Creatures of habit

Life is a habit. Or rather life is a succession of habits. Samuel Beckett

Most of us are creatures of habit. We don’t like changes; we like things to stay the way they are. Changes, in general, are not popular, especially with the middle-aged crowd. These people are set in their ways and feel more comfortable with the familiar, the tried and true routines.

But life does not stand still; it does not care about your habits and it has a sneaky way of hurling curveballs at you.
A few days ago I received a letter from my general practitioner notifying me that he was leaving at the end of the year; he was telling me in essence “nice to have met you, find another guy.”

This is not welcome news. Over the years I have been through a bunch of doctors before settling for one. Finding the right physician is like finding the right girlfriend; you have to take them on a road test before initiating a serious relationship, and many fail that test.

I have been with my doctor for the last 10 years and I felt comfortable with him. He was more than a doctor, he was almost a friend. He probably knew me better than my wife and took the time to listen to me. Losing him is a blow. It is a little bit like breaking up with a girlfriend. It is very upsetting. Now I have to go on an Internet dating site and find another compatible soul; and as you know, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your medical prince.

Then I got word that my dentist retired. Another defection! What is this? A conspiracy? Fake news? Another blow. My dentist was not perfect, but I was used to him especially his teeth cleaning associate. Now I have to find another dental maestro… what a drag…

In life, you need to have in your Rolodex a list of people that you can count on. You need to know a reliable plumber, an electrician, a contractor, a roofer, a dentist, a doctor, a car mechanic, a shrink, a lawyer, a barber, a computer geek, an escort… a mafia Don?
If one of those defects, it throws a monkey wrench into your mechanic. You have to audition new candidates and it can be a frustrating and costly experience.

So here we are, two weeks before Christmas, with no health specialists to call my own… what is a guy to do?

Santa, if it is not too late, drop a decent doctor and a dependable dentist in my chimney. I believe in you and I promise to be good in 2018.

Your friend, Alain

Featuring our fancy fenced field

If you were not in San Rafael yesterday you missed a great day of pétanque.
Sure it was cool in the morning, but the rest of the day was absolutely splendid. The temperature never rose above 65° F but the afternoon was sunny and very pleasant.

Twenty contestants were fashioned in ten doublettes teams and they were as follows:

  1. Mark Shirkey & Larry Cragg
  2. Henry Wessel & Liza Moran
  3. Jacques Rattaire & Daniel Martinez
  4. Jean-Michel Poulnot & Yeisi Martinez
  5. Miller Zea & Alain Efron
  6. Jean-Claude Bunand & Wyatt
  7. Brigitte Moran & Charlie Davantes
  8. Jean-Claude Etallaz & Tamara Efron
  9. François Moser & Calvert Barron
  10. William LaVelle & Mireille Di Maio

You might have noticed that they were 3 newcomers, 3 congenial youngsters from Colombia named Daniel, his sister Yeisi and Miller. They are beginners but they show great promises. I promise you that in a few months and they will give you a run for your money. I also understand by the way, that they will become members of our club starting next year.

Pastries and coffee were offered before the beginning of the tournament that started around 10:30 am. Two games were played in the morning and 3 games in the afternoon. The winners were determined as usual by the number of games won and by the number of points accumulated.

I was paired with newcomer Miller Zea and we did all right in the morning. I played as a pointer and Miller was the enforcer. We won 2 games before noon. In the afternoon we did not do as well, losing consecutively 3 games in a row (2-11, 11-13, 8-13). That’s the way the croissant crumbles…

My wife Tamara and Jean-Claude Etallaz fared much better (she always does) snatching second place (and big money). I might have to take lessons from her… Drat!

Jacques Rattaire & Daniel Martinez

The top dogs were Jacques Rattaire (who you should know, comes all the way from Redwood City) and newcomer Daniel Martinez. They won 4 games and barely lost one 12-13. Congratulations y felicitaciones amigos!

If you did not notice, Jean-Claude Bunand was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the head of Johnny Hallyday, a French rocker who died a few days ago.
France honored him with a national tribute? This guy was never my cup of tea, but seems to be have been appreciated by a bunch of people… especially Jean-Claude.

Final results:

1st place: Jacques Rattaire & Daniel Martinez
2nd place: Jean-Claude Etallaz & Tamara Efron
3rd place: Larry Cragg & Mark Shirkey
4th place: William LaVelle & Mireille Di Maio
5th place: François Moser & Calvert Barron

And that was the day that was.


To look at photos of this event, click on the “My Photos” link located on the right side of this page. For best viewing, go Full Screen.

Always leave them laughing

American Gothic. Grant Wood

Just like butter, laughing matters are now in short supply. Between the crass ineptitude of our “chosen” headman and the sexual harassment epidemic, we are gasping for fresh air. Laughing might be is the answer.

Contrary to American lore, my life goal has never been the boring pursuit of happiness. My own Holy Grail is the quest for laughter. I know that this sounds un-American, but I don’t care. My ultimate objective in life is to be laughing as much as I can… hopefully on my way to the bank.

Laughter is the universally recognized remedy for a variety of ailments. It is more effective than any pills peddled by Big Pharma, and it is much, much more cost-effective.

Personally, I am leery of people who never smile and constantly say, “Believe me”. Who knows what brews in the mind of an unsmiling character?
A smiling person will seldom harm you, while a sinister-looking character probably will. Himmler, it seems, practically never smiled.

As a matter of fact, there ought to be a court-appointed jester in every institution of the land… especially in Congress. Neutralized and united by laughter, timorous congressmen may finally agree on a few things and pass some needed bills.

Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.Mark Twain

If you are attentive, you can find laughing matters in many places… starting with our own Casa Blanca and its fauna.

To sum it up, if you want to live a long healthy life, practice laughing daily. Laugh while doing yoga, paying taxes or doing your sandbag workout. No matter what, laugh Pagliaccio, laugh because laughing is far more potent than crying.

I will now decamp with the time-honored showbiz motto “Always Leave Them Laughing”:

A nice lady went into a pharmacy, walked up to the pharmacist and said, “I would like to buy some cyanide.”
-The pharmacist asked, “Why in the world do you need cyanide?”
-The lady replied, “I need it to poison my husband.”
-The pharmacist exclaimed, “Lord have mercy! I can’t give you cyanide to kill your husband. That’s against the law! I’ll lose my license! They’ll throw both of us in jail! All kinds of bad things will happen. Absolutely not! You CANNOT have any cyanide!”
The lady reached into her purse and pulled out a picture of her husband in bed with the pharmacist’s wife. The pharmacist looked at the picture and replied, “Well now, that’s different. You didn’t tell me you had a prescription.”


Do you (really) speak French?

Hello my American kindred spirits! Are you going planning to go to France soon? And if so, how is your vocabulary?

If you feel a little uncertain, let me do my bit for the holidays. I am offering you 10 common expressions that are sure to endear you to French natives. Memorize them and use them adequately carefully to impress your Gallic friends.

« Pisser dans un violon » (to piss in a violin)
  To waste time on something futile

« Péter plus haut que son cul » (to fart higher than his arse)
  Full of himself, pretentious

« Il ne faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties » (don’t shove grandma in the nettles)
  Don’t push it too far

“Pédaler dans la choucroute (to pedal in sauerkraut)
 Trying hard but achieving very little

« Les carottes sont cuites » (the carrots are cooked)
 The jig is up

“Avoir le cul bordé de nouilles (to have your ass lined with noodles)
  To be extremely lucky

« Pas piqué des hannetons” (Not spoiled by cockchafers)
  High-quality product

« Ça casse pas les briques » (it does not break the bricks)
  It is not very exciting

« Il me court sur le haricot» (he is running on my bean)
  He is bugging me

“J’ai la frite” (I have a French fry)
 I feel great

Got it? A vos marques… Prêts… Partez! You can thank me later.


Driving my motorcar

I have been driving a car for a long time. Longer than I care to remember.
I first obtained my driver’s license in Paris, a few months before being drafted in the French army.
During my first few days as a conscript, our sergeant asked us who knew how to drive. Expecting a cushy driver job some of us said that we did.
OK said the man, pilot these wheelbarrows to the parade ground and pick up the dead leaves. So much for volunteering!

I originally learned how to drive on a Renault “Dauphine”, a cute little rear-engine car equipped with a manual transmission. Driving a vehicle with an automatic transmission is easier but it was not readily available in those days… and anyway, handling a stick is so much more fun than passively following your car’s directives.

A few days ago the California DMV graciously invited me to renew my driving license before my next birthday. A written test will have to be completed they said.
Very kind of you I thought, but I didn’t like the smell of it. This formality intimidated me. Like any seasoned driver, I know (most) of the road rules, but don’t ask me about statistics or figures. Don’t ask me about fines, distances, percentages… I absolutely don’t know the answers and I don’t think that knowing these details is necessary.

But the DMV ridiculously insists that I should be cognizant of these pesky numbers if I want to continue driving. Curse you DMV bullies!
Yes, I want to continue driving so I started to cram online for my upcoming exam; the questions asked confirmed to me that some of them are pointless.

For instance:

For an underage driver, a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of _______ gives California authorities the legal right to arrest the individual.


Do you know the answer? Be honest, Santa is watching.
I am well aware that I should not drink and drive and this is good enough for me. I don’t need to know what exact percentage of alcohol in my bloodstream can send me to the pokey.

But driving is synonymous with self-reliance and I am fiercely independent. I don’t want to rely on anybody to take me anywhere… even though I belatedly discovered that being driven has a few advantages. For instance, you can snooze while somebody else is behind the wheel…

Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac? George Carlin

Well, I have a date (yes you need an appointment) with the DMV a few days after Christmas. Wish me luck, or as we say in France “merde” (break a leg).


Puppy power

Those libidinous cretins who sexually harassed women never had any idea of what they were doing. Anybody with half a brain knows that you don’t seduce a woman by forcing yourself on her; you let her come to you. You attract the ladies with a lure, and the ultimate bait in this domain is a puppy.

Nobody, absolutely nobody can resist the antics of a young dog. At least not me. I literally melt when I see one and I absolutely have to pet it.

Most of the women feel the same way. You don’t have to use any devious trick to pull them in. They will approach you on their own to fondle your little “accroche-coeur”. A puppy you should know, is pure Kryptonite. Even the Man of Steel is powerless when confronted with it.

After the lady approaches you and pets the pup, it is up to you to charm her. According to Marilyn Monroe If you can make a woman laugh, you can make her do anything. I absolutely believe that. So along with your puppy bring a few witty remarks; one of those could be the arrow that penetrates the heart of your Dulcinea.

As you can see, there is absolutely no need for grabbing or do anything contrary to good taste.

When you are looking for love, puppy power is the way to go. Never mind these dating sites where creeps pretend to be what they are not. When somebody approaches your puppy, you can see what he or she looks like and how he/she behaves. Your puppy might even sniff out the phony, the “pretend” puppy lover and pee on her/his shoes.

So, don’t grope… get a puppy. And even if your little guy proves unable to snare (difficult to believe) a would-be lover, you will still have somebody who will love you like nobody ever will.

Andy Rooney said, “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” I believe that.

So ladies and gentlemen, don’t look for love in the wrong places. If you want to find “l’amour” get a puppy!
It is beyond a shadow of a doubt the ultimate chick/dude magnet!


Toddler power

I just saw the light! Alleluia! No, I was not reborn, but it was an experience close to it.

While I was on Thanksgiving assignment, I experienced a revelation; The Great Spirit… somebody? disclosed to me how to deal with a long nagging problem.

Periodically, especially in Fall and Winter, we have to clean and groom our pétanque court. Club members usually perform the work, but it is an arduous slog, especially for stiff-back old timers.

While visiting our grandson, I suddenly saw the light! Praise be the Thanksgiving spirits!
I noticed that the little tyke (aged 2 and a half) armed with a broom and dustpan was assiduously scrubbing an alley littered with dead leaves. He was working steadily and had no rest until the pathway looked as immaculate as a bowling lane.

So then, I asked myself, why are we asking tired, gray-haired denizens to perform tasks that could so easily be accomplished by enthusiastic toddlers?

I suggest that when the field needs cleaning, we round up all our grandchildren, equip them with rakes (or whatever tool they chose) and set them loose in our court. The kids will get some fresh air and exercise instead of misspending their time playing gory video games.

“Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.” 

Adults would do their fair share by keeping an eye on them and steering them with the various whistle signals that work so well with sheepdogs.

It is a win-win proposition. Kids will have some invigorating fun and adults could rest their aching backs. After the job is done, a round of carrots, watermelon, and broccoli will be graciously offered to the workers.
Diapers and pacifiers will also be provided, free of charge.

So whaddya say goldenagers? Isn’t this a constructive, innovative proposition?

Make America scrape again! Get those coddled toddlers out of nursery school and back on the pétanque courts where they belong.

Due to undue pressure from politically correct folks, I might have to recant my suggestion, but like Galileo Galilei said: “And yet it moves…”


As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it. Buddy Hackett

A Fish Story, Part II

By Noel Marcovecchio
Copyright 1995, 2017

We all watched as O’Toole cranked in his line. He tried to look cool but we could tell how thrilled he was. Over the side, we saw the fish below the surface as O’Toole continued to reel it in. What a beauty; I had never seen a fish so large. The salmon was about to be netted and excitement ran high. If one hit O’Toole’s line it surely wouldn’t be long before rest of us would catch fish too.

The crewman put the long-handled net over the side waiting for the fish to be brought a little closer. Suddenly, the tip of the rod shot up and O’Toole fell backward onto the deck. In the blink of an eye, the silver prize was gone. No one said anything as O’Toole got to his feet and reeled in the remainder of his limp line. The skipper grabbed the line and examined it. O’Toole had forgotten to close the clip which held the rig in place; it was the reason fish escaped. “Putz” the skipper said to no one in particular as he returned to the wheelhouse.

“Jesus Christ, O’Toole,” Capogrosso shouted. “Don’t you know how to set up a rig by now?” I hope you aren’t going to live up to your nickname.” O’Toole turned very red as Capogrosso resumed his place at the rail.

“What’s his nickname?” I asked.

“El Niño,” Billy replied. “After they got skunked the last time Capogrosso started calling him El Niño.”

El Niño is a weather condition that can happen in late December hence the reference to baby Jesus. It’s a complex situation but its warm weather that negatively affects coastal fishing.

“I’m even surprised he let O’Toole come out with us,” Billy added.

For the rest of the day we drifted and trolled; moaned and cursed; drank and got sick. I think we did everything you could do on a boat but catch fish. The skipper threw a line in the water and in no time caught a fish, which was quickly followed by another. They weren’t as big as the one that got away but they were the only fish we had. We continued on for another hour without a single bite and finally, the skipper decided he had enough for one day and headed for home.

The trip back in was worse than the voyage out. In the morning we were full of hope and enthusiasm but the trip back was a boatload of disappointment and fatigue. As time crept by everybody started thinking about the two fish the skipper had caught. Suddenly, as if he could read minds the skipper appeared shuffling a deck of cards.

“We’re going to draw for the fish.” He said.

He spread out the cards and we each took one. I drew the queen of hearts; my chances were good. The queen was a high card but O’Toole had drawn a queen too. He and I had to draw again. We stuck our cards back in the deck and the skipper shuffled. I, like all of the Mangiapane’s, had grown up with a deck of cards in my hand so following a card in a deck being shuffled by an amateur was a breeze. He spread the cards and I quickly pulled out the queen of hearts again. O’Toole drew a four; the fish was mine. The winner of second fish was decided the same way but without me. If I pulled the queen for a third time to win the second fish, I might have found myself swimming back home.

We finally arrived in Sausalito and, one by one stepped on to the dock. It felt weird since our legs had gotten used to standing on the deck in constant motion; I welcomed the stability. The events of the day are just about done. I saw a lot of empty-handed fishermen come ashore from other boats. I felt better as I walked to my car with a cleaned salmon in a plastic bag but as I reached my car a guy ran up to me.

“Hey, were you on the Courageous Caruso?”

“That’s right.”

“That’s your fish?”


“Boy, we didn’t catch anything; you must really know how to fish. What did you catch it on?

“Two queens.”

The End

A Fish Story

By Noel Marcovecchio
Copyright 1995, 2017

“Hey Mangiapane, give me ninety bucks.” I turned and saw looming behind me the Honorable Frank Capogrosso, Judge of the Superior Court. I wondered why he was asking. Where I grew up if a judge asked you for money you handed it over.

“We’re going fishing, Ralph. Abalone Ron introduced me to the skipper of the Courageous Caruso, a charter boat out of Sausalito. I signed us all up for three weeks from this Saturday, so give me ninety bucks.”

I knew Abalone Ron on sight. For some reason, he had unlimited access to the hallway that separated the courtrooms from the judges’ chambers. Every week Ron would go from judge to judge selling the fresh catch of the day. They must have been great customers because Ron had been showing up for years.

I had never been fishing in my life. The only boat I ever been aboard was the Staten Island ferry. Somehow I couldn’t picture myself on some tub chugging into the swells of the blue Pacific. I told Capogrosso that I wasn’t a fisherman and didn’t want to go.

“Cut it out Ralph, and give me the money. I got a bunch of guys from the DA’s off and the PD too. A few cops too but I want some guys from the private bar, so you’re coming. Look, you’ll bring home some salmon; it’ll make your sister happy; how bad can it be?”

I tried to explain that I knew nothing about salmon fishing but he assured me that there was nothing to know. The skipper used an electronic fish finder; the crew baited the hooks and when you caught something they netted it into the boat. I left Capogrosso ninety dollars lighter.

The day arrived and I woke up at 4:30 am. I stumbled out of my house, into my car and drove over the bridge to Sausalito. I parked and saw Capogrosso’s other victims. What a dismal looking group, but Capogrosso was like a bumblebee buzzing from one sleepy victim to the next with a thermos of coffee. The group included my best friend Norman Coombs, assistant DA Billy Figiarino, an assortment of lawyers, homicide inspectors, Dr. Rusty Podcoddler from the coroner’s office plus defense lawyer and self-proclaimed fishing expert, Hugh O’Toole.

O’Toole seemed to share Capogrosso’s enthusiasm. He was wide awake and talked constantly about all of the websites he had checked for the latest hot spots and of previous fishing adventures. Not bad I thought, somebody with a little experience… but then O’Toole managed to get snarled in his own tackle before we boarded the boat.

Now awake and resigned, we climbed on board and headed out. The Courageous Caruso surged through the Golden Gate, rising and falling through the incoming tide. I didn’t feel too well and I could see that I wasn’t alone. Norm yelled, “I think I’m going to die!” Capogrosso thought that was funny and shouted, “Hey Doctor Rusty, I think we’re going to have some customers for you in a minute. At the end of his laughing fit, Capogrosso turned to O’Toole. “I hope this trip is better than the last time.”

We chugged out to sea. The skipper kept checking the fish finder and radioed other boats in an attempt to find salmon. After about two hours of seemingly aimless search, he declared that we had arrived where the fish were hiding. Everyone got ready. The hooks were baited with anchovies and each attached it to a rig that was weighted with something like a small lead cannonball. After that, we stood elbow to elbow for hours dragging lead spheres through the waters off Marin County without a hint of salmon.

Grumpy would be a kind way of describing our disposition. People were muttering comments about Capogrosso’s fish wisdom. Of course, the lawyers couldn’t say too much. We had to appear in front of him and were afraid that he’d hold a grudge. On the other hand, the cops, who had more than a few Irish coffees, began to let him have it. I could see Capogrosso stew and start to boil over. It wasn’t his fault that the fish weren’t biting but he planned the outing and made us all chip in so it was his brunt to bear, but suddenly there was a cry. “O’Toole’s got one; O’Toole’s got one!”

To be continued… be sure to look for the end of this story in the coming days.

Sexual aargh-assment

June 1, 2014 – Frankfurt Am Main, Hessen, Germany – Sexual harassment at work: (Credit Image: © Frank May/DPA via ZUMA Press)

“There is no kind of harassment that a man may not inflict on a woman with impunity in civilized societies.” Denis Diderot

Sexual harassment stories are sweeping across the land and wreaking havoc everywhere. Many well-known powerbrokers are quietly stepping down or running for the hills. As during the McCarthy’s Red Scare era, nobody feels safe… especially those shady characters who abused their influence to coerce vulnerable young people.

Sexual harassment is a form of crass ignorance reflecting a basic lack of education and good manners. It is vastly different from flirting.
Flirting is playful, understated, often amusing. Harassment, on the other hand, is heavy-handed, crude and threatening. If you cannot tell the difference between these two approaches, you are a neanderthal.

Women generally speaking like compliments; it makes them feel good about themselves. In the Spanish-speaking world, men often use original, creative, flirtatious compliments known as “piropos”. It tells a woman how cute, or beautiful she is.

“For you, I would climb to heaven by bicycle and descend without brakes.”

As long as it is lighthearted it is an acceptable form of flirtation; in Argentina, it is even considered an art form.

France used to be known as the land of “galanterie”.
“Gallantry is a set of flattering compliments addressed to women. Many people see it as a form of politeness and savoir-vivre, and it is also considered a means of seduction.”

In the 17th century, some aristocratic French ladies created an imaginary map called “la Carte du Tendre” (the Map of Tendre). It showed would-be lovers how to behave and how to win a lady’s heart. Such a map is sorely missing today. Many men (and women) don’t have the slightest idea how to conduct themselves in a polite society.

While individuals guilty of sexual harassment should be rightly prosecuted, the root of the problem lies with education. Galanterie, the proper way to treat women, should be a mandatory subject taught in high school and beyond.

It is not enough to be proficient in athletics or cybernetics. Being a gentleman (chivalrous and courteous) is more gratifying in the long run than being a bigwig bully in any organization.