The Pinball Zone-Can Pinball Playing Become as Much of an Addiction as Machine Gambling?

Play Boy

As someone who grew up in New York City, summertime in my youth was punctuated with short trips to the Jersey Shore’s Atlantic City. For me, summer time is a time to let go of routine and let the Id take over. I am not much of a gambler but the experience of the boardwalk was enough to make the drive worthwhile.  Three years ago, my husband discovered The Silverball Pinball museum on Asbury Park’s boardwalk and I knew that I had found my compulsion- my “low risk” Atlantic City.


The Silverball Museum on Asbury Park’s board walk offers hourly, daily, weekly and yearly admission. The museum’s vintage pinball machines are displayed by decade. All of the machines are refurbished and in working order. The price of admission allows unlimited playtime on these very special machines.  Last Saturday night, my husband, son and I stopped in- hoping to get an hour of pinball- only to realize that we hit the jack pot when the staff told us that since we came in after 6PM, we qualified for the museum’s unlimited playtime until 1 am. This is when I realized that pinball might qualify for an addiction.

There is a new research outlined in MIT’s Dr. Natasha Dow Schull’s new book, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press), which basically says that compulsive gamblers who use these fast paced machines are not gambling to win but to win enough so that they can keep playing and remain in the “zone”.  When asked to describe the “machine zone” a compulsive gambler named Mollie describes the experience like this:

It’s like being in the eye of the storm, is how I’d describe it. Your vision is clear on the machine in front of you, and you can’t really hear anything. You aren’t really there-you’re with the machine and that is all you’re with”

The “Zone” is what I experience when I am allowed to play unlimited pinball. I’m not that picky-any 70s era machine will do for me; my husband, however, likes to try out a few machines until he finds a “friend”. Once that connection to the machine is found, I think the experience of being “one with the machine” is the same.  The Who’s song, “Pinball Wizard” describes the wizard (Tommy) “He stands like a statue and becomes part of the machine”.

This zone is the cornerstone and driver for many people- whether it is sex, shopping, athletics, or work- being in the zone, is the feeling that keeps us doing the behavior and in many cases makes us expert. And yes (if you are wondering), I have very high scores in pinball and am very solvent.

Pinball Wizard

Published June 7, 2013 on Westfield Patch

A Middle-Aged Mom’s Guide to Gym Etiquette.

man carrying barbel
Photo by Victor Freitas


I’ve only been lifting free weights for the past five years, but  as an outsider to gym culture, I hope my list will be helpful to those neophytes who find that they have to share small workout facilities with people they would not normally associate. Sometimes it can be intimidating to be a woman in a male dominated place; there are lots of passive- aggressive ways that men use to make sure that you are aware that you have intruded on their sacred space and make you uncomfortable. I have provided some ways to help you fend them off.

  1. If the younger, off -duty firemen or police men talk about their exploits with “dancing girls” at their latest convention in Atlantic City (but slyly make a big deal about not wanting to talk about it in front of “a lady”), it is best to put on a maternal smile and encourage them “to expose” you to things that you don’t normally hear at “elementary school pick up,” however, be sure to remind them to wear condoms because you have heard about diseases from unprotected sex from watching Dr. Oz on TV.
  2. If the older retired guys start talking about their dandruff and how there are no longer as many dandruff commercials in their youth, suggest that they come to gym in the afternoon to hear the other guys talk about hookers. Also, if the 50 plus crowd start to talk about missing the cut-off for Happy Hour, it’s time to put the earphones in.
  3. Sometimes the teenagers forget to take off their heavy plates, because they are so used to mom picking up after them. If they do not respond when asked to remove them, I generally slam the plate on the floor and cry “These are just so heavy! I can’t possibly take these weights off by myself!”
  4. If a man has legs that have less hair than yours, do not even ask him if he waxes and do not suggest that he might be a cross dresser. I have discovered that men, who have hairless legs, make less testosterone (than me) and- let’s face it- making testosterone is what lifting is all about.
  5. If you see someone who scrupulously wipes his/her machine down prior to putting their sweaty body on it, but neglects to wipe down the machine after using- do not ask them if they are an attorney

In my experience, almost everyone in the gym appears to be more sexy, and interesting if they don’t talk too much. This is a unisex thing; I personally prefer to let my imagination fill in the gaps. I spent three years of watching a very fit man- who never, ever spoke, work out with these strange arm coverings. I imagined that it was some strange cure from the old country and that he spoke no English. When we finally did chat, I discovered that he had a very strong New York accent and the coverings were old sweat socks to soak up arm sweat.

After all, the gym is a place to concentrate on our bodies, improve our body image and feel sexy. There is nothing worse than learning that the cutie that you thought was stoic and tough, gossips as much as the mothers on their way to Zumba class. I know that this ALSO means that I WOULD DO BETTER TO STICK MY EARPHONES IN MY EARS AND SHUT UP.

PS: In the event of very hurt feelings or burned bridges, there are a lot of gyms out there- in fact- it might be wise to join more than one….

Gym Me

Me before cell phone cameras were banned at gym.

This was also published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser

Cicadas Sound Like Flying Saucers!

magicicada septemdicem close up photo
Photo by Michael Kropiewnicki on

When I first heard about “return of the 17-year Cicadas” here in Westfield, New Jersey, I told my husband that I was considering a very long vacation- far away- for the bug reunion. People warned me that our town is particularly populated with the red-eyed, fig shaped bugs. I am seriously bug phobic after growing up in New York City in a roach invested apartment building in the days before Combat. I don’t really mind bugs out doors as long as I can run away as needed. I was not sure that I could handle this with grace.

Three weeks ago, I walked my son home from school and saw a few. The middle school girls shrieked a lot behind me but it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone warned it would be. I did not know that that was the beginning. I think I was thrown off guard by all of the rainy days. I am not sure what cicadas do in the rain but they are not singing. It took me awhile to realize that this new strange high-pitched whirring sound was coming from the bugs. At first, I thought it was malfunctioning equipment from distant construction. As the volume got louder, it reminded me of the sound of a poorly maintained truck stuck in beach traffic two or three cars near me on a stopped highway. This past week, the sound has become a much louder -like a fleet of alien flying saucers hovering over me everywhere that I go (think Hitchcock’s Birds)!

In these past three weeks, I have had five cicadas in my house and I keep a Swiffer to “mop-poke” the bugs that I find on the front stairs to my house everyday.  My dog has started to look slightly traumatized when he comes in from the back yard and my son really did when he told me that the bugs were crawling up his legs when he was playing Frisbee. He has started wearing shoes in the house. I have learned to trade in my Fit Flops for covered shoes and to walk only on treeless streets.

The recommended action for phobias is slow and steady desensitization and I think it might be working. I saw several playful little sparrows flying in my backyard before it registered that they were cicadas flying up to eat all of my trees. I was emboldened enough to even take these pictures.

My neighbor put this aluminum barrier. It seems to work. The bugs get stuck here trying to claw their way up the tree. I just don’t understand how they manage to climb up my Car.

I had to walk through the cicada gauntlet when I dropped off car with local mechanic. I had sneakers on but the crunching sounds were disturbing.

I took these shots when it poured . Perhaps the cicadas may have drowned and got stuck on this fence.

This one is trapped under glass until a brave person will take him out of my house.

Cicada exoskeletons on sidewalk.

Also published under Snarkychaser on Open Salon.

Finding Comfort in Coffee-Home Roasting Green Beans

It was a hard month for our family. Hurricane Sandy taught us that no matter how much preparation is done, our lives are interdependent on the grid. We just can not survive without our infrastructure without making significant changes. Last week we were rear ended by a young driver who just did not see that we had stopped. Was she texting? In hind sight there was nothing we could have done to avoid the collision. It was out of our hands and the calculated risk that we all take when we drive is that we depend on the assumption that the drivers who surround us on the road are careful, skilled and aware of their surroundings.

As a control freak that is learning to let go, I can only cry at the randomness of catastrophe and try to stick to things that can get me closer to some sense of control over the end product and my surrounding. Since I am not crafter, cook or house cleaner (this week), I tried to roast my own coffee. Although I know that I will never actually grow my own coffee, it does give me pleasure to think that I can take back control over the roasting process that a few shop keepers and large companies now hold over us. Roasting coffee was historically in the hands of a few until the commercialization of the process in the early 20th century. Commercially roasted and ground coffee was considered to be a modern time saver and until the Folgerization of America, many families roasted their own brew.

Home coffee roasting is considered to be a kind of “oddball” hobby and if you look at the number of You Tube videos of people roasting coffee in their back yard air popcorn poppers, you will see what I mean. Through the internet I learned that roasting green coffee can be done inexpensively in a Whirley -Pop stove- top popcorn popper. I do not use a thermometer (although it is recommended). The beans can be ordered over the internet easily.  I chose Sumatra for my experiment.

whirly popper

Whirley- Pop

Green Coffee

Green Sumatra Coffee Beans

Coffee beans need to be roasted at temperatures ranging between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Gas burners should be turned lower than  electric burners and every source warns that when the beans roast, they release lots of moisture so open all of your windows. The smell of roasting beans is bread-y and grain-y at the start  and then becomes more recognizable as coffee as the beans become darker brown in color. I actually waited for my first batch to turn -what I thought was a coffee color-  a very dark brown and may have been scorched them. I subsequently read that one ideal color is the “brown of a monk’s robe”.

steaming beans

Scorched steaming beans

I have since learned to run with my pot of hot beans to the back door to let it steam away outside. I can only hope that my neighbors are very jealous. The beans must constantly be agitated. The agitation of the beans helps to even out the heat and remove the chaff that is still sticking on the beans. This is best facilitated by shaking the colander around.

Chaf from coffee beans


Home roasting may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I find that for me it is a very relaxing process that appeals to my sensual nature. I think that it may even be a slight aphrodisiac because I was propositioned by a workman while roasting coffee. It may be that I reminded him of his mother with my efforts in the kitchen. My house certainly has a better smell to obfuscate the fact that my efforts are not spent mopping and dusting.

The one major drawback to all of this, is that every batch tastes different. There are too many variants with roasting by smell and eye. So in my efforts to gain control over my universe, I have actually relinquished it ( unless I get a much more expensive automated home roaster). I am learning to take pleasure in the random nature of life.

Be Quiet, Kids, I’m Working!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

It has been obsessively busy around the house these last few weeks. After taking a nine-year sabbatical to be a stay at home mother, I have started working again from my home. This wasn’t what I had in mind. I was hoping to get dressed up, put make-up on and go to an office. Not only would I not be faced with our family’s daily clutter but I imagined having an adoring male harem admire me around a water cooler. For the these past years I have been surrounded by almost entirely by women-other stay at home mothers whose husbands all work such ridiculous hours that they are never home. Sometimes I imagine that we are almost like the whaling wives who watched their men go off to sea for months at a time.

Fifteen years ago, I did the mommy track telecommuting thing for 8 years while I watched my husband leapfrog me on the career ladder. At the time, we had earning parity. We made the choice for me to stay home for a variety of factors: one of which had to do with my obsessive-ness over my child’s well being from my own less than positive experience with caretakers and my desire to breast feed on demand.

My mother worked and was an excellent role model for me but I wanted my child to have the things that I did not have. No mean babysitters, playdates with school friends and a safe neighborhood to grow up in. However, I realized that my children were not getting a very important thing-to me: A working mother as a role model. I feared that they were in danger of developing a sense of entitlement about our rich material life. Because they did not actually see any of us ‘working’, they had no concept of what it is to work in an office, kiss someone’s ass , compromise your beliefs…a little… clients are right after all.

They would not be prepared for the new world of short-term job stints and the need to change careers on a dime. Dad works all the time. But that is “away” in some abstract office that they visit only occasionally when we all come in to watch him work over the weekend. He has been employed by the same company for years and has survived five mergers. I call him the cockroach. No one really has job security. We now have to create our work.

When children grow up with a family business around them as did farmers, craftsmen and store owners, everyone had to chip in to make the business a success. My father recalls seeing his mother work in the basement making coils for use in submarines during World War II. It was his only memory of her doing work that did not involve cleaning, cooking and diapers. How would my children ever know what it is to sell themselves? Could they ever pull themselves up by their boots straps the way that I have?

Now that I have started to work, I allow my children to be involved in the process. They know that they have to be quiet when I make phone calls. Some of my calls involve difficult cold calling and tons of rejection. My fifteen year old daughter will listen and pat my back after a particularly hard one.  I have let her take first stab on logo designs and she has helped me to set up our company’s website. From this experience, she has decided that she does not want to be a graphic artist and I have learned that sometimes it is better not to get family involved. However, through the process, we are all learning to pitch in to make a go of it. My daughter has offered to work babysitting duties into the week so that I can have my business meetings. In the end, I feel my children will be better prepared for the world of work and the issues of balance, self discipline and the knowledge that they can create their own futures.

Previously published on Open Salon March 2, 2011

The Man Who Will Get to Have My Heart

Lauras Heart

I was terrified driving to the cardiologist. My friend had checked out his credentials on line the night before. She even did a tarot card reading. This man, who I was about to meet, was going to have a long happy relationship with me and/or become my husband. He was my second opinion. The first Electrophysiology expert was dying to get into my heart to do an ablation. He mentioned that they could even put in a pacemaker if they had to burn out too much of my heart (by mistake?). The goal was to  fix an arrhythmia to keep my heart from beating too quickly (up to a rate of 280 beats per minute) causing me intermittent unpredictable  temporary loss of vision and sometimes loss of consciousness.

My new doctor was adorable. He did not mind me rummaging through his shavers when he first walked in. I told him that he kept me waiting so long I figured that I would shave my legs. I also showed him a picture that my friend just sent me on my I phone. He was gracious and agreed that she was very beautiful ( well …she was on a motorcycle and had a great push up bra) However, I could tell he was much more interested in me and my heart. We made each other laugh. I explained that I could never have anyone near my groin (point of insertion for wires) that was much younger than I was. He quickly told me that he was 47. I am 48.  He also explained that he was not going to jump to burn my heart. He was no “cowboy” He was going to do it the way they taught him at Harvard (that was his cute way of letting me know that he was qualified to work with me).  It was like a first date. When he listened to my heart, I noticed the sweet little stray hairs on the top of his bald head. He had more tests to do. He was going to get to know me slowly and safely.

When I was leaving the office the receptionist and I mocked him for calling me “young lady”. He took it in stride. He mentioned that I was one of the youngest women to come into his office. Behind me was a feisty woman her mid 70s. She told me that the doctors had given her a heart transplant. I asked her if she received memories of the person who had owned the heart. She answered “yes”. When the heart was placed in her body, she started looking at men…all men. Her husband laughed. She said when she discussed it with the heart donor’s mother the mother said “that is my girl.”

You see I still believe that the heart is mysterious and is much more than any other organ. I can dislike dentists, gynecologists, and GPs and still use them if I know they are good doctors. However, the man (and many of them do seem to be men) that I let touch my heart will have to be special.

Previously Published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser  September 9, 2011

My Ancient Roman Rings


grayscale photo of person with rings and tattoos
Photo by Nikolay Bondarev on

Seven years ago I bought some ancient bronze Roman rings from a little antique shop in Red Bank, NJ. The rings had been dug up in Bulgaria and were dated 1st century. I love these rings and wear them all the time. They have a green patina and are so worn that it looks as if I am wearing something that my plumber might have pulled out of our house.


Most of the women in my suburb have big diamonds on their fingers, and love to tell the stories about them to anyone who asks. No one has ever asked me about me about my rings. Perhaps they believe that I am wearing my grandfather’s rusted Boy Scout ring never imaging the history that my rings have seen.  Most likely the ring just isn’t of interest to anyone except me. Each ring only cost $20… certainly not a month’s salary. In fact, I gave a lot of them away; I thought they were so neat.

I have always had a sneaking suspicion that perhaps they were not really Ancient Roman rings. This suspicion was heightened when I came across copper rings in an Indian import store that bore many of the same markings.

Ring Copper

I was never able to find much information on the rings of Ancient Rome or of the Roman’s occupation in Bulgaria. I did once read that Roman men used signet rings as a means of identification on their written correspondence and that they wore their rings at the knuckle. They were fairly prevalent with the middle class so it might explain why they were able to find so many.

When I went to Rome and saw rings just like mine in the Vatican Museum, I reaffirmed to myself that my rings were real.  During the years, would go back to the antique store and was even more gratified to see that the vendor did not carry any more ancient Roman rings. He did not have them until this past weekend.

Rings Red

Mine are much nicer but he had some other interesting things.


I am seriously considering going back to get some coal from the Titanic.


Previously Published on Open Salon January 3, 2011

Do People Treat Straight Haired Women More Deferentially?

Medusa courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

I met my friend, who asked to be called Natalie, or maybe Donna in this post for dinner this weekend. She marveled at my perfectly straight hair. I divulged that I had just gotten a Brazilian Blowout. Natalie/Donna and I both have full thick curly hair. Natalie/Donna gets her hair blown out professionally once a week, and for half of the week it is sleek and straight and for the other half it is wild and curly. Natalie/Donna enjoys having her two different looks.

When I saw  Natalie/Donna for first time at the gym, she had her curly hair. She was very sexy and I later told her that I imagined her to be the plaything of a rich mobster.  She would go from machine to machine toting her designer bag with her head down and her curly hair covering her face. She was so slender and willowy that I was shocked when I noticed that she lifted seriously heavy weights. I also could not help but notice that all of the men that seemed to check her out while she was so oblivious.

Later,  as we became friends, I went out with her  when she had her straight hair- just blown out for the night. “Natalie/ Donna! You look like a rich socialite trophy wife now!” Well I suppose that neither of these perceptions is really true since she is extremely smart and an accomplished classical musician….oh and she was far from a trophy wife.

However, hair does make a statement. I have noticed that people have always treated me differently when I had straight neat hair. Perhaps this perception dates back to the time when I was 12 and cut my hippy long wavy hair and my class mate, a boy, said “Oh you look so much better with out all of that orangutan hair!”

My really new straight hair  gives me a “no nonsense” image. I seem much more business like and formidable (is it necessary to say that this is not my usual?)  Another friend said that my new hair makes me look thinner. How can I ever go back? What do you think? My husband suggested that I might try this experiment with bigger breasts and see if anyone treats me differently.











previously published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser January 17, 2011

Male Crying- Tool for Sex and Politics

My friend, Wendy, and me looking at prospects on favorite activity.

My friend Wendy recently went on an impromptu date with a man that she had been in communication with from Plenty of Fish, a dating website.  As usual, we spent several days obsessing over the date and the possibility that he would be good for his word and call her for a second date this next Saturday.

This female bonding session is one of the best parts of the date. I believe we have so much fun and release so much oxytocin from our strategic chats that it is well worth the date no matter who it is. I have decided to get some pretend boyfriends as well to add some zest to our bonding sessions. My husband, John, is a pretty tolerant guy and has agreed as long as it is pretend. Wendy really seemed to like this guy, Michael, and her anxiety about the date was not just play.

“He said he cried at ‘Marley and Me’.” Wendy said

“He told you that? That is pathetic.” I said

“No it isn’t. It’s great. I didn’t even see ‘Marley and Me’ because I was afraid I would bawl. It was too sad.” She said

“Well I didn’t see ‘Marley and Me’. I wonder if I would have cried.” I said “I don’t think I have ever seen John cry.”

“Not even when his father died? “ Wendy sounded surprised.

“No. I don’t remember him every really crying. I think he might have cried when I widened the driveway. He came home after midnight and started crying that I ruined the look of the house.”

I asked Wendy’s and my mutual male friend, Snarky, what he thought of all of this.

“Well ‘Marley and Me’ was pretty sad but you know I think that maybe this guy was just trying to uh you know.” Snarky sputtered

“What? I didn’t see the movie.” I said

“I think he was just trying to say something that would…you know that would…” Snarky was very embarrassed

“You mean you think he was trying get into her into bed?” I said “Well she only went to dinner. It did not even come up.”

Perhaps Michael was trying to impress Wendy with his sensitivity. Why is it so taboo for men to cry? I was recently with a hypnotist that recounted a story of a session with a tough ex- marine Vietnam Vet. She said his eyes started to tear during hypnosis while reliving a childhood experience. He said he was having congestion in his eyes. The hypnotist surmised that he was crying but had no idea that that is what the water was in his eyes.

Is crying used as a manipulative tactic? Yes. I think it is…often. I personally had the experience of having a politician ex lover tear up over my politics. He was an aid to a popular Democratic Senator at the time. I was a senior in a very liberal College and told him that I might rebel from my historically Democratic parents and upbringing to become a Republican. These were my rebellious college years. This man had tears, real tears, in his eyes about my decision. He shed not a tear when we broke up. I was inconsolable. Upon my graduation, he referred me to his friend in Arlen Specter’s office for a job opportunity.  I have now become much more pragmatic in my approach to politics and realize it is show business like anything else.

This is why the stories of Glenn Beck’s tears on air revolt me so. Tears of emotion like these are so easy to fabricate and seem to be disingenuous. I went to the High School of Performing Arts for Drama and am perhaps more adept at spotting the inauthentic. I do find it fascinating to watch. However, since Wendy also went to my High School, and is also a therapist, I think it is safe to say that she would have picked up on any play from her date, Michael. Who knows? We all like a fantasy.

 Glenn Beck uses Vic’s Vapor Rub to elicit tears for photo shoot.


Previously Published on Open Salon Under Snarkychaser August 30,2010

A Band of Gold

A friend noticed that I was not wearing my wedding ring in a photo. He noted that he used to work for a married woman who would take off her ring, and go out with girl friends to see if she still had what it took. The subject of the wearing of wedding rings spurs lots of debate and I really think that my view of the meaning of “ the ring “ has changed as I have aged. When I was younger, I did find that many men hit on me at business functions and I was sure that if I had a ring on my finger, it would be a deterrent. I recently read an article in Marie Clarie about a writer who bought a fake engagement ring to keep men at bay in the male dominated field of biotech. Perhaps this changes as we age.

The men in the weight room have become positively chatty this week. What could have changed? I never wear my wedding ring because it interferes with my handling of free weights (and other reasons better saved for another post). I have been working out with these men for two years. I have learned to keep my mouth shut and just work out. However, over the past two months, I have been more consistent in my time. I noticed that some of the guys would shyly say good morning to me. One in particular, turns bright red and stammers when he greets me or if I ask him a question about his weights. When I asked him in the parking lot if he would like to share some nuts post work out, he practically fell backwards with embarrassment. But this has all changed this week, because I started talking.

For the first time, I have mentioned my handsome husband and the guys seem to have breathed a collective sigh of relief. I now know that two of the men have wives that are as phobic about bed bugs as I am. One man’s wife just lost 30 pounds in three months. Another man’s wife refused to cover up for his friend that was cheating on his wife. Extra chattiness in men in many other situations has always been my experience when I wear my wedding ring. I believe that my ring makes me safe to approach and be flirted with. In our advanced years, very few men would want to actually leave their wives for another woman, with the financial and emotional toll that it would take. The fact that I am a married woman makes me safer to play with.

There is also a similar dynamic with the female half of these suburban couples. As a child of a pretty divorced woman and very good friend to many of my divorced and widowed contemporaries, I have seen the way a single woman can get squeezed out of social situations that involve husbands. I believe that many women see these unattached females as competition for their husbands. I have always thought that a divorce would make me a social pariah in my suburban world. I am already very unconventional but to be a free-floating “sex pot” would be the end of any social life with most couples. This is why I take special care to include my single friends in my life. So in answer to my friend who noticed my lack of ring…I do not wear it to attract men…you will have to wait for my next post on wedding rings to find out why.



Previously Published on Open Salon November 9 2010