I will spend retirement opening a jar



The Top 20 Best Names for a Band are Now Yours Free of Charge


I remember hearing the late Casey Kasem once talking about the state of current music and the former long-time host of “Casey’s Top 40” didn’t sound too optimistic. Perhaps that’s because few artists are composing memorable tunes these days.

I agree with Mr. Kasem, but I’d like to take things a bit further and suggest that there are few, if any, bands with distinctive names. So I drew up a list that might be worth considering if you are a musical group with no name for your band. Feel free to “appropriate” one.

Now don’t worry, I won’t sue. I’m a teacher. I’m too busy writing lesson plans and testing our children to death.  But, please, only one to a customer.

Here goes:

1. Earwax on My Finger

2. Mrs. Smith’s Revenge Pie

3. Cornucopia Laughter

4. Fungal Perfume

5. Stink Pot O’Malley

6. Lesson Plan Gone Awry

7. Biblical References to the Eighth Power of Hoot

8. Christie’s Bridge

7. Communistic High

8. Death Be Proud

9. Giblets on Parade

10. Chris Christie and the Belt Tighteners

11. Vomitas Vobiscum

12. Far-Death Experience

13. Zeitgeist, My Ass

14. High-Octane Memories

15. Chocolate Manhood

16. Dental Blood

17. Frontier Proctologists feat. Jay Z

18. Itchy Lice

19. Great Expectorations

20. Apostrophes Rule

I have these thoughts …


  1. Had a dream that Helen Keller was throwing up gang signs with Snoop Dogg.
  2. Got a call from Satan the other day. He’s got issues.
  3. I heard long ago that actor Ernest Borgnine and singer Ethel Merman were married for only 32 days? In their divorce papers it stated they split up because of irreconcilable faces.
  4. I just saw a cyclops wearing a monocle.
  5. I think Brady and Belichick are full of hot air.
  6. His Holiness is very pop(e)ular.
  7. I once heard that Adolf Hitler had a son, but the kid eventually changed his name. He wanted to make it on his own.
  8. I was just ruminating about the Theory of Relativity. And you?
  9. Maybe it’s because I’m 62, but every Tuesday afternoon I have a flashing thought about Don Knotts.
  10. The other day I was making copies of a story I was going to be teaching in school, but the stapler on the store counter was empty. So I asked the store “associate” for a sleeve of staples, but he said they were all out. I replied, “Isn’t the name of this store “STAPLES?”
  11. I just saw “American Sniper” and I liked it. Then I read there are more than a few lies in the film. The biggest lie is that Chris Kyle never killed even one Iraqi, much less 160. But he once had a disturbing thought about the Dewey Decimal System.
  12. Bradley Cooper’s next film is about a war vet who becomes a barber. It’s called “American Snipper.

A Teacher’s Baldness Horror Story


My wife recently said to me, “Did you ever notice at the Y that many of the middle-aged men have hairpieces? And they’re bad hairpieces?”

I hadn’t noticed because I go to the YMCA to lift weights and row; I’m not much into checking out guys’ scalps. At least not anymore. But she had a point. There indeed is a percentage of men who have not come to accept themselves as nature intended and so they buy these rugs that look like something out of Motel 6.

Years ago when I began teaching, I saw a teacher wearing the most hideous toupee. It sat atop his head like a frightened muskrat. He was one of these fellows who refused to accept that he was predisposed to baldness and believed that such a hairpiece might give him solace. But one day it backfired.

As he was walking down the school hallway, two students approached him from behind. The taller of the two snatched the hairpiece off the teacher’s head and began having a game of keep-away. The teacher stood there mortified. You knew he wanted to scream bloody murder, but that only would have worsened the situation because other kids had already started laughing.

So I approached the student who was holding the toupee and asked him to hand it over.

“Nah, nah, nah,” the kid said with a big smile. He was having too much fun.

I lowered my voice even more and told him that he should hand over the toupee because I knew for a fact that this teacher had head lice (he didn’t). The kid’s eyes lit up and he flipped it to me. Then he dashed to the men’s room to wash up.

As I handed the retrieved hairpiece to the teacher, we did not make eye contact. We were too embarrassed. I’ve seen him a few times since, but we don’t acknowledge each other for obvious reasons. But something good came out of that encounter long ago: he no longer wears a hairpiece. Instead, like me, he realizes that bald is beautiful.

While I, too, was predisposed to baldness, I think it had more to do with universe payback than anything genetic. When I was a child, I’d goof on anyone who was bald. If a bald guy was walking down the street, I’d yell, “Hey, baldy,” from my bedroom window. He’d look around for the culprit and I’d duck out of sight.

There was once a playground monitor at our grammar school and she had severe hair issues. I gave her the nickname of “Skinhead” and it stuck. Then I passed around a story that in high school she was voted Most Likely to Recede. My fellow sixth graders thought it was all a hoot.

Another time I was in a crowded elevator with my father and an office worker entered and stood facing the elevator doors as we all do. He was wearing perhaps the most glaring toupee of all time which prompted me to say aloud, “Hey, dad, how much do you think he had to pay for that?” I was 27 at the time.

Now, I don’t know if that man was ever aware that I was goofing on him, but the universe sure was. And believe me, payback is a bitch. By age 30, my hair was retreating faster than the remaining few soldiers at Custer’s Last Stand. And while I never resorted to a hairpiece, I did have a trick or two early on. If I forgot my hat, I’d never walk into the wind when I was meeting someone outside. Yes, it often took me longer to get where I had to go, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

And then there was the comb over. I grew the rest of my hair longer than usual and combed it forward to give the “illusion of hair,” as my sister Alice Maureen called it. But one swift gust of wind and the secret would be out.

Eventually I said, enough of this. I’m bald. Accept it.

And so to all my hairline-challenged male bloggers: go to your barber, have him set the shears on No. 1, and twenty minutes later you’ll be basking in new-found freedom.

It sure beats a game of keep away.

Goofballs lack common sense and, in some cases, an eyeball


The best example of learning a lesson in common sense that I ever witnessed occurred in 1964 by a pond at Roosevelt Park in Edison, New Jersey. A boy was showing his little brother how to use a fishing rod and I could tell the older brother should have just given up because the little guy started swinging the rod like a Hillerich and Bradsby baseball bat. But dutiful big brother kept at it. Then little brother was finally ready to cast his hook. He reared back and flicked the line toward the water, only to catch the hook on the side of his big brother’s face. Or so I thought.

That’s when I heard older brother’s frightening scream, “MY EYE!!!” Even so, younger brother maintained his perfect follow through toward the smooth body of water. And what did I do? Well, I got the hell out of there — and fast. No way was I going to hang around as that little kid reeled in his brother’s eyeball. I’ve got common sense.

Common sense is the ability to see the simple truth in front of us. But don’t look now folks, common sense is fading faster than Vanilla Ice’s rap career

Look around. People are saying and doing the craziest things without regard for others. Like Michael Jackson dangling his child over a balcony to give the people below a better view. Or everyday pedestrians crossing against red lights wherever they darn well please because now that the state has pedestrian signs all over God’s creation these people think that gives them the right to crawl out of any hole and make a bee-line across the street without regard for oncoming vehicles.

Two nights ago I was driving home, doing about 20 miles per hour, on an icy rain-swept road. Out of nowhere a male cyclist came flying in front of my car. I missed him only by a matter of feet. I let him pass then I leaned on the horn for a good five seconds. If the noise I made caused him to jump the curb then good, because I’m tired of people who think they can do anything just because.

Like the kid I almost obliterated last year during an early November evening when he walked out between two parked trucks on Route 1 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, listening to his iPod while punching up a telephone number on his cellphone. Happily I had a bit of warning there, but as I sounded my horn, he never flinched. He was too into his conversation and music.

Then there was the lady at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in nearby Springfield. I was standing in front of a bookshelf thumbing through a Mickey Spillane mystery novel when a woman parked herself a few feet away and started perusing titles. Within a minute, her cellphone rang.

“Oh, really,” she was now saying. “I can’t believe it. No, no, you mustn’t tell him. Are you crazy? No, no, you’ve got to listen to me …”

The woman stopped speaking, lowered her phone, and interrupted me as I was reading a book jacket. “Do you mind,” she said with a nasty tone.

“Mind what?” I said.

“I’m on a personal call. Please leave now.”

She glared at me as if I had no social etiquette so I went back to reading. Sighing loudly, she marched to the far end of the aisle to continue her call.

So how did the rest of us acquire common sense? Remember when Mom smacked us silly when we were about to walk in front of a moving vehicle or the time Dad laid into us when we almost put our arm into the wood chipper? That’s when we were ingrained with common sense. And thank God for that.

Athletes, fans ain’t what they used to be


What’s with today’s athletes and fans? They are one of a kind.

A baseball player hits a pop foul ball that is caught and his teammate advances to second base. The batter heads back to the dugout giving high fives like he just got the news his wife delivered triplets.

A football player catches a pass in the end zone and he whoops it up by moonwalking across the field. Meanwhile, in 30 seconds his team will walk off the field on the wrong end of a 36-6 shellacking.

Even the fat fan who catches a home run in his two-quart bucket of Orville Redenbacher popcorn looks around to pound his loser friend’s chest as if they had something to do with the 450-foot drive.

Yes, things are a bit different in sports than they were 50 years ago.

(“Are you writing another blog spouting your old-man opinions?”)

That’s my wife, Kathy. Can’t put anything past her.

Now, let’s see, where was I.

Oh, yes, the good old days. Of course, the good old days were never quite as good as many of us claim. What was good about Vietnam? Violence in the streets? Drugs? Nothing. But when a player hit a foul ball that was caught, advancing the runner to second base, he merely chugged back to the dugout, head low, disappointed that he didn’t get a single. And there was no announcer claiming that the player had a “quality at-bat” like we’re reminded of so often today.

No, the player from yesteryear made an out and the runner did his job by reaching second. That was it and the fans in the stands just nodded approval because it was good baseball.

Can you imagine a Green Bay Packer trying to pull off some ego-driven dance step and dunking a football over the goalpost crossbar after a touchdown? Coach Vince Lombardi would have skewered him in front of a national audience and he’d sit longer than Siddhartha under a tree waiting for some profound insight.

Now we come to the fans.

During the 1950s and 60s they came dressed up to the ballpark. Men often wore suits and ties and the women dresses. Now I’m not proposing a return to that old dress code, but I would like to hear a lot less abusive language. I hear the expression “You fuckin’ asshole” at Yankee Stadium so often that for a while there I swore it was a new chant that the team was encouraging.

And remember those New York Jets fans years ago heckling women as they were coming down the escalators at Gate D in MetLife Stadium in 2007 and asking them to reveal the body parts that most attracted them. It didn’t matter to these galoots that the women were with their children. Not to worry. It took the Jets just a few weeks to put a stop to that boorish behavior.

Whether we’re talking players or fans, sportsmanship has vanished in America faster than three Papa John’s pizzas at Rex Ryan’s house.

I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that it’s all about a new-found attitude. You know: My team’s better than your team, so go screw yourself.

The most well-read man I ever knew


As a kid I often read sprawled across my bed on summer evenings, anything from Jack and the Beanstalk, to astronomy, to the encyclopedia, to sports. I’d fill my head with all sorts of facts and figures, anecdotes, oddball characters, inventors, murderers, whatever caught my fancy. By age 10, I thought I was a pretty good reader.

Then I met Andy Mullally.

Andy was the husband of my third-grade teacher, Camille Mullally, who I have written about on this blog. Andy and my father, Carmel, were good friends and each liked to read. They’d tackle all sorts of subjects but in the end, I’d give Andy the edge as the greater reader — by far.  And so did my father.

In 1962, our family was over Andy’s house and he turned to my dad and me and said, “Want to see my book collection?” He had a glint in his eye and I could tell something was up.

Upstairs we went and when he opened the door to one of the bedrooms all I could see was title after title after title. But I had to turn my head sideways because the books did not rest on bookshelves. Instead Andy carefully piled them one on top of the other. Each time he read a book, he’d bring it to the bedroom and gently place it on top of whatever stack was currently building. He stopped when that stack reached the 12-foot ceiling. Then he’d start another stack and stop at 12 feet. This went on for years in that 15-by-12 foot room.

According to his wife, Camille, it was a continuation of a book collection that Andy had begun when he was six years old.

“Andy read everything,” said Camille. “History, ghost stories, boxing, baseball, politics, philosophy, psychology, science, film — you name it.”

The night he was showing my father and me his quirky bookroom, my father asked, “Andy, what if you want to look something up, how do you remove the book without creating the Domino Effect?”

“I don’t remove anything,” he said. “I have a photographic memory.”

But what if your son wants to read something?” my father said.

“Good question.”

(Andy eventually dedicated another room for his thousands of books so his young son, Bill, could access a title without living in fear of bumping into a column of books and being crushed to death by literature’s greatest authors).

Wherever Andy went, he was the Pied Piper of general knowledge. All sorts of people gathered around him to discuss, well, anything. Even kids.

At Camp Coah, a Boy Scout camp on the Delaware Water Gap, a second class scout named Thomas Carasiti once asked Andy at lunch if he would tell a ghost story.

“Sure, but not now,” Andy said, adding ominously, “let’s wait until it’s dark.”

So at 9:30 on an August night, he gathered the members of Troop 53 of Fords, New Jersey, around a campfire and spun a story about a man who was traipsing through a forest looking for his brother somewhere in Europe. The man eventually arrived at a castle, explained his predicament, and gained entrance. The butler took the man’s coat and announced his presence to the owner who was seated at the head of the dining room table waiting to be served.

The owner motioned his guest inside and invited him to supper. The weary traveler sat down and they talked. Then a servant placed delectable dishes of food around the table. Later, the guest commented on the meal saying that the meat dish, in particular, was superb. At this point, one silver plate was still covered and the host asked his guest if he wouldn’t mind lifting the cover. As the guest did, he let out a scream. On the plate was the head of his brother.

I have no idea who wrote that story or how accurate my telling of it is after all these years. But of one thing I am certain: Andy’s dramatic reading that night sent chills down my spine and half the guys in the troop who often moaned and groaned when the scoutmaster shouted “Lights out” couldn’t wait to beat it back to their leantos and throw the covers over their heads.

The next day at the firing range Andy regaled us with stories about Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson. He could tell you all sorts of particulars about each man. By the way, did you know that Bat Masterson went on to become a sports editor in New York City? Well, I do, thanks to Andy Mullally.

Don’t get the impression Andy was some savant who rattled off facts and figures just to impress people. Not at all. He was the best of conversationalists because he listened to you, too. Even when I was a kid, he sat quietly as I told him about the great escape artist Harry Houdini and how he died with a punch to the gut in 1926. I’m sure Andy knew the story — and more — but he nodded assent as I spoke. And he didn’t try to top me either.

Years later we would meet every second Saturday in December at the St. Patrick’s Guard of Honor Luncheon at Mayfair Farms in West Orange, New Jersey. By then I was a sportswriter and Andy loved sports. Now it was Andy’s turn to ask me questions. He was an insightful boxing aficionado, but he wanted to learn the back story to every fight and every fighter I had covered. I now was able to fill him in on all sorts of information and — get this — he was hanging on to my every word as I had hung on to his so long ago.

So what did Andy get from all of his reading?

“Reading teaches you how to live your life,” he said. “And, remember, while it’s good to educate your mind, don’t forget to educate your heart.”

Fifty-two years later as I teach my English III classes, I’m often inspired by the tales Andy told me long ago, and I try to teach my students as if I’m telling them a story, and one that’s good for the heart as well as the mind. The little techniques Andy used to reel people in to whatever he was speaking about I now use to capture my students’ attention. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Andy Mullally died in 2005, and I’m certain that he’s in Heaven striking up his pipe and bending more than a few ears. He was a great man — and a great loss — to all who knew him.

Just Another Day at the Office


As a teacher, you never know what’s going to happen next in the classroom. One minute the students are on board with that day’s lesson, the next minute World War III is breaking out.

Case in point: Fourteen years ago I was about to begin an English class when I noticed a female student yank off her earrings, one by one. Now, even I knew in my first year of teaching that move meant a fight was imminent. So I scanned the room to see who her opponent might be. No, not her. Or her. Oh, that girl wouldn’t ever start a fight. One by one I ruled out possible opponents.

But I failed to see Katherine. She was sitting to the far right, just out of range of my vision. Only when I heard her slide her desk back to get up and fight did I turn to see her. Gotta think fast.

Imeda, the girl with the earrings, was 10 feet in front of me. Between she and Katherine was a rather large desk. I figured I’d walk to Imelda and get her to settle down, never expecting Katherine to do the unexpected. She leaped across the desk, pushed past me, and grabbed a chunk of Imelda’s hair. Suddenly I was looking at Katherine’s clenched fist tugging on 12 inches of long, straight dark brown hair — and tugging hard.

So I grabbed the center of the extended hair with the hope that I might keep Katherine from pulling out several strands. A moment or two passed, and the hair was slipping through my fist, and that’s when I heard a soft sound.


Katherine had succeeded in pulling out a few strands of Imelda’s hair and now they dangled lifelessly from my hand. I looked as if I had just scalped Imelda. The class screamed with delight.

Imelda recoiled for a moment, stunned.

At that point I was thinking one of the male students would come and help me. That’s when I learned that would never happen because boys love to watch girls fight. All I heard from the guys was their hard pounding of the desks and a chorus of “JERRY, JERRY, JERRY.” Yes, Jerry Springer would have been proud.

The loss of hair and the “JERRY” chants spurred on Imelda. She tried to leap on the desk to get at Katherine, but that’s when one of my students came to my assistance. A girl named Sheila wrapped her arms around Katherine and forced her to the side of the classroom, never letting go. I sensed she was talking Katherine down and that left me free to calm Imelda, to some extent, until one of our security guards came by and whisked her to the main office. A second guard later took Katherine. Afterward, I straightened my tie and vest, thanked Sheila, and resumed class.

Now, where was I?