Father Time

Father Time is a sneaky old thief. Under a gentle grandfatherly demeanor, he robs you blind on a daily basis. He robs you surreptitiously of your physical and mental capabilities and like a heartless gold-digger, he leaves you emotionally and physically drained a few decades later.

You don’t notice his larceny right away because his daily thefts are small and subtle. Like a crafty swindler, he does not steal big, but he steals steadily. From day to day you won’t detect the loss of a few hairs, but one morning you wake up and blimey, you are bald.
The same goes for your skin. Wrinkles appear in the cover of the night and won’t leave in the morning. They found a nice smooth spot on your face and they are squatting on it… and as you know, it is difficult to evict a squatter. As somebody said:

“Time may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician.”

When men work, they don’t pay too much attention to their physical appearance. They get up, shower, shave and out they go. They are too preoccupied with their line of work to notice the small indignities that Father Time is inflicting upon them.

When you are in the rat race, you cannot bother with details. You need to keep running and prevent the younger rats (those with a full head of hair) to gain on you. But after a few years (and a few extra pounds) you are not running as fast and as long as when you had hair. Like Samson, the loss of your mane seems to have affected your strength and you can not repulse the Philistines (the young rats) as well as when you have a full head of hair. A wig won’t do.

The only consolation for us mere mortals is that celebrities are not immune to Father Time’s larcenies. He robs them as well as us. It is always shocking (for me anyway) to discover during a TV appearance that the dashing young star that you knew is suddenly a puckered old man.
Do you remember the handsome young lad named Mickey Rooney? Do you remember hunky Marlon Brando? Father Time did a job on them.

But maturity has some advantages. When you are getting long in the teeth, you feel free to say whatever goes through your head. Nobody can hurt your career anymore. It is like kissing goodbye to the Senate; if you are Republican, you feel finally free to vote for a Democrat.

“Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week.” ~Maggie Kuhn

The best antidote to advancing age is laughter. Laugh at everything and everybody. Especially businessmen turned politicians. They are clowns and beg to be laughed at.


And if you’re not getting enough respect at home, maybe it’s time to travel overseas? In many parts of the world, age is revered. Bart Astor

November 12, 2017

Despite a fairly low tournament attendance, there was plenty of action yesterday at the Marin Pétanque court.

Christine Cragg & Gilbert Sonnet

The field was extremely well groomed and we owe it in great part to indefatigable Charlie Davantes and Liv Kraft. On Saturday, they did a herculean job of removing at least 20 large bags of dead leaves from the field. My hat off to this likable hard working couple.

The format of yesterday’s tournament was “panaché” and I borrowed the following definition from the Oakhurst Pétanque Club.

Panaché Doublette: Two person teams. Individuals are placed in groups of pointers and shooters and assigned numbers by lottery. Teams are formed at the start of each game according to an officially sanctioned number sequence, pairing a shooter and a pointer. Each player plays with a different partner for each game. Individual scores are maintained to establish tournament winners.

Our organizers (Sandra Shirkey, Mark Shirkey and Liv Kraft) divided all the contestants into two groups: shooters and pointers, and they were as follows:

Mark Shirkey, Francois Moser, Noah Sonnet, Jacques Rattaire, Bob Crossley, Bleys Rose, J-C Etallaz, Evan Falcone, Brigitte Moran, Christine Cragg.

Larry Cragg, Gilbert Sonnet, Alain Efron, Tamara Efron, Liliane Sebban, Akira Okawa, Claudie Chourré, Genevieve Etallaz, Christine Morier, Charlie Davantes.

By the way, all the people who played as “shooters” were not necessarily the real article. Due to a lack of genuine shooters, some innocent people were shanghaied into acting as shooters… as a result, they struggled but they did pretty well.

Two games were played in the morning and three additional games in the afternoon.

The field was still partially wet, spongy and extremely challenging. This was the ideal terrain for “plombers” and “au fer” shooters. Pointers had to put some extra oomph in their throws to reach the cochonnet and many (myself included) missed the mark.

Due to almost 3 months of forced inactivity, I opted to play as a pointer and managed fairly well (3 wins out of 5), despite a persisting cold and a stubbornly stiff spine.
I had the pleasure to team up with young Noah Sonnet, Brigitte Davantes, Evan Falcone and Bleys Rose, who by the way has become an excellent shooter.
I also played with J-C Etallaz against mighty Jacques Rattaire and ? He demolished us in minutes with a score of 13/3. Curse you Red Baron!

Seeing my good friend Francois Moser and my wife Tamara on the winning podium was an added pleasure to an excellent day of pétanque and camaraderie.

I feel confident to say that a good time was had by all.

Final results:

1st place: Christine Cragg & Gilbert Sonnet
2nd place: Tamara Efron & Francois Moser
3rd place: Evan Falcone & Charlie Davantes


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.

 *The excellent group photo by the way, was taken by Tom Moran.


Yin and Yang

When there is a Yin, there is a Yang. That’s the way it is.
I know this first hand. My wife is always hot while I am usually cold. She likes it spicy, I like it mild. She is fond of shoot ‘em up movies, I prefer comedy.
Basically we are direct opposites. She is Yin and I am Yang. That’s probably why we are together. The chances are that she will deny it, but she needs my serene Yang to counterbalance her tumultuous Yin.

The principle of Yin and Yang is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy and culture in general dating from the third century BCE or even earlier. This principle is that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites, for example female-male, dark-light and old-young.”

 There is no such thing as a unilateral force. For each push, there is an opposing pull… and a consequence. That consequence can be immediate or belated, but just like a stretched rubber band, it will snap back.

The current frenzy about sexual harassment is a prime example of Yin and Yang. People who have been abused (even a long time ago) are finally hitting back at their tormentors, with devastating effect. Powerful, seemingly untouchable individuals are now tumbling down like bowling pins. It is a celestially improved version of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Even when you think that you got away with murder, the immutable forces of Yin and Yang dictate that some day you will be held accountable for it. Yin and Yang is a close cousin of Karma. Soon or later your misdeeds are going to catch up with you and lay waste to your life.

It is wise to remember that Yin and Yang is basically a give and take exercise.The underlying clause of the game is that you cannot have it all. You will win some and you will most definitely lose some. Deal with it!

Hubris is a bad counselor. The higher you climb, the heavier you fall.  


The right to do harm

Good morning America and welcome to another mass shooting sponsored by the NRA… and perpetrated by nothing but a “mentally deranged” individual.

Judging by the last 6 months, it looks that this country has a large number of nutcases on the loose… but If I had a choice I would definitely prefer more deranged people running around and way fewer guns, because it is not the demented who kill. It is automatic weapons.

An unarmed madman might club or stab somebody to death, but without an automatic weapon he could never inflict the kind of damage that a Stephen Paddock or Devin Patrick Kelley did.

After another shooting, we get teary speeches, candlelight vigils and futile prayers. And that’s it. No official has the nerves to talk about the elephant in the room: the gun lobby.

Is this madness ever going to stop? Will our legislators ever muster the nerves to tackle the Second Amendment? We should remember that unlike the Ten Commandments, the Constitution is not cast in stone. It can and should be amended.

But “now is not the time” has said our “extremely intelligent” leader. I really wonder when the right time is going to be?

Here is the amendment as ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson:

“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The right to bear arms, OK, but definitely not automatic weapons! Do you need an AR-15 assault-type rifle with a 50-round drum magazine to protect your family or go rabbit hunting?

Ultimately though the problem lies with Congress. Due to the fact that these officials are elected, they are highly susceptible to blackmail; especially the members of the House of Representatives who are in office for just two short years. They constantly chase money to get reelected.

If they want to keep their lucrative jobs ($174,000 annually) and their precious perks, they have to swear fealty to their Godfather, the NRA. Failing to do this will jeopardize their lofty status and could possibly get them kicked out of office. Horror!
Sticking with the NRA and its deep pockets is the safest way to keep their jobs.

Senators (elected for a six-year term) are a little less vulnerable, but still susceptible to corruption. As proven by the Russian investigation, a politician is not below accepting a (discreet) bribe in exchange for influence peddling.

Finally, a “brave” congressman might be willing to buck the system, providing that he is not going to run for office again. With nothing to lose he can finally feel free to vote his conscience, not his self-preservation.

I favor term limits. A legislator should not die in office. He should croak in his bed, after completing a maximum of two terms (just like POTUS) in office. With little to lose, he might vote candidly.


Congress has 535 voting members: 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. The members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms representing the people of a single constituency, known as a “district”.

Each state, regardless of population or size, has two senators. Currently, there are 100 senators representing the 50 states. Each senator is elected at-large in their state for a six-year term, with terms staggered, so every two years approximately one-third of the Senate is up for election.”

Christmas eve at the House of Toast

I always maintained that we have hidden talents in our midst. Here is an excerpt of a piece written in 1993 by our own “père Noel”. Alain

A young Noel

Here I am again at the House of Toast. I close my eyes for only a second; how did a whole year go by? It seems nothing has changed. I am at the same ancient chrome and chipped Formica table with the same dismal yellow and pink tablecloth. The thick white cups are stacked the same way. The black vinyl chairs, greasy walls, and gummy floor are the same. I am sitting with the same people, but I’m happy to be with them because we are like an extended family.

My suit and tie are also the same. It’s a good suit and expensive tie, but they, with everything else, define the sameness that we all share here. It’s just a few days before Christmas, the time of year when I like to think that I’m doing some good in this world, but wonder if I am.

I have always loved Christmas, and even as an aging House of Toast schlepper, I invariably look forward to the season. Every year I hope and believe that each new Christmas will be better than the last. I hold on to this belief, although evidence to the contrary occasionally finds me in John’s Grill, drinking Christmas cheer rather than spreading it.

As a kid, I believed that Santa Claus existed through the fifth grade. My aunt and uncle, who had raised my twin sister and me, tried to gently explain that they purchased our gifts, but I refused to believe it. Most of the other kids in my class either made fun of me or tried to convince me of Santa’s non-existence.

“Ralph, there ain’t no Santa Claus” my boyhood chum Louie Farina told me.

“If not, how come I get what I asked for in my letter? I replied.

“Because your aunt reads your letter and buys you the stuff you asked for”, advised Louie.

“Maybe that’s true for you Louie, but I mailed the letter to Santa myself. I put a stamp and my return address on it, and send it to the North Pole. The letter never comes back. Nobody’s letter to Santa comes back, and do you know why not?

“No” he replied.

“Because they really go to Santa. They have to be delivered or returned. That’s the law. Anybody who messes with the mail is gonna pick up a federal beef, and wind up doing time in Leavenworth.”

“Yeah, okay,” said a doubting Louie, as he ran off to play with someone else. I guess my insistence on a literal Santa Claus, and my version of Mafia logic was just too much for him.

I continued this conviction into the sixth grade, but that year I inadvertently found the gift I had written Santa for under the sideboard in the dining room. At that moment I surrendered my tenacious hold on Santa Claus. I now suspect that my aunt had left the gift in a location where I was sure to find it.

Noel D. Marcovecchio

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Dédé and the Cup

Dédé always dreamed of seeing his name on the Cup. In the past, he came tantalizing close, but something always got in the way. Bad partners, biased umpires, rotten luck… Sometimes Dédé felt cursed.

This year though, he was determined to succeed. But this would require some planning and Dédé knew that it was not going to be a cakewalk.

This particular tournament was billed as a “select mixed triplette” event and it meant that at least one woman had to be part of any competing team. Winning that cup was no small achievement, and contenders came from far and wide to vie for the honor of having their names engraved on the golden trophy. There were to be no cash prizes, but money was of little importance when compared with the glory of being enshrined by your peers.

To achieve his goal, Dédé had to secure solid partners, and this would require a lot of finesse.
Dédé was a good player but this was not enough. Not only did he have to obtain the services of a solid “shooter”, but he also had to entice a woman to play with him, and this was one of the many challenges he had to overcome.

The “misogynous” label that stubbornly clung to his back didn’t help. Females had the unfortunate knack of remembering past slights, and only a precious few would be disposed to forgive and forget. But he was a reliable player he told himself, and some women might be willing to put up with past slights to achieve ambitions of their own.

Securing a good “shooter” would also be difficult. In the small world of pétanque good shooters were celebrities, and very conscious of their lofty status. They also had a sizable ego and didn’t care to endanger their reputation by associating with minor players.

This undertaking could be difficult… Just like asking a pretty girl for a date… with the prospect of being turned down… it could be very humiliating. But sometimes you have to eat crow to become top dog.
And the hell with humiliation! Nothing ventured, nothing gained. He could be charming with a chick if the situation demanded it. He could also be very persuasive with male contestants, even if their stars shone brighter than his. So he started his stealthy campaign.

In the club, there were four very good “shooters”, but he ruled out two of them right off the bat. There was too much bad blood between them. That left only two: “Le Gros Robert” and “The Corsican”.

Le Gros Robert, as his name indicated, was a stout, taciturn fellow endowed with astonishing skills. Unlike some other renowned pitchers, he didn’t need any undue concentration before firing his shots. He would simply step to the plate and let his “boules” fly. He was respected and held back at the same time by his uncouth demeanor.

The Corsican, on the other hand, was an irascible, wiry little fellow who could hit a fly forty feet away. No small accomplishment when the average player struggled to hit a target only thirty feet away. Both of these fellows would make excellent partners but the problem was their testy nature.

Traditionally, the “shooter” is the playmaker, the man who orchestrates the team’s strategy. He tells each player what and when to do it. He is the boss and you rarely second-guess him. Dédé was not a shooter per se, but he liked to have a say on the strategy to follow and this propensity of his was not always well taken by his partners.

In the game of pétanque played in a “triplette” formation, each player is allocated two “boules” and has a specific role to fulfill. The “pointer” plays first. His job is to place his boules as closely as possible to the “cochonnet”, the little wooden jack that is the target.

When the pointer has played his two boules, the “milieu” (middle player) takes over. He will try to position his boules closer to the cochonnet than those of the opposing team. If the situation demands it, he should also be able to act as a relief shooter.

The “shooter” is basically the gunslinger, the enforcer. His task is to neutralize the opposition with surgical strikes. But since he has only two shots in his quiver, he must use his boules judiciously. He must decide when to shoot and when to show restraint, and only he will make that decision.

Le Gros Robert was an aggressive player who never hesitated to shoot. The Corsican, on the other hand, was a more cautious fellow who would think twice before squandering his boules. But none of these two fellows took suggestions kindly. Their decisions were not open to discussion.

Dédé, unfortunately, couldn’t help second-guessing the captain’s decisions and this had led to spirited exchanges in the past. He would have to control himself and keep his mouth shut… even if he knew better.

To be continued…


PS: All characters appearing in this essay are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A cat called Calvin

A cat called Calvin has been wandering in our neighborhood. He is extremely friendly and runs to our front door whenever he hears a car coming. He then meows rather loudly and seems to be asking for food.
But such is not the case. He barely nibbles on my offerings and meows some more. It appears that Calvin is lonely and looking for affection and possibly a new home.

Normally I would welcome him to our quarters, but our house is “chasse gardée” (private hunting ground), the exclusive preserve of Kate, our own cat. Kate, under a distinguished appearance, is fiercely territorial and throws screaming fits whenever another critter approaches our house.
She is definitely not a Good Samaritan and does not show any inclination to share our dwelling with another no-good vagabond cat. Reasoning with her has proved useless.

Calvin personal history is murky. I originally thought that he lived in the house next door, but then (through our neighborhood association) I was told that its owner moved away and left him behind. Unthinkable!
Then I was told again that its owner is alive and well but not excessively concerned about Calvin. In any case, Calvin is wearing a collar but without any identification tag.

I am wondering what could be done to make Kate like accept tolerate Calvin?
Calvin is affectionate while Kate is rather aloof. She is like a demanding mistress, taxing but rather miserly with her affection. Regardless of the situation she never purrs.
Calvin, on the other hand, is a prince of a cat, begging for love and more than willing to return it. Huge dilemma!

Kate is better looking (and she knows it) than Calvin, but Calvin is much more sociable than our beast. Kate might be willing to accept a kitten (that she could boss), but sharing her quarters with an interloper is totally out of the question.

What is a cat lover to do?


After scolding one’s cat, one looks into its face and is seized by the ugly suspicion that it understood every word. And has filed it for reference.Charlotte Gray

Loud talkers

“Those with very loud voices in their throats are nearly incapable of thinking subtle thoughts.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Some individuals are known to speak with loud unsettling voices… and they often seem to be unaware (?) of the irritation that it can cause.

This particular habit is not gender specific; both men and women can be equally afflicted with this disorder. Medically, it is categorized as an STD (Socially Transmitted Disease) and it can be dangerously catchy.

Does this condition stem from insecurity? It could very well be. Confident people don’t have to raise their voices to convey a message. Insecure people, on the other hand, might feel compelled to do so to be noticed.

If you speak calmly and articulate clearly, there is no need to be loud. As a matter of fact, a person speaking in a normal tone of voice carries more sway than a loud talker. A soft-spoken dictator like Bashar al-Assad can be scarier than a screaming maniac like Adolf Hitler.

It is difficult to confront loud individuals without creating a noisy disturbance.
The best solution would be to separate people into two distinct groups: the “loud speakers” and the “soft speakers”.
Restaurants, in particular, should lead the way. They already have “no smoking” areas… why not create “no-shouting areas”?

But ultimately, to counter a loud talker’s racket you will have to match his firepower. Counter his noise level with an equal or superior decibel grade.
I can picture a tiny mobile amplifier that would treble your voice’s level on command. When incommoded by a pesky loud talker, you would open fire with your own “loud voice” to neutralize or silence the opposition.
I think that this could work.

What do you think? I would like to know where you stand on this noisy issue.


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Our new field

I have seen it and I like it!

Braving a thousand dangers, your fearless correspondent went to the Marin Civic Center war zone to investigate the construction project of a much-debated fence.

Well my friends, it looks even better than imagined… and it is not even entirely completed. Gates are still missing. It has been said that good fences make good neighbors… we are now safely separated from the dastardly canophiles across the dog park.
With the addition of electronic surveillance, there will be no more clandestine incursions from strung out “perros” and we can now sleep soundly at night.

Esthetically, the whole thing looks very appealing and I am convinced that instead of driving away potential new players it will entice them to a have a closer look at our game and our club.

Included in the fence, we now have a nice shaded picnic area that will undoubtedly be improved by Charlie D.

Herb, Brigitte and Papa Charlie

Great minds think alike.
This project was achieved thanks to numerous financial contributors and the indefatigable footwork of the Davantes-Moran clan who moved mountains to bring this undertaking to fruition.

Thank you, merci, gracias danke schön everybody for lending a hand and helping to improve our field of dreams.


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.


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The more you know…

The more you know, the more you grow. The more I learn, the more I realize how ignorant I am. I think that Einstein already said that, but it is worth repeating.

Sometimes I feel uninformed, but when I buy the farm (20 years from now hopefully) I will feel like a confirmed ignoramus.

Some people profess to be unconcerned with this. I would rather be young and stupid, said my wife. Maybe. But personally, I would prefer to be middle-aged and substantially more informed than an adolescent.

Socially, I like to hang around with people who can teach me something. Anything. For example, I just upgraded to a new smartphone and I am not embarrassed to admit that I am ignorant of half of its new capabilities. I will therefore eagerly listen to anybody who can enlighten me about these new features.

I am never ashamed to show my unfamiliarity with a subject, but it is extremely important for a figure of authority to show a good understanding of an issue. A single slip can dramatically damage his/her credibility. And once confidence is gone, it becomes extremely hard to be trusted.

For my part, I would rather pass for uninformed than for a fool. Disavowing scientifically proven facts is a mistake that only fools can back up. Admitting an inaccuracy is better than sticking to erroneous declarations. But it takes backbone to admit your mistakes and some people have a very weak spine.

The crucial difference between common people and leaders is that leaders can (and definitely should) rely on qualified specialists. Specialists immune to ideology!

The key to knowledge is to be curious and open-minded. Dogmas are the enemies of mankind and should have an expiration date. What was considered “true” two thousand years ago is merely a fantasy in the 21st century.

Just like an “app”, your thinking has to periodically updated.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. Confucius


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