The long and winding commuter road

Americans are spending more time commuting these mornings and nights, which is another reason I like living and working in Berks County.My commute from Spring Township to Reading is twinkle quick except for when the West Shore Bypass is clogged by an accident or by PennDot making a project out of some minor repair.People who commute excessively are, in my polite opinion, insane. Why do they subject themselves to spending so much time by themselves? Only truckers do that and we all know about truckers. Just kidding. Never upset a trucker, whose splashing rig in a downpour can make your car behave like a bar of soap in a tidal wave.Plus, what a waste of time commuting is. All you can do is work, travel, eat and sleep. People who commute 90 minutes each way inhabit a world where they are willing prisoners of lost time.That is too high of a price to pay, even if you are commuting from a wealthy suburban enclave to a high-paying gig with more perks than a rock star. Of course, gasoline soon may be 10 bucks a gallon, which is another commuting issue unless you’re taking a bus or train. Plus, the highways these days are filled with broken heroes (OK, I stole that from Bruce Springsteen).But you get the point: There are so many bad drivers out there that by the time long-distance commuters get to the office they must feel as if they were worked over with a tire iron.You don’t have to be an oral surgeon to realize that a getting hit in the mouth with a tire iron has the capacity to turn a smile upside down.Driving long distance is either feast or famine. There are times when your blood pressure spikes because you have to raise your voice several octaves in response to some nutjob who’s trying to merge his gigantic SUV into your passenger seat while brushing his teeth. And there are times matched in dullness only by a conversation about the state of health of a fern.Of course, with technology exploding around us, in a few days we all may be able to park our commuting issues. Any day now we all will be telecommuting to work, lying in bed working on BlackBerries that do everything for us except brew a pot of coffee. And I hear Bill Gates’ wizards are working on that.

Holes in his swing are bigger than his biceps

Perhaps the Phillies’ Pat Burrell will finally get back into the swing of things this season now that he has apparently stopped thinking at the plate.Stopped thinking? When did he start thinking? Because when it comes to hitting, Burrell has seldom demonstrated any cognitive thought. He’s never rooted in hypnotic concentration. His approach always has been instinctive and primal, like a panic-stricken guy swatting bees.Compounding matters, his swing has more mechanical flaws than a 1964 Rambler. His back leg crumbles as if it were hit by a wrecking ball and he fishes for outside pitches in the dirt like a drunken angler.Granted, he does tease us from time to time with towering shots of majesty. And with an upper body that looks like a bag of rocks lashed together with steel cable, he sure looks like a hitter — in the on-deck circle. But once he swings at a pitch, his body movements definitely are a busy bit of tapestry. All that excess motion is freighted with peril, negating any shot at a consistent stroke. Personally, I think Burrell’s fine spring has been just a big tease. Yep, this is my cue for some cynical eye-rolling. I predict Burrell will flounder again despite his see-it, hit-it approach. It’s a baseball axiom that hope blooms eternal in the spring. But spring hope often segues into summer hopelessness. What appears to be caviar now usually reverts to Cracker Jacks by the time the July sun is making ballpark seats sweat.

There's no trick to falling asleep

Obviously sleep is good for us. Why else would we squander approximately a third of our lives in bed?Well, it turns out that many Americans aren’t sleeping enough. The medical folks are saying if you don’t get seven to nine hours of shuteye a night, your health will instantly vanish, you’ll lose your job and even worse, lose your sex drive.Granted, you may not care about your job performance but I’m sure your sexual performance, depending on how sleepy you are, may be of tad interest to you.So, as a public service, here’s an easy tip on getting some much-needed shuteye: watch TV while nestled on your favorite chair. It works like a charm for me.All you have to do is relax after dinner, hopefully with a glass of wine, and suddenly you’ll get this bleached look to your eyes. Next your pupils will hold back every and all expression. Take a couple of fleeting glances at your favorite program and the world ebbs like a glistening tide.Trust me, it’s a short trip to stumbling into a smothery embrace of sleep. Presto! Five seconds segue into five billowly hours of bliss. Of course, you do wake up with a stiff neck about 2 a.m. But at least you aren’t sleep deprived.And the good thing is when you finally do go to bed, you’re charged up and ready to pursue other bedtime activities.Of course, you had better be charming when you wake up your snoring spouse!

Hoops on unending spectacular loops

No question about it, the NCAA hoops tourney regional finals this weekend were marvelously captivating. And bad news for carotid arteries. Yours truly got dizzy eyeballing all the theatrics and dramatics. These showdowns are simply alive and electric.If the Final Four this coming weekend in St. Louis is any more pulsating, all our emotions will morph into tapioca pudding. It likely will drive all of us to the brink of madness.All four regional finals were decided by single digits and three went overtime in a weekend that became instant sporting fable. A total victory margin of 21 points landed North Carolina, Illinois, Louisville and Michigan State in the Final Four. When it comes to March Madness, you can’t ratchet up the intensity any higher. Nobody plays to the strains of a Strauss waltz in the Big Dance.With brassy bands and emotions burning brighter than solar flares at midnight, it’s intoxicating entertainment. What could be better?Well, since I’ve asked, they could outlaw timeouts in the final two minutes of each half and any OT session. All those seemingly infinite timeouts use up acres of everybody’s time except for the commercial sponsors.

A family affair

Many of us really don’t have time for reflection as we seemingly are caught in an immense, perpetual wave of activity. But there are special days when it’s appropriate to catch a riff of retrospection and realize the world is a special place because of the people in it.Easter Sunday is a time for family, whether that communal time be spent in church or around a dinner table or both. It’s quality time spent with loved ones — a time to relax, savor and celebrate.Indeed, most of us accentuate the negative and secretly dread the moment when tragedy may come into our lives like a wrecking ball from outer space. Which is why we all need holidays to help usher in those too infrequent moments of appreciation for our loved ones and for our relative good fortune.The hard reality is that we all are vulnerable, fragile and pitiably unmajestic in a cosmic scope. But we live life in a human dimension, and the most hallowed part of humanity is fellowship with family.Well, I had better get back to my family. The time to once again be a laborer wielding a figurative pick and shovel can wait until Monday morning. In fact, it would be oh-so-nice to be able to remove the hinge on the door that opens tomorrow. As you can see, a mellow me is in no mood to bid bon voyage to today.

Pulling the welcome mat from under the Easter Bunny

Not that I’m ready to be ushered into geezerdom status, but I’ve been around for a whole bunch of Easter Sundays. And I’ve ingested a whole lot of chocolate eggs and bunnies, not to mention a landfill of jellybeans, on each and every one of those Easters.Until this year. My wife has informed me there will be no Easter baskets in the Zielinski household this Sunday.Sadly, our dining room table won’t be populated with an army of hollow chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks. I worshiped all that candy so fervently over the years that our dining room glowed with an elegant cathedralish ambience on Easter Sundays. But no more. And I’m not happy about this. I consider not celebrating Easter by gobbling chocolate until nauseous to be a serious breach of etiquette.Now mind you, my wife isn’t trying to be mean. She simply said as I play through on the back nine of my life, I need to take better care of myself. And robotically popping coconut cream eggs into my mouth isn’t good for me.Call it a philosophical disagreement, but I feel the way to stay young is to act young. If you ate Easter candy as a kid, eat Easter candy as an adult. Or risk being asked to pose for a portrait painting of Whistler’s mother’s grandfather.Suffice it to say, I now feel officially old. In fact, I’ve begun to closely resemble an old hound dog. An old hound dog with an unsatisfied sweet tooth.Spending Easter without the Easter bunny is a jarring rite of passage for me. It’s an unwanted portal to a more sedate, safe life. No more yearning for a little danger, no more savoring the mischief of gorging myself on Easter candy. What’s next? Astutely write a quickie autobiography for posterity and then lie down for a dirt nap in a pastorally emerald field? I think not! Don’t tell my wife, but I’m going to hook up with the Easter bunny and ask him to stash my Easter candy in the trunk of my car this year. Yours truly is planning an Easter Sunday drive and solitary picnic 🙂

Aphrodisiacs hardly are culinary delights

Before immersing myself into my spine-mangling heavy workload each morning, I surf the Web looking for interesting tidbits to extrapolate upon in this blog.This morning I stumbled onto something that struck my fancy. It was about sex, which never fails to light up my face like a happy pumpkin.It seems what we eat affects our sex drive. The trick apparently is in balancing appetites. For instance, back when I was single during the Lyndon Johnson Administration, I had it all wrong.I would treat my date to a big meal, a delicious dessert and a few drinks. But such a meal apparently puts a stop to all romantic nonsense. No wonder I was a virgin for so long. And my mother thought it was because I was treating my body like a morality vessel. In truth, I was plying my dates with the wrong foods.But then, perhaps not. Aphrodisiacs, it seems, aren’t a lock to suddenly give your date a hoarse, whispery voice and make her hotter than a roofer working on a high rise at high noon in August.Not that our forefathers didn’t try. But what were they thinking? After reading that the Romans used hippo snouts and hyena eyeballs as aphrodisiacs and the Chinese used rhino horns, I’m amazed that the human species didn’t die out. Those aphrodisiacs transcend cartoonish. They would’ve been better off eating a bucket of nails. And their dentists would have been wealthier.Well, time seemingly has stretched on forever since the ancient Romans and Chinese were trying to score and we apparently haven’t found any sexier aphrodisiacs. The current favorites include soy, chili peppers and ginger. Good luck convincing your date to eat nothing but that terrible trinity in one seating.Since our aphrodisiacs seem to be dripping with nastiness, little wonder that modern lovers are popping Viagra, Levitra and Cialis like they were Tic Tacs.Fortunately for my wife — not to mention me, my sex drive always is revving in overdrive whether I’ve just eaten the entire left side of the menu or starved myself for three days.That’s not because I’m a stud, mind you. It’s just that after being married for an eternity, absence makes the heart grow fonder!

I've got the Holy Week blues

This is Holy Week. Not that everybody is religious, but you’d think this would be a time for folks to be frozen in meditative reverence.But reality sometimes intrudes and leaves behind the odor of a deceased carp. Breathing in air redolent with the musk of blood lust is not a pleasant experience.Things seemingly are falling apart around us. And all the Scotch tape, paper clips and even prayers may not be enough to patch it all together.A teen who thought Adolph Hitler was cool guns down nine people, including his grandfather, and wounds seven others in a Minnesota high school shooting rampage. Who in God’s name pumped all that savage ferocity into the kid? We’ll never know since he also blew himself away.Talk about news that tears out your heart and shoves it right in your face.Then there’s the sad, sad case of a poor woman frozen in a vegetative state since 1990. A media circus feeds itself on her parents’ fight to have the courts reinsert her feeding tube. In fact, the severely brain-damaged woman evidently could starve to death at any moment. Or die of thirst.No matter your own personal moral and ethical stance on the Terri Schiavo case, her pathetic plight should give all of us perpetual chills and heart palpitations.Yep, with death and disfigurement still the order of the day in Iraq, we all are in need of a good shampoo and shower to wash away the smell of death. But they haven’t yet invented soap strong enough to do that.So forgive me if I find myself less than sympathetic that a pouting, whining Barry Bonds feels picked on by the media because of a steroid cloud hanging over him like rain clouds hanging over Berks today. My heart bleeds for him that knee surgery has either postponed or canceled (if he retires) his run at home run immortality.At least he can feed himself. At least his body hasn’t swallowed bullets from the gun of some punk kid.The word is perspective when we’re talking about crosses to carry this Holy Week.

Killed by an overdose of iron

Not to usher some morbid thoughts into this marvelously sunny spring day, but do you ever wonder how you’re going to die?I do from time to time, especially when I’m staring at the back of my eyelids while trying to fall asleep. I imagine most of us are curious about how we’ll check out.Will cancer or heart disease snare us? Or will we fall victim to an apocalyptic axis of bad bounces and bad luck? Will we be engaged in a brutal endgame struggle? Will our deathbed scene be the culmination of a dark Shakespearian drama with labyrinthine plot twists and tragedies? Or will we simply pass away in our sleep?Well, none of us really know. Not to scare you awake all night because we all dread those nights without end, but there’s no given that we’ll die with dignity or peacefully. For instance, David Little, 46, was suffocated by a barbell while doing bench presses in his home. Evidently a cardiac flutttering caused him to drop the 250-pound barbell on his chest, which rolled onto his neck and smothered him.The irony in the manner of his death is thick enough to cut with a steak knife. David Little had a 12-year NFL career as a linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was known for his remarkable durability.He parlayed his amazing palette of strength and grace into a Pro Bowl appearance in 1990. In short, the guy was a stud. I’m sure the possibility of being suffocated by a barbell never once struck him during all those countless hours pumping iron.Consequently, the manner of his death seems absurdly senseless. I sincerely doubt that a bench press ever killed another former NFL player. Sadly, David Little proved to be an excruciating exception.But then, nobody ever accused the Grim Reaper of being a nice guy.

Delicious news as sweet as sugar!

Each morning when the sun, not to mention us, arises from its slumber, it’s breakfast time. Which brings your trusty newshound to a story of enormous significance that could only have been invented in a dream.Experts have just discovered that lower-sugar cereals have no significant nutritional benefit over full-sugar cereals.Yep, I figured that startling announcement would have you foaming at the mouth. Personally, I have neither the taste nor the appetite for acute analysis. But thank God those cereal researchers did.To us sugar lovers, we want to yell about this like a sentry on guard duty. We can now gorge ourselves on sugar cereals and not suffer the trauma of extreme psychological guilt.In fact, when I would weaken and gobble some Froot Loops or Cocoa Puffs or Fruity Pebbles (I know, their consumption doesn’t exactly match my macho profile), I would have to instantly medicate my ensuing angst with cigarettes, booze, coffee and aspirin.Indeed, until today, it would have been outrageous blasphemy to even suggest that sugar cereal isn’t the Black Death of diets. But it seems that lower-sugar cereals are almost identical to full-sugar versions because cereal makers replace the sugar with refined carbs to preserve the crunch.The primary benefit to this story of epic magnitude is the restoration of family harmony across the nation. No more vicious arguments between parents and kids over sugar cereals. The psychological mix inherent in all those feuds had been acutely toxic.Now, entire families can sweetly gorge themselves on Trix. Their bonding will be even stickier than the sugar bonding to the enamel of their incisors.Plus, all those poor souls who had been living the thinnest shadow of a life because they totally abstained from sugar cereals now can enjoy a full-flavored existence.As for me, no more inhaling ham, sausage, pancakes and eggs Benedict as weekend breakfast treats. I’m now and forever more strictly a seven-day-a-week sugar cereal guy.