Monthly Archives: July 2019

Pampers invents a “smart diaper” and OMG I want one for my kid. A bird flies into a woman while riding a roller coaster, and she loved it. And thoughts on the first night of the next Democratic Debates

After nearly five years of being a parent, there are few things I hate more than smelling a stinky diaper.

I loathe it with every fiber of my being. I understand it’s part of the job I signed on for, I get that eventually I’ll actually, allegedly, miss the days when I changed my two son’s green/brown/black/occasionally yellow refuse, but for now I just hate it. And I hate the smell of our little guy’s room after he’s pooped, I just never have gotten used to it.

But what I hate maybe the most in the process is the “not knowing.” It’s the leaning in to their tush and then WHOA, yep, there’s some toxic waste in there.

Well my friends, thanks to the fine folks at Pampers, that yucky surprise may be a thing of the past. They’re giving the world the Smart Diaper, called the Lumi, which contains sensors in the diaper that alert the parents’ phone when a No. 2 or a No.1 has been recorded.

It’s all part of a video monitoring package, this Lumi thing, according to this story:

“In a box delivered to parents’ doorsteps, they will find two activity sensors and a video monitor plus, according to CNN, a 10-day supply of diapers featuring an area at the front for the activity sensor to affix to.

The small sensor will automatically track baby’s sleep habits (which you can also enter manually, alongside feeding sessions and milestones) and tell parents, via the Lumi app, when their bundle of joy’s diaper is wet or dirty.

I want this. Like, now.

Is it wildly unnecessary and probably overpriced? Sure. But you can’t put a price on not having to smell your kid’s butt three or four times a day.

Bless you, Pampers. Bless you.

**Next up today, this woman in Australia was having a great time on a roller-coaster. Then a bird smacked her in the face, and she had an even BETTER time.

Seriously, this is awesome, especially the slo-mo.

And finally, Tuesday night was Night 1 of the second set of Democratic primary debates, and while it clearly dragged on too long (I don’t think we need three hours of these things), it was entertaining to political junkies like me. Some thoughts on the opening of Act 2:

— I for one was very excited to see Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the stage together, finally. The two most progressive candidates in the race had a chance to go toe-to-toe on their differences and policy ideas. As it turned out Tuesday night, they barely argued or confronted one another, which was disappointing.

–Elizabeth Warren was ON FIRE Tuesday night. I thought Mayor Pete was very strong, Beto was invisible, and Bernie did much better than in the first debate.

But Elizabeth made me swoon, many times. Such a hard choice I’m having between her, Booker and Harris right now. But when Elizabeth says this… how can I not love her?

“Democrats win when we figure out what is right, and we get out there and fight for it. I am not afraid.”

I’ll buy that T-shirt and a hundred more.

— This format was awful, as were the moderators.  The idea that John Delaney, a loony ex-Congressman, gets WAY more talking time than a serious, legit candidate like Amy Klobuchar is ridiculous. Who does Delaney have compromising photos of at CNN to get SO much talking time?

— And how about the constant interruptions by the moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash? Ezra Klein on Twitter said it best: “How will you address hospital pricing in America? Senator Warren, you have 6.5 seconds. Mayor Buttigieg, a 2.7 second rebuttal, please.”

— I thought Steve Bullock, the governor from Montana, did well. I’d like to hear more from him.

— Can someone explain to me why, with SO many big issues facing America, the moderators chose to spend 30-plus minutes of the debate just talking health care? Look, health care is very important, but there are so many other things worth discussing among potential Presidents.

— Finally, Marianne Williamson is nutty but quite entertaining. She’s going to end up giving a speech at the 2020 convention that will be must-see TV.

— Tonight we get Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Julian Castro, among others, up on the stage. Let’s see if Biden does better this time, or if his lead continues to shrink in the polls.

Another year, another awesome Back 2 School Store event, helping underprivileged kids. P.K. Subban gets a Ric Flair robe and I’m super-jealous.. And the Baltimore Sun hits back, forcefully, after Trump attacks their city

Sunday was one of those delightfully fun yet incredibly exhausting days I am lucky enough to have every year.

For the fourth straight July, I volunteered for an amazing event that changes so many lives. The annual Back 2 School Store day here in Nassau County, sponsored by the non-profit National Council of Jewish Women.

This event, sponsored by the NCJW (an organization my late, beloved grandmother volunteered for), has a simple purpose:To provide free clothes, school supplies, books and other merchandise to underprivileged children in the Nassau County, N.Y. area.

Thanks to grants and donations, more than 500 kids each year (mostly aged 5-13) get to go on a shopping spree (this year held inside a high school gym, our biggest venue yet) where they pick out new pants, shirts, sneakers, winter coats, backpacks full of school supplies, and so many other goodies that they otherwise might never see.

This year we served more than 800 children, and it was, as usual, wonderful (Got my mom to volunteer this year for the first time, and as I totally expected, she loved it.)

As always, the children were super appreciative and excited, as they picked out brand-new clothes to wear at school, along with school supplies, stuffed animals and other stuff.

It always cracks me up how some kids walk toward the racks with such a purpose, like “I’m GETTING that blue hoodie, don’t show me anything else, I want a blue one!”
And then there are other kids, like this adorable 6-year-old I helped in the afternoon, who spent 10 minutes looking at each color sweatshirt intently, studying them like they contained secret texts, before finally deciding on the gray one.

There are so many of us who have so few, and to see the enormous smiles on the faces of these children, who for one day are empowered by themselves to choose anything they want, is so, so rewarding.

I hope the Back 2 School Store keeps growing and growing, as it has been, and reaches thousands of kids.

Although I really, really wish it wasn’t necessary at all. News 12 Long Island  did a little piece on Sunday’s event, check it out here.

**Next up today, my favorite non-Rangers hockey player got traded again in the offseason, to the hated New Jersey Devils.

But I can’t stop loving you, P.K. Subban, even if I have to root against you. And I have to say, this is a pretty fantastic move by Devils fans to welcome Subban to the team.

At his introductory press conference last week Subban was given a Ric Flair robe with his name on it by Devils supporters.

And the reaction by Subban shows how genuinely pumped he was to get it.


**Finally today, maybe you saw over the weekend that once again the Orange Con Man decided to baselessly, and racistly, attack parts of America he deems insufficiently loving to him. In a series of Tweets attacking U.S. Rep Elijah Cummings, (7th, Md.), Trump declared Cummings’ district a “rodent-infested mess” where “no human would want to live,” and oh-by-the-way did we mention Cummings is African-American, as is about half his district?

Probably just a total coincidence.

Not surprisingly, a ton of Maryland’s leaders hit back at our moron-in-chief after his Saturday Tweets, but nothing hit harder or better than The Baltimore Sun’s editorial, which I strongly urge you to read. In plain language even Trump could understand, the Sun roared back with a blistering response. Here’s just a snippet of it:

As heartening as it has been to witness public figures rise to Charm City’s defense on Saturday, from native daughter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, we would above all remind Mr. Trump that the 7th District, Baltimore included, is part of the United States that he is supposedly governing. The White House has far more power to effect change in this city, for good or ill, than any single member of Congress including Mr. Cummings. If there are problems here, rodents included, they are as much his responsibility as anyone’s, perhaps more because he holds the most powerful office in the land.

Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are “good people” among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.

Just pitch-perfect. There is no low to which this President will not stoop.

Good News Friday: The trailer for the Tom Hanks movie on Mister Rogers looks amazing. Two kids in the stands at a Phillies game make a heartwarming moment. And a 99-year-old Holocaust survivor gives a stirring, hopeful Ted talk.

And a Happy Friday to all of you out there in this great wide world. Hope your week has been stellar, and that you’re going to do something fun this weekend, like do a cannonball into a pool or, if you’re like us, finally get to take home a new car (one Honda lease ends, another begins, it’s the cycle of life as our cars keep getting bigger and bigger. Much like our children).

Three great videos to share this week in Good News Friday, starting with one involving America’s greatest dude, Mr. Tom Hanks, and his upcoming portrayal of Mr. Fred Rogers, TV legend.

Even though there have been several documentaries made about this icon of America in recent years (including last year’s outstanding “Won’t you Be My Neighbor?”) Hollywood is making a new Mr. Rogers movie, due out this Thanksgiving.

Starring Hanks, whose image is as pure as was that of Fred Rogers. The trailer for the new film was released this week, and it’s pretty freaking magical. Enjoy…

**Next up today, this happened in the stands last week at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game, and it wouldn’t be so remarkable if we just didn’t see it very often.

A foul ball was hit into an area where nobody was sitting, and two young boys, who apparently didn’t know each other, both raced for the ball. Then, well, clearly these children are being raised right by their parents.

**And finally today, a heartwarming speech by a man who’s seen so much. Shout-out to my friend Jen M., a loyal blog reader, for posting this on her Facebook page.

Meet 99-year-old Eddie Jaku, a Holocaust survivor who calls himself “The Happiest Man on Earth.” He gave a Ted Talk in Australia this month and it’s fabulous.

His story is not just a tale of Holocaust horrors, but an uplifting message of hope and love. If you watch this 12-minute video and don’t feel better, check your pulse to make sure you’re still alive.

What a man Eddie is! So inspiring.

The government worker fired for liking Tupac’s music a little too much. A 6-year-old manager throws a great baseball tantrum. And “The Loudest Voice” on Showtime is terrific

There are just some stories that you never expect to be real. Stories that seem like they’re written by the staff of The Onion, or inside a TV writer’s room or something, because they couldn’t possibly have actually happened.

Stories like this, under this headline on SPIN magazine’s website: “66-Year-Old Iowa government official fired after asking 4,300 employees to celebrate Tupac’s birthday.”

I first heard about this on “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” and it’s fantastic. Meet Jerry Foxhoven, the 66-year-old now-former director of Iowa’s Department of Human Services. He loves the late great rapper, Tupac Shakur.

According to the story, “his appreciation for the late great rapper, it seems, is not a passing fancy, nor a begrudging acknowledgement of a few good songs or poetic lines at the behest of a grandchild, but a feeling that permeates every corner of his life. It is within the realm of possibility, in fact, that Foxhoven lost his job with the Iowa government because he loved Tupac too much, and was a little overzealous about spreading the good word.”

Foxhoven’s love for the co-star of “Poetic Justice” knew no bounds; Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds reportedly instructed Foxhoven to resign on June 17, one work day after the sexagenarian sent an email to all 4,300 employees of the agency, informing them that Tupac’s birthday was happening over the weekend, and urging them to mark the day by listening to one of his songs.

How much did Foxhoven love Tupac? He hosted weekly “Tupac Fridays” to play his music in the office. He traded lyrics with employees and he marked his own 65th birthday with Shakur-themed cookies (pictured above), including ones decorated with the words “Thug life.”

The agency released 350 pages of emails with the words “Tupac” or “2Pac” sent to and from Foxhoven during his two-year tenure in response to an AP request.

My goodness Jerry! We all have musicians we love; as I type this in my home office I’ve got an autographed picture of Barry Manilow staring down at me. But you gotta know where to draw the line, my man!

Ah, ‘Pac. Gone so long, but in the office of the Iowa Dept. of Human Services, you are definitely not forgotten.

**Next up today, meet the Kalamazoo Growlers baseball team’s 6-year-old guest coach, Drake Livingston.

Drake, the son of a front-office exec for the minor league squad, got pretty upset at the home plate umpire last week over some calls.

So Drake threw a tantrum that would make Earl Weaver proud. This is great.


**Finally today, a few words about a new Showtime mini-series I’m getting sucked into. “The Loudest Voice,” is the story of the late Roger Ailes, the mastermind behind the creation and eventual powerhouse that is Fox News Network. Ailes, who died two years ago, was a famously combative, hard-headed ratings-obsessed man who used every dirty trick in the book, and hired insane talking heads like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, to position Fox as a major force in American politics.

Ailes was also a very famous sexual harrasser, a bully, and an all-around awful guy. Russell Crowe, almost unrecognizably, plays Ailes and four episodes in, he’s doing a hell of a job.

We see Ailes at his charming best, sweet-talking Rupert Murdoch before eventually screaming at him. We see how controlling Ailes could be, with his wife (Sienna Miller) or a young, blonde assistant who he psychologically and sexually torments for years.

The mini-series, with four episodes aired out of seven so far, is fabulously entertaining, even though we know how it ends (Ailes was finally fired by Murdoch after many, many women accused him of harrassment). We see the power of Fox grow after 9/11, and after Barack Obama is elected President as well, as they have their ultimate enemy target.

Crowe is brilliant here, as is the supporting cast. Really, really engrossing stuff, even if some of it is hard to watch. It’s on Showtime all month, with new episodes airing Sundays at 10.

A professional comedy show comes to our living room, as we have an odd but wonderful Saturday night. An MLB pitcher defies physics with a pitch. And on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, remembering my favorite-ever headline about it

So most Saturday nights at Chez Lewis are pretty humdrum.

My wife and I are usually pretty wiped out from the week that just was, so usually it’s us hunkering down and catching up on TV (right now we’re obsessed with a Netflix show called “Money Heist,” which is awesome and you should check out) or a movie we’ve DVR’ed and haven’t watched yet.

Sometimes we go out to a movie or a concert or a sporting event, but normally, you know, nothing too thrilling.

This past Saturday night was so far from the norm, I’m not even sure we could see the norm from it. In front of 20 family and friends, we hosted four professional NYC comedians for an evening an entertainment.

That’s right, The Comedy Store came to our living room. And it was really freaking awesome.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, “let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

So several months back our oldest son’s preschool was doing a raffle at their annual charity night to raise money. We didn’t attend, but the week of the raffle I perused all the prize options and decided to buy a bunch of tickets.

Along with all the usual prizes for these kinds of events that I’d seen a million times (round of golf, restaurant gift certificate, spa day, etc.) there was one that stuck out immediately: Comedy Show in your house.

“Four NYC comedians will come to a dinner party hosted by you and entertain you and all your friends and family! One hour, four comics, right in your home.”

That sounded pretty fabulous to me. So I put a bunch of our tickets in there, never expecting to win.

And then we got an email the day after the raffle from the school director telling us we’d won, and I was super-psyched.

We planned the event in consultation with the comedian who runs a group called Living Room Laughs, Michelle Slonim, and she was great. She asked us what kind of crowd we’d be having, how many guests, a little bit about me and Shelley (so they could poke fun at us, I assumed), and it was all so professionally done.

Finally, Saturday night came. We had drinks and appetizers, set up our living room with rows of chairs and pushed all the kids’ toys out of the way.

Then, the stars arrived. They were absolutely terrific to deal with, no egos, no worries about performing in front of only 20 people next to a piano and just off the kitchen.

The host, Michelle, emceed and did a few minutes of standup first, followed by four other performers. They were all funny, though obviously some were more seasoned and had better material than others. (An Indian-American comedian tried a Hitler joke. In a roomful of Jews, probably not the best idea.)

It was kind of surreal at first, watching these strangers armed with a microphone wandering around my living room telling jokes to our friends.
But it soon felt normal, and everyone had a great time, and the last (and in my opinion, funniest) comedian, Lars Callieou, a wonderful hockey-loving dude from Canada, stuck around after the show and we had a beer together and talked about how the Oilers are wasting Connor McDavid’s prime.

It was one of the most unusual parties I’d ever been to, but everyone seemed to have a good time and none of the comics made cracks about me going bald, so that was nice.

Just a very, very cool night. And no, in case you’re wondering, I did NOT ask to go up and do a tight 10 minute set when they were done. I wanted to, very much, but didn’t. Self-control!

**So next up today, my friend Scott posted this insane little baseball highlight the other day, and I’ve watched it over and over and still can’t quite believe it. A A Tampa Bay Rays pitcher named Oliver Drake threw this pitch against the White Sox Saturday, and it sorta defies the laws of physics.

Watch this screwball and be amazed at how the human hand can move.

**Finally, Saturday was of course the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin got off their little rocket and took a few steps that went down in history.

Of all the things I love about the moon landing (including the nutjobs who think it was all a hoax), my favorite will always be the headline in Armstrong’s hometown paper the day after it happened.

I wrote about this once before, but on the historic day after, the Wapakoneta (Ohio) Daily News printed this on top of the front page.

I mean, that’s my favorite headline ever. It is totally written like, hey, a neighborhood kid did something great! Like, “Jimmy wins first place in Science Fair,” or “Suzanne gets winning hit in softball championship game.”

This is just like, you know, Neil, stepping on the moon.

So great.

10 Years of Wide World of Stuff: Paying tribute to my wife, who makes everything better and awesome

And a Happy Friday to all of you fine folks out there. I’m wrapping up 10th anniversary blog week here, thank you for indulging my trip into my little Internet DeLorean (“we don’t have enough road to get to 88!”). I hope you’ve enjoyed reading some of this week’s “classic” posts, and I appreciate some of you who are reading them for the first time reaching out to tell me you’ve enjoyed them.

Next Monday, back to our usual mix of sports, politics, pop culture, and weird things that pop into my brain (this week’s brainstorm: Shouldn’t Aaron Sorkin’s next TV show be about the poor fools in the White House press office on weekends, who have to somehow try to spin the moronic stuff Trump tweets?)

I want to finish “nostalgia week” here by paying tribute to my incredible wife Shelley, by sharing two posts. The first, from May 11, 2012 is the day after I proposed marriage to her, and the second, published May 24, 2013, was written the day before we got married.

I stand by every word, and if possible my feelings for my amazing wife have gotten even stronger.

I hope you all find a love story as the one I’ve found.

The first part of Good News Friday today may only be exciting news to me and my family and friends. But I share, because my readers are my family, too (especially since sometimes you all yell at me).

Nine months ago I received a text message from a good friend. I had just moved back to N.Y. after my recent divorce and career change, and had started going on some blind dates.

“Wanna meet my friend Shelley?” the text read. “She’s smart, funny, pretty and has a great career.”
Of course, I replied. Two weeks later, I went to dinner, walked the NYC High Line, and went bowling with the most amazing, beautiful, sweet, funny, kind-hearted woman in the entire world. Five minutes after the date ended, I was ready for date No. 2.

This is a woman who makes me a better man just by knowing her. A woman who shares my sense of humor, my taste in pop culture, and my general sensibilities about so many things in life that I felt as if this was too good to be true.

A woman who loves me for who I am, supports me in everything I do, and doesn’t at all find it strange that a 36-year-old man screams at the TV as if the players can hear him during Jets and Rangers games.
I knew exactly what to do with a woman like that: Keep her around.

So last Sunday afternoon, under a brilliant New York City sky, I asked this woman of such extraordinary kindness and beauty to marry me.

She said yes.

And so I am engaged, that strange state between boyfriend/girlfriend and husband/wife, a blissful place where everything seems possible in the future.

I am deliriously happy. And deliriously lucky.  I don’t know how or why I got so fortunate, but I ain’t questioning it.
When you get a gift like this, you hold on tight and never let go.

I know I usually feature good news going on in the world in this space on Friday, but today’s Good News Friday is highly personal.

It’s about my incredible fiance Shelley, who tomorrow around 7 p.m. will become my wife.

I am the luckiest man in the world; I really am. On August 22, 2011, I met the most amazing woman. We were fixed up by a mutual friend who told me she knew a girl from college who was single, had a successful career, and had an outlook on life that matched mine.

I had just started dipping my toe back into the dating pool, six months after my divorce. I had no idea if I was even ready for a relationship.
Little did I know that a five-hour first date that included walking along the NYC High Line, a couple of bowling games (I was prepared to let her win, but she beat me fair and square), and a nice dinner would lead to all this.

My bride is amazing in so many ways that to list them all here would take a few hours.

She is the kindest, most compassionate person I have ever met. Since our first date she has always tried her hardest to consider my feelings, but I realized early on that I’m not special in that regard; she does that for everyone.

There’s not one person in her life without a story of how Shelley once was kind to them, above and beyond what was called for. I know this because they’ve told me these stories, and they always make me smile.

She’s a beautiful woman, inside and out. Her smile could melt an icecap, and her warm heart just gives and gives and gives.

My bride is smart, she’s insanely fun to be around, and some slightly bad taste in TV shows aside (seriously, how much “Castle” can a person watch? It’s the same plot every episode!), I could not have met a more perfect match.

I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with her, because whether we’re curled up on the couch watching reruns of “The West Wing,” or doing something slightly scary like para-sailing in Mexico, she makes every day so much fun.

I love her so much, and I will pinch myself every day that she has, for some reason, agreed to marry me.

And that’s the good news on this Friday: Tomorrow, one extremely lucky man will get hitched to the greatest woman in the world.

10 years of Wide World of Stuff: The day we moved my beloved Grandma into a nursing home

Some days, this blog is easy to write. Almost every day, it’s enormously fun to write, and I so treasure the opportunity to share my thoughts with the worlds.

But every once in a great while over the past 10 years, something is quite painful to write, but write it I really need to. More for myself, to get my emotions and thoughts out of my head and onto the page. This post right here, from Feb. 25, 2011, was one of those painful ones.

It was the day my mother and aunt moved my beloved grandmother out of the apartment she’d lived in for 60-plus years, into a nursing home. (That’s her with me and my sister at my sister’s wedding in 2002)

She had been suffering from Alzheimers, and she passed away two years later, in 2013.

It was a momentously sad day, maybe as sad as the day of her actual death, and writing this piece helped me cope.

I hope you’ll read it and let me share the greatest woman I’ll ever know with you.


This one’s a little personal…

Maybe Wednesday was just any other day for you.
In my little family, it was titanic. Epic. An incredibly sad yet important milestone.
My grandmother, Marcelle Kouvant, is 92 years old. She’s the best person I’ve ever met, and the only close second is my own mother.
For 60-plus years, Grandma has lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in Queens, N.Y. It was the epicenter of our world, a tiny dwelling that somehow held so much love.
I can tell you hundreds of stories of the joy and wonder that took place in that little home, but suffice to say, it was where you felt safe, secure and adored every single moment you were there. Whether you were family or stranger, you were loved in that apartment.
For decades, Grandma was a rock. She didn’t age, her mind was sharper than a Ginzu knife, and she always made you feel, every second, that you were the most important person in the world.

About six years ago, finally, the aging process began to take hold. Suddenly she didn’t remember that story of when you were 10 and she slept over when you were sick, or the name of that friend she and Grandpa knew decades earlier.
We knew what it could be. But we didn’t want to believe.  This remarkable woman couldn’t possibly have what doctors would confirm: The early stages of Alzheimers.
It’s been called the cruelest disease, because it leaves your body intact while ravaging your mind.
Little by little, day by day, the rock of Gibraltar of our family slipped through our fingertips.
We tried to hold on to her; tried to latch on to every hopeful sign. A few summers ago at her 90th birthday celebration, she beat my wife and I at gin rummy, game after game. How could someone who could do that be sick?
But we were losing her. Home care aides came in, first four hours a day, then for eight, and then 12.
My heroic mother did so much to hold on, kept trying to make the best of the situation, but it was killing her inside, watching her mother slip away.
Finally, after months and months of minor emergencies at the apartment, it was time. The horrible decision of moving Grandma out of the place she’d lived since World War II had to be made, by my mother and my Aunt Linda.
Grandma couldn’t live alone anymore. She just couldn’t.
Wednesday we got the call. The nursing home on Long Island had a room for her. She hardly understood where she was going, and it only sunk in today that she wouldn’t be returning home.
It’s unfathomable to me right now that I’ll never be in that little apartment again. All the happiness, all the meals, all the hugs and kisses, all of it inside those four walls, is gone.
She’s now in a place where she’ll be taken care of very well, I have no doubt. And the incredible strain on my mother, which worries my sister, stepfather and I, should ease a bit.
The Earth kept spinning Wednesday night, even while Marcelle Kouvant’s apartment was vacant.
But a little part of our family’s history has faded into the shadows. It is the end of an era.
And so I am sad. But so, so grateful for all the years I’ve had with her.

10 years of Wide World of Stuff: The day, at age 35, I found out I was born with only one kidney

Continuing with our weeklong celebration of 10 years of Wide World of Stuff, I present by far the strangest thing I’ve ever found out about myself.

During a visit to the emergency room in June, 2010, when I was suffering from stomach pains and thought for sure I had kidney stones, I was given a stomach scan.

And then, drugged out of my mind to ease the pain, a hospital tech told me I only had one kidney.


Oh it was a scene, man. This was published on June 4, 2010, a couple of days later. Some of this, in hindsight, makes me cringe a little (early in 2010 I was still convinced I’d married the right woman. Turns out, I was wrong. Took me TWO marriages to get it absolutely right.)


I’m back.

Maybe you missed me. Maybe you didn’t realize I was gone. I have all kinds of thoughts I want to share about the perfect game baseball controversy, and the National Spelling Bee (tonight on ABC!) and other stuff. But first things first.

I usually post every day, but I’ve been a little occupied the last few days over at Halifax Hospital here in Daytona Beach. I was a patient from late Tuesday night until Thursday night.

In the words of Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride,” “let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” At about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning I had suffered four hours of severe abdominal pain before deciding, “I think I might want to get this checked out.”

So off I went, turns out I had an infection in my small intestine called an ileus, spent a whole lot of time running from hospital bed to the bathroom, and two days later, I’m feeling much better.

But that’s not the exciting part. The exciting part came at about 4 a.m. Wednesday morning. Julie and I are in the emergency room, waiting for the results of my CT scan, and I’m drugged out of my mind thanks to a wonderful IV pain medication drip called Dilaudid (oh my God is that stuff fantastic!).

Suddenly the ER doctor comes in. He asks if I’ve ever had a scan of my abdomen before. I say no. He says “Hmph.”

Then he tells me that, guess what? I only have one kidney.

“‘WHAT?” Julie and I both exclaim together. I do a quick mental inventory. You’re supposed to have two kidneys, I’m pretty sure. I’ve never had a kidney operation. Where the hell was my other kidney? Did I lose it on that fifth-grade field trip back in ’87? (I lost a lot of things on field trips in my day). And do I have an extra liver or something since I don’t have two kidneys?

Nope, he said. It’s just a genetic defect, happens in some people (it’s called solitary kidney, which, when you think about it, would be a great name for a rock band), and it poses no different health risks than if I had two kidneys.

This blew me away. I’m living my first 34 years thinking I had two kidneys, and then one day I find out I have only one.

Of course I had a million questions, which my new friend Dr. Schwartz answered. No, I don’t have to change my diet much, just eat some more apples and raw vegetables (Yippee.) Yes, my one kidney is healthy, though obviously if I ever have any issues with it it’s a little more dangerous than if I had two kidneys.

He said I just need to watch my contact sport participation (I guess my pro rugby career is over, dammit) and that’s pretty much it.

It was pretty mind-blowing to me, and quite amusing to my family. My sister suggested Julie get our marriage annulled under false pretense grounds (she thought she was marrying a two-kidney guy). My sister-in-law is delighted that I’ve given the family years of new jokes to make at holidays (“kidney bean salad, Michael?”).

And I wondered if I’m now qualified for handicapped parking (not so much).

So I’ve only got one kidney. Life goes on.

Couple more quick thoughts from my first hospital stay (knock on wood) in about 10 years:

— Hospital food has definitely gotten better. I couldn’t eat much of it, but what I did have was a whole lot more edible than I expected.

— Not that I had any doubt, but I re-discovered this week that I absolutely, positively, 100 percent married the right woman. My wife was unbelievable during my little crisis, showing a truly amazing level of concern and care. She’s the greatest thing ever.

— The things we say when we’re heavily, heavily drugged: I have absolutely no idea where this came from, but apparently at one point under the Dilaudid I turned to my wife and said, “I can’t wait to tell the Mets about my kidney.”

And I’m a Yankees fan.

–Finally, I figured out how we can get prisoners at Guantanamo or elsewhere to talk: Give them that disgusting, vile drink they give you before a GI exam, I think it’s called GastroGrafin.

Oh my God that was the worst-tasting thing I’ve ever had in my life; and the great thing was my delightful new friend Sheila (the lab tech) told me when I was halfway done with the cup she had given me “You’re almost ready for the second cup.”

Seriously, give this stuff to terrorists and I guarantee they’ll tell you everything you need to know.

The war on terror can be ended now, I’m telling you.

10 years of Wide World of Stuff: Today, a remembrance of John Hughes, whose movies shaped my childhood

As I continue a look back at the history of my blog on the 10th anniversary of its founding, I wanted today to re-post something (originally published on August  7, 2009) I wrote about the late, great movie director John Hughes, who for Generation X’ers like me was so incredibly instrumental in shaping the pop culture of our childhood.

He died far, far too young, but left us with so many wonderful memories, and films…

Every generation has voices who spoke to them. Older voices who were the soundtracks and the video reels of our childhood.

Sure. we romanticize them sometimes. But they’re as much a part of our growing up as Little League and Girl Scouts, camping trips and hallway lockers.

This summer, my generation lost its soundtrack in Michael Jackson. And now we’ve lost our filmmaker in the legendary John Hughes.

Generation X has suffered two body blows in the matter of months. I swear to God, if Madonna gets hit by a bus next week, I think I may lose it.

To say I loved John Hughes movies is like saying I kind of like chocolate chip cookies.

I’m certain I can quote three of his eight directed films, line for line, by heart. Just get me started on any scene from “The Breakfast Club” (“This is what you get in my house, when you spill paint in the garage!”), “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (Didn’t you notice on the plane, when you started talking, eventually I started reading the vomit bag!”) or “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (“You’re Abe Froman? The sausage king of Chicago?”), and I’m gone for 20 minutes.

It’s incredible to me that in eight films, he left such a mark. He also wrote “Mr. Mom,” “Weird Science,” and “She’s Having a Baby,” three more that will always live in the 1980s canon.

Hughes’ brilliance was shown in so many ways. For one thing, he didn’t condescend to the viewers. He actually created real characters who talked like real high schoolers, and he painted a portrait of kids who we all could identify with.

Who didn’t know a Stef from “Pretty in Pink,” or “The Geek” in “Sixteen Candles”? This was the first time I felt like a movie was really about people who could’ve existed in my life.

Then there was the writing. Hughes’ scripts were always filled with laughter and fantastic one-liners, but they also contained so much heart.

That scene in “The Breakfast Club” where they’re all sitting around the library and Emilio Estevez is talking about taping Larry Lester’s buns together is so surprisingly moving. The ending of “Pretty in Pink” is so sweet, too, with Ducky finally blowing out his torch for Andie and encouraging her to go find Blane.

Hughes had the ability to infuse a scene with warmth and make you melt inside, but not go too far into mushy territory.

Thinking about him tonight, as I’m sure millions of people my age are, I’m blown away at how often I’ve quoted a Hughes movie, or watched one of them on cable (OK, so they’re on every 10 minutes somewhere, I still can’t skip past them), or referenced it in everyday life.

Say the name “Jake Ryan” and my wife’s eyes light up and a huge smile comes to her face. Was any 80s movie character more beloved by girls than he was? Mention Steve Martin and John Candy in the same sentence, and so many people think of “Those aren’t pillows!”

Literally every time my best childhood friends Andrew, Marc, Tracie and I are together, one of us will quote a line from “The Breakfast Club.” Every. Single. Time.

The Brat Pack shot to fame thanks to Hughes (if you have to ask who the Brat Pack are, I will feel really old), and he used the same actors over and over because they perfectly embodied what he wanted.

John Hughes didn’t win Oscars like Francis Ford Coppola, and he won’t go down as a cinematic genius like Oliver Stone or Steven Spielberg.

But if the true mark of a person is what kind of legacy you’ve left, and how many lives you affected, John Hughes was a giant.

So many of us laughed and cried because of what he created.

Cameron Frye will live in our hearts forever, as will John Bender and Del Griffith and all the rest.

R.I.P. John Hughes, and thanks for directing my childhood.


10 years of Wide World of Stuff: A first look back: The teacher who inspired me to be a writer

The first post I ever wrote on this site was posted on July 11, 2009, and it was about my breakup with baseball. I explained how I didn’t love it anymore, and why.

Since then, I’ve written 2,236 posts, which sounds like a lot and damn, I guess it is. This little corner of the Internet has seen 678,600 views in all that time, which sounds like a lot but if you divide it by 10 years x 365 days, I’m not exactly breaking traffic records. I’ll portion out a few more of these stats during this week, when I take a break from “new material” and present five of my all-time favorite posts.

Some days on here, I write great stuff. Other days, yeah, not so much.

But always, I’ve tried to make this place a conversation, a place to have a smile, and on Fridays, a place to be uplifted and reminded that there’s so much more good than bad in the world.

I am so grateful to all of you who visit, whether today is your first time clicking here, or if you’re one of my regulars.

Each day this week I”m going to re-post a story that meant something special to me, or resonated with readers. This first one is maybe my favorite thing I’ve written in 10 years at Wide World of Stuff, because it’s about a man without whom, my career wouldn’t have happened.

This post ran on August 21, 2009, and is about William Gehrhardt, an amazing educator I was lucky to know…


Teachers never die. They live in your memory forever. They were there when you arrived, they were there when you left. Like fixtures.

Once in a while they taught you something. But not that often. And, you never really knew them, any more than they knew you. Still, for a while, you believed in them. And, if you were lucky, maybe there was one who believed in you.

— Opening lines from “The Wonder Years,” Episode 43, entitled “Goodbye.”

Picture it. Commack High School, Commack, N.Y. Fall of 1990.

A 15-year-old kid with big glasses and goofy smile walks in to 10th grade English class pretty unsure of himself. The boy still dreams of being a professional tennis player, the idea not quite dawning on him that the list of 5-foot-5 Jewish men who have won Wimbledon is a woefully short one.

The boy has always liked English class, and always loved words. Taught himself how to read through Matt Christopher books and by checking the sports scores in the pages of Newsday.

Writing was fun and easy, but nothing more interesting than that.

Then, on a fall day at the start of sophomore year, the kid walks into the classroom and meets William Gehrhardt. A teacher so full of energy and enthusiasm that he positively bounces around the room, and every time he knocks into something or someone, inspiration and hope begin to grow in the kid.

The teacher has big glasses and his tie is always a little askew, and he’s always, always, smiling.

Mr. Gehrhardt is just one of those infectious people who is impossible to dislike; he tells jokes about Hamlet and makes fun of his own shortcomings, and he somehow finds a way to make every single kid in the class feel like he’s the one today’s lesson is for.

Soon, the 15-year-old boy is excited about English class. The essays and reports are eagerly approached, and even though the kid’s handwriting is just this side of illegible, Mr. Gehrhardt is constantly praising, encouraging, cajoling.

You’re really good at this, Mr. Gehrhardt tells the boy. Keep at it. It could be something you could do as a career.

The kid is baffled. Writing? As a career? Seriously?

Still, it sinks in.

The boy thinks about it and toward the end of the year, he joins the high school newspaper. Soon, he’s writing stories for fun and thinking of new ways to impress Mr. Gehrhardt. Finally, after years of struggling with math and popularity and self-image issues, here was something he was good at.

Something he could do as well as anyone.

The school year ends in June, 1991. Mr. Gehrhardt moves on to another group of kids that fall, inspiring and joking with some other students who maybe don’t realize how incredibly fortunate they are to have this man enter their life.

The kid? Well, he kept writing, for the high school paper, then his college one, then at three newspapers and a magazine so far in a career that has brought him so many exciting experiences.

*************************************************************************The words of a teacher are so incredibly important. You never know what will light a spark, or what words will sink into a kid’s soul. I still remember an insulting comment once said to me by an elementary school teacher.

I also still remember the glowing grin and perspiration-soaked brow of Mr. Gehrhardt, and how his small kindnesses had an impact on my life that’s measurable only by a Richter scale.

I ended up writing several college application essays about him, and I’ve told countless people how instrumental he was in my finding a career as a wordsmith.

But for the past few years, something has gnawed at the pit of my stomach: I’d never really told my favorite teacher how much he’d affected my life.

I resolved to call him or write a letter, but days turned into weeks, and weeks became months, and months begat years, and I never got around to putting my thoughts onto paper.

Finally, in February I decided I needed to do this. I called my old high school and they told me Mr. Gehrhardt had retired, and they couldn’t give me his address. But a nice secretary said if I wrote him a letter and sent it to her at the school, she’d make sure she forwarded it to him.

And so I sat down and opened a vein.

I told him a lot of what I’ve said here. I was reminded of the great quotation that “a hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, or the kind of car I drove … but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”

I mailed the letter. I didn’t expect a reply. I just felt that, wherever he was, Mr. Gehrhardt might like to know the impact he had on one kid who never forgot him.

Well … I’m telling you all this now because Wednesday, after a long day at work, I came home and there was an envelope sitting on the counter.

It was a letter from Mr. Gehrhardt.

His emotion spilled off the page like milk from an overturned carton.

First he apologized for taking so long to write back. Then he thanked me profusely, and mentioned that after retiring from Commack he moved to Pennsylvania, and was now teaching at a small college there.

He also said he and his wife cried over my letter, and I nearly dropped the piece of paper when he said he was going to preserve the note so that a future grandchild might “one day read it and think well of me.”

It’s one of the greatest pieces of correspondence I’ve ever received, and it made me feel so good. I’ve re-read the letter about 10 times, and each time I feel so thankful that I had a teacher move me like Mr. Gehrhardt did.

The bond between teacher and student is so precious, and 19 years after I first met him, I cherish Mr. Gehrhardt as much as ever.

If you’ve had a similar experience with a marvelous teacher, it’s never too late to let them know how you feel.

P.S. That quote at the top? That’s from my favorite episode of “The Wonder Years.”. It’s the one  when Kevin’s math teacher, Mr. Collins, prepares him for the big mid-term, only to disappear right before the test.  If you know “The Wonder Years,” you know what happens next.

The ending, with Linda Ronstadt singing “Goodbye My Friend?”

Makes me tear up every time.