Category Archives: Modern Living

Meat Pad!

I’m officially a recycling fiend.

Since our residential waste collection contractor (garbage man) started offering single stream recycling, all the stuff now goes into one bin. This works; separating the trash was just too complicated for my feeble brain to handle.

Now everything’s diferent.

In our household it’s well known that I’m watching what people do with their garbage and picking through the kitchen wastebasket for recyclables. “Hey, that doesn’t go in there!” How annoying!

But I am somewhat flummoxed by meat pads.

Meat pads are those revolting absorbent liners that sit under your meat, soaking up blood. I am not making that name up, for if you Google “meat pads” you can learn more than you ever wanted to know.

These things — which are not recyclable — always struck me as being like sanitary napkins for meat.

Here’s the odd thing: I’m now finding the meat pads glued to the trays. You want to recycle the tray, but the meat pad is stuck to it, so you have to grab the whole soggy mess and give it a good tug.

Last night one slipped from my hands and the dog ran off with it. To a dog, that’s like finding a pork chop on the floor. As usual, your trash may be someone else’s treasure.


Mapless in Connecticut

Here’s a question: are GPS units killing printed maps?

Saturday morning I joined a parade of cars and trucks shunted off I-91 South near Springfield, MA. A terrible accident hours earlier shut down the highway.

There were no detour signs, no information about why the road was closed, and no clue about where to get back on the highway. I felt a powerful urge to have a map in my hand just in case an alternate route was needed.

The first gas station along the way had nothing. “I’ve got a map of Longmeadow,” offered the clerk. No thanks.

Arriving in Naugatuck (where Naugahyde was first manufactured) I went searching for a map to help plot my trip home. Four different stores — three of them convenience store/gas stations — didn’t have a single map for sale.

When I asked if they had maps, they looked at me like I was asking for directions to the Nauga farm.

GPS receivers are great for navigating, but make lousy maps. Sure, they tell you which way to turn and all have lots of whistles and bells — but it makes you blind to the big picture. It doesn’t show where you’re going, just how to get there.

An actual map allows you perspective on your location and how it relates to other places. Looking at a map and figuring out your own route is an important skill — and like a lot of technology, the GPS might be making us dumber.

Besides, I don’t want directions, I want to look at a map and make my own bad decisions.

Harry Rag

I haven’t smoked a cigarette in nearly 20 years, but it’s easy to remember why I liked them.

If you were never a smoker it may be hard to understand how good a cigarette could be at times. Sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee, after a meal, while drinking — you’ve heard all that crap before. You’ve heard it before because it’s true.

At the end of the smoking years, my poison of choice were hand-rolled cigarettes filled with Drum tobacco. Every one required a little work and time, which seemed to make them more special than the mass-produced factory smokes. I enjoyed every one.

These days smokers are treated like dirt. Just drive through downtown Albany and look at the state workers huddled outside. They look like vagrants, furtively having a smoke under the scaffolding on State Street. The only thing missing are old oil drums to use as burn barrels for keeping them warm, like in Ironweed. So sad.

But just a few steps down, in my building, is one of the few places your can actually light up indoors, a tobacco shop called Smoker’s Paradise. And it really is a smoker’s paradise. The walls are lined with all sorts of cigarettes and loose tobacco, as well as a variety of exotic devices and paraphernalia for specialists. It’s a shabby little place, but nevertheless, a spot where one can still stop and take a deep breath — of smoke.

Now, about the title of this post. It’s borrowed from The Kinks, and what is probably the best song about smoking ever.


If you haven’t gotten your Halloween costumes squared away, you’d better get moving.

Your author, October 2009. Care for a cookie, dearie?I thought about dressing up as a nun, but my wife reminded me that it would make two years in a row I’d appeared as a woman. She has a point. There should probably be a statute of limitations on how often you can dress in drag before it’s considered a habit. Pun intended.

On the other hand, I could just go as a hobo.

Years ago dressing as a hobo for Halloween was HUGE. It required zero preparation or planning, cost nothing, and was incredibly easy. You’d get some old, ill-fitting clothes from your father’s closet, smear soot on your face, put on a hat, and you were a hobo. Naturally, you’d carry a bindle, the traditional hobo bag tied to a stick.

The great thing about dressing as a hobo is that everybody knew you were a hobo. If people have to ask what you’re supposed to be you have a problem. Halloween is not a time for subtlety — and like parody, if you have to explain the costume, you’re being too obscure.

But maybe the days of the hobo are over, replaced now in the popular consciousness by something else people understand: the homeless. Same thing, you say? Not really.

There was never anything tragic or sad about being a hobo. No consideration of a past shattered by substance abuse or mental illness, no discussion of a life wasted. The hobo was a venturer, making his way on the rails, tumbling along from place to place, the king of the road.

Thankfully, trick or treat is still big in my neighborhood. I predict that this year vampires and zombies will be very, very big, and we will have the usual smattering of princesses, ghosts, and superheroes. However, I’ll be ready with something in addition to candy for the hoboes who come to the door, maybe a can of soup or pair of warm socks. Their parents should get a kick out of that while scouring the goody bags for suspicious candy.

The Amish and Me

It was the greatest idea ever: the Amish spot.

I used to do the advertising for a TV station, and one day, like a bolt out the blue, came an inspired idea for a commercial for our mobile web service. It went like this:

An Amish man is fixing a fence when two children run up.

“Brother Jakob! Please tell us what the weather will be tomorrow.”

He scratches his beard thoughtfully and looks off to the horizon.

“Rainy in the morning, children… but we shall be blessed with a very fine afternoon.”

The kids run off into the field. One says to the other, “Sarah, how does Jakob always know the weather.”

She looks up to the sky. “It is a gift Amos. Truly a gift.”

Meanwhile, Jakob glances around furtively. Once he sees he’s alone, he pulls an iPhone from his pocket, pushes a button and Bob Kovachick’s forecast appears on the screen. Hilarious, right?

My boss liked it, but wondered if it might be offensive to the Amish. “The Amish? Ha! It’s not like they’ll see it on TV, is it?”

Anyway, I left my job before getting the spot done.

It all came back to me a couple of weeks ago I was driving in Montgomery County and found myself in a another world. There were children walking barefoot down the road, men passing by on carriages, women hanging laundry…. I was in the middle of an Amish community.

And I felt guilty.

It bothered me that I was so ready — eager, even — to exploit these folks to peddle my wares. It just felt so wrong; call it a sudden attack on conscience. I would never have dreamed of using a racial joke to sell something — so why was it OK to make fun of these people?

I drove slowly away, humbled, chastened even. They’ll never know it, but they taught me a lesson.

Off the Grid

How much trouble do you have pulling the plug?

I spent the long weekend on Wolfe Island, Ontario, a place better known for cows, shoreline cottages, and wind turbines than lightning fast Internet. Where we were staying, they didn’t even have a phone, so from the time we left Friday evening through Monday night when we returned home there was no internet. No email, no blog comments, no Facebook, no Twitter.

I looked across the water in the evening to the lights of Kingston, a city with free wi-fi on every corner and didn’t care. There was no shaking, moaning, or sweating. Unlike caffeine withdrawal, there was no nausea or vomiting.

There were, unfortunately, lots of cell phones. For my money, mobile phones are the most disruptive devices on the face of the earth –in fact I’d rather sit next to someone blowing on a vuvuzela than a person talking on the phone. That’s really saying something.

At one point over the weekend, someone needed to talk to a person sunbathing out on the rocks. “Does she have her cell phone?” We could see her from where we stood. It wasn’t that long ago that you’d just have to walk over there and speak to them — or better yet, leave them alone with their moment of peace.

Do yourself a favor this Summer and unplug, even for a few days at a time. It’s not as painful as you think. Who knows? It might suit you. For example, I even managed to avoid the free wi-fi at the Thruway rest stops all the way home. I did stop to use the bathroom, but no Internet.

Dirt Bags at the Grocery Store

Have you noticed the awful looks you get from the reusable bag fanatics at the supermarket? Put your groceries in plastic and they act like you just backed over a baby seal in a Hummer. These people are not amused.

Eco-snobbery aside, I’ve actually been thinking of switching to reusable bags. There’s no denying that plastic bags are horribly wasteful, and even if you repurpose some of them for things like handling dog poop, many of them get tossed away just minutes after you receive them at the store.

Now I’m not so sure.

In something that sounds like a bad local TV sweeps story, a new study has found that these reusable bags are often festering nests of harmful bacteria. Here’s an excerpt:

“Reusable bags were collected at random from consumers as they entered grocery stores in California and Arizona. In interviews it was found that reusable bags are seldom if ever washed and often used for multiple purposes. Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half. Escherichia coli were identified in 12% of the bags and a wide range of enteric bacteria, including several opportunistic pathogens. When meat juices were added to bags and stored in the trunks of cars for two hours the number of bacteria increased 10-fold indicating the potential for bacterial growth in the bags.”

Yuck. All this comes at a time when California is trying to pass a law banning plastic grocery bags. Not to sound like a nut, but widespread us of reusable bags could have the potential to make a minor public health problem into a big one.

So what should you do to protect yourself? Wash the stupid things now and then, OK? If not for yourself, think about those poor kids at Price Chopper who have to put their hands into your filthy bags while packing groceries. You want them to get sick, too?

Meanwhile, steal yourself to the icy glare of the sanctimonious shoppers and their smarter than thou bag bias. You may not be green, but at least you’re clean.

Go Bobble Yourself

No, this is not another post about the ValleyCats Bobblehead contest. Can anybody say, “Jump the shark?”

Instead let’s have a look at getting your own bobble made. Clifton Park blogger Roz Tofinchio, AKA “Crabby Old Roz,”was kind enough to provide us with an artists rendering of me as a bobblehead, holding a “personal massager” from the Solutions catalog. That’s is a deeply, deeply disturbing image. Don’t look at it for too long; it may burn your eyeballs out.

Anyway, there are lots of companies that can make you or a loved one into a bobblehead. The way it works is you send them a picture and and they do their bobble magic, which you can see here on this page at

You must be saying, “Rob, that’s gotta cost a fortune!” Nope. You can get a custom bobblehead made for under $80 if you use a stock body — more if you want the whole thing customized or want to do a couple bobble instead of an individual.

Why would you want to do this? Imagine what a great Father’s Day gift this would be — or you could give mom a bobble of you to keep on her desk at work. Or I suppose if your favorite player in the ValleyCats contest strikes out, you could just make your own. But that would be a little weird. Almost as weird as voting a hundred times.

Life Without TV

colorbarsIt was back in late 2001 and I was chatting with a couple at a party. They were smirking at me because I said worked in TV. He and his wife were architects or rocket scientists or something. “Oh, we don’t watch TV.”

I’ve heard this before. People who don’t watch TV love to tell you about it —in fact, they’ll find a way to work it into the first five minutes of any conversation. It’s like the intellectual red badge of courage.

The topic turned to 9/11. The smart couple complained about TV news showing the towers collapsing again and again and again. I was curious. “I thought you don’t watch TV? How did you happen to see that over and over again?”

“Well, we keep a TV in the spare room. We only wheel it out if there’s something really big happening. Like on 9/11.”

But you don’t watch anything else? “Well, you know we’ll watch the Super Bowl. And sometimes we’ll rent movies. We don’t want our kid glued in front of it.”

Oh really? Time to throw out some bait. “You know, some TV is actually good for kids. Not all of it certainly, but some of it.”

The wife chimed in. “Oh, yes! Mostly it’s trash. That’s why we only let our daughter watch educational videos.”

For people who don’t watch TV it sounded like they watched a lot of TV.

In our house we decided a long time ago that there would only be one TV. This helps us keep tabs on what’s on and forces us all into one room. It’s not so easy now that you can watch stuff on your computer, the phone, the iPod.

As you can imagine there’s always a lot of negotiation. But now that football’s almost over you guys can watch whatever you like.

360 Degrees of Separation

Young Bill Gates

Young Bill Gates

As if the dark days of winter were not dreary enough, there is a pall of quiet desperation hanging over my house. Not the whole house, just the family room.

We are suffering from the loss of the Xbox 360.

The darn thing up and died over the weekend. This means no Grand Theft Auto. No Call of Duty Modern Warfare. No Left 4 Dead 2.

I’m not much of a gamer, so I don’t feel the pain. When I play it only takes seconds to be cut down in a hail of bullets or eaten by zombies. At 48 it’s hard to remember which button fires your gun and which one is for running away. And no matter what team I pick in Madden NFL 09 they end up looking like the Detroit Lions.

But to a fourteen-year-old boy? Xbox failure equals crisis.

So as fixer of all things digital and analog, the first thing I did was get online and try to figure out how to repair it myself. How hard could it be —it’s just a computer.

What I found were various homebrew remedies guaranteed to solve the problem . One of them involves wrapping the Xbox in towels and letting it get very hot, as if you can sweat the demons out of its circuit boards. Another called for drilling holes in the motherboard and installing scores of tiny plastic washers.

Now the Xbox is in a cardboard box somewhere between here an Arizona on its way to be repaired. The good news is that Microsoft did such a lousy job building these things that they actually fix them for free, even if they’re a year out of warranty. They even paid for the shipping.

The Xbox shall return. Until then we will…I don’t know, talk?