes later a van driven by a very nice man with a very bad hairpiece drove up.

We started to the hotel, but before we could get off airport property, his cellphone rang. There were more. Would I mind?

The hotel is fine, though nothing special. It could have been a Holiday Inn or Sheraton or any of a zillion moderately priced business hotels. It does have a floor mounted air conditioner in this room which is noisy.

It also has something I’ve never seen in any building before – a 13th floor!

More later today from Birmingham. Registration for my conference is at noon and I’m bushed.

&#185 – I have been flying commercially since 1967. I have never missed a flight – never. I have stated this fact to Helaine enough times that she is entitled to slug me if I ever say it again… which I will.

Hitch – The Movie

I took Helaine on a date this afternoon. The idea was a romantic movie… I know, 3:30 PM, how romantic could it be?

We headed down to North Haven to see “Hitch,” the new movie with Will Smith and Kevin James. More on that in a minute.

I wanted coffee, but I felt it would be uncool to bring a container of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (my favorite) into the theater – plus, I had seen coffee there before.

Bzzzz. Wrong! No coffee.

Instead, I ended up paying $4 for a large Diet Pepsi. $4! A 2-liter bottle costs 99&#162.

I admit it. I am the fool here. I’m the one who paid the $4… and didn’t get my coffee to boot.

On the other hand, though movie tickets now cost $9.50, we got ours for $6. This is one of those strange, hidden benefits of being a AAA member. Yes, you have to buy them in advance, but they don’t go bad (or if they do, they do it slowly enough that it’s never been a problem).

The newspaper said the movie was scheduled to start at 3:30. Not quite. Between a few commercials, promos and coming attractions, it didn’t get starting until sometime after 3:45 PM.

Hitch is the story of Will Smith, a relationship counselor. He takes hapless schlemiels, like I was when I was single, and gives them the advice necessary to meet the woman of their dreams.

His clients are sweet and earnest, though not classic catches. He is principled – the unexpected attribute for someone in that line of work, and the pivotal element creating the emotional tension that carries the movie.

Ask me what Will Smith does for a living? He is charming for a living. Sure, he acts… but he’s always acting as Will Smith being charming. There is a very good living doing that – obviously. And, quite honestly, it is a role I enjoy seeing.

His main pupil through the film is Kevin James, an accountant in love with a beautiful heiress who is a client of his firm. He lives a life where they are physically near each other, but she never see him.

In this movie, Kevin James was my surprise. I know he’s a comedian, has a successful sitcom (which I’ve never watched), and does a pretty good Jackie Gleason. He was very good.

Kevin James strongest point, was he never overwhelmed the character he played. It was never over the top. This was a nice guy, a good guy, not a beautiful guy.

His restrained physical comedy combined with his timing and interplay with Will Smith are what made the movie for me.

Smith and James love interests, Eva Mendes and Amber Valletta, are pretty and appropriate, but it’s the two guys and New York City that carry the weight here. New York is an integral part of the story and I am glad to see it playing itself instead of seeing Toronto or Vancouver as some wimpy New York wannabe.

The city was portrayed with the same kind of loving charm that Woody Allen brought to Annie Hall and Manhattan.

Even at 4:30 in the afternoon, this was a great date movie. We both loved it. It will be huge at the box office.

Blogger’s note – This is entry 1,000 in my blog. It is a milestone I never thought about… never expected. Thanks again for stopping by to read my words and thoughts.

Scrabble – Obsessing Again

In 1978 I moved to Center City Philadelphia, on Rodman Street between 11th and 12th. After years of living in homogenized apartment complexes in the suburbs, I moved into an older building on a street so narrow there was only room for one car to pass with no parking at the curb! I moved into an apartment one floor above my friend Neal’s.

Center City Philadelphia was great. I could walk out my front door to get the paper or have a bite to eat. No car was necessary in the neighborhood and almost anything you wanted was in the neighborhood.

One day, early on, I found Neal played Scrabble and I asked if he wanted a game. That began a Scrabble obsession.

We played that first game and I immediately realized Neal operated on a different Scrabble level from me. He put down “ani” and “zygote.” My jaw fell. How could I compete when I didn’t know “aa” was a Hawaiian volcanic rock?

Of the first 20 games we played, I lost 19. Actually, I lost 19 in a row before winning one, and that was probably because of incredibly lucky tile selection.

People who don’t play it think poker is a game of luck, not skill. They don’t realize that Scrabble has many of the same elements of skill versus chance… yet no one thinks of Scrabble as a game of luck. After 19 losses I certainly didn’t.

I played Neal enough to get better, though certainly never anywhere near as good as he was.

When I moved from Philadelphia to Buffalo, the Scrabble playing ended. With Neal I had the willing partner and convenience that I’d never find again.

My going away gifts included a Scrabble dictionary with this inscription:

To my protege –

May your Neilson ratings never fall as low as our first game. May your future be a seven letter word with a triple word score.


When I first got on the Internet in the late 80s&#185 I found a server (in Toronto I think) which hosted Scrabble games. I played for a while, but as the net developed and there were other things to see, I lost interest.

A few nights ago I watched a Scrabble documentary on the Times/Discovery Channel. All of a sudden I was motivated to play again.

After a few minutes of searching I found a site which hosts free online Scrabble games. I know the Scrabble trademark is incredibly well protected, so the only reason this site survives probably has to do with the fact that it’s in Romania.

I downloaded the software and started to play Thursday. By Friday I had 5 games under my belt (4 losses, though the last was only by 2 points).

Since the site records all your games and understands the competition you’re playing against, it ranks you as a player. Now I will have a goal, improve my ranking.

As with online poker, it is not too difficult to cheat while playing. I am hoping that the others I play against, who have sworn not to cheat, uphold their end of the bargain.

In the meantime, I wonder if Neal knows about this? Before long I could be losing to him again!

&#185 – When I first got on the Internet (thanks to a co-worker who was able to get me an account from his university) it was a very different place. Web browsing was done in a non-graphical way. Information was found on Gophers and Archie servers. It was totally non-commercial.

Phantom Lightning

As the power failure/blackout story progresses, the Canadian power authority has begun to blame a lightning strike in Northern New York State.

This would be a subject I have some expertise in. So, take my word. There was no lightning strike in Upstate New York this afternoon that might have set off the blackout. Period. End of story.

Continue reading “Phantom Lightning”