Man on the Street


Johnny B: Wants FBI investigation.

I’m fascinated with the Kavanaugh case, and have been asking anyone I see what they think about it.

I asked a Dominican friar his opinion while shepherding him to a monastery in North Guilford, CT. I brought it up while playing Pickleball, a game where it’s possible to chitchat and play at the same time. People tolerated me for awhile before reminding me to focus on the game.

I can’t help it. This is what used to be called a talker in newspaper jargon before the advent of social media. A talker is a story that everyone’s discussing and has an opinion about, the prime topic of conversation around the water cooler. It’s something that would be the topic of a man on the street question, if newspapers still did man on the street questions.

No newspapers bother with this feature anymore because everyone is on Facebook and other sites shouting their opinions for the masses. But little has changed about about people in the past 25 years, as I found out today.

I tried to poll friends about their opinion on the Kavanaugh controversy and take their photo for this piece. Only one person, my buddy Johnny B, was willing to oblige. Boy, I’m glad I don’t have to do this as part of my job any more.

Man on the Street was a weekly feature at the small newspapers where I cut my teeth, and like any dreaded assignment, was passed around to different staffers. I don’t know anyone who enjoyed it because it involved approaching strangers, asking them about hot-button topics, and then asking them to take their photo.

On the weeks you were unlucky enough to pull the assignment, you got a question, a 35 mm Pentax manual camera and hit the streets, looking for people who might be willing to share their views and have their photo taken.

I hated this assignment because it required a bit of bravery to approach strangers and ask them their opinion on often controversial issues. I love to interview people, but I don’t much care for approaching strangers and being shut down before I even finish my spiel.

I approached this assignment with dread. I would spend an awful lot of time assessing people and whether they looked approachable and agreeable. I thought of this last weekend when a young girl approached me in the parking lot of CVS and asked me to buy a discount card supporting her field hockey team.

“I already got one at the parade honey,” I said, letting her down as easily as possible. It was true, but I could tell she was disappointed. She had a slight speech impediment, so I’m sure it’s not easy for her to approach strangers. I felt her pain because it’s not easy to have people say no.

I think approaching strangers and asking them to buy things is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Some people don’t mind rejection, but I’m the sensitive type. I don’t like to be told no, and I certainly don’t appreciate being rejected.

I once watched a knife demonstration in Walmart with a bunch of other suckers because I felt sorry for the salesman. He was one helluva huckster, gathering a group of eight people to watch his demo with the promise of a free paring knife. No one bought his knives, but he didn’t seem to mind. He seemed happy enough to have an audience to hear his pitch.

Asking people for their opinion doesn’t cost anything, but most people are reluctant to give you their view and go on the record with it. I’d say I had a 30 percent success rate, meaning 70 percent of the time people told me to take a hike. It was more like a 90 percent rejection rate among my friends today.

For the record, I found men were much more willing to be photographed than women. And men were much more open to being approached by a female reporter wanting to pick their brain and photograph them. Most women would share their feelings, and then run away when the subject of a photo came up. This meant their comments, and the time it took to get them, were a complete waste of time.

Yea, women were terribly vain, much more concerned with their appearance than guys. But maybe it would be easier to get them today in this era of selfies and I-Phones. I could keep snapping photos until we found one that was acceptable, using filters and other editing tools.

A young woman once agreed to answer my question and have her photo taken because she said it looked like I was going to cry if she said no. She was right. I felt about as welcome as those people with clipboards who approach you in malls, or the solar guy in Home Depot.

Though I detested doing the Man on the Street feature, I always enjoyed reading it. For me, it was an informal snapshot of what people were thinking about pressing and not-so-pressing issues. I was dating the Curmudgeon and slipped in a Valentine’s Day question: “Who’s more romantic, men or women?” His reply: Men. A photo of him with the most adorable puppy eyes accompanied his answer. I had him where I wanted him, at least at that point in our relationship. Now, the tables have turned, but that’s another story.

So I’ve been doing my own little man on the street bit over the past few days, asking anybody and everybody for their opinion on Kavanaugh’s nomination. One of my favorite answers has been from my pal Barb, retired teacher, mom, grandma, and a product of the ’60s women’s movement.

“Nominate a woman and this isn’t an issue,” she screamed across the net. Well, she does have point.

When I said that I’m not sure the women’s testimony will matter in the end, Barb raised her eyebrows and lowered her paddle. “I’m not so sure about that,” she said. “You may be surprised.”

I remember watching Anita Hill’s testimony and feeling that Clarence Thomas was not the most qualified person in the country for the U.S. Supreme Court. But it didn’t matter. He was confirmed despite Hill’s claims that he sexually harassed her. I’d hate for women to come forward and state their case just to have their comments ignored. That would be an incredible waste of everyone’s time.

Kavanaugh’s accusers are putting themselves through an awful lot of trouble to tell their stories. And if they’re going to that trouble and the Senate Judiciary Committee is willing to listen, I hope they’ll actually listen and have an open mind. That’s all anyone can really ask of this process.

Of course, I must tell you what my friend Johnny B. thinks because he was the only one brave enough to go on record and have his photo taken.

“I think because it’s such an important decision, it warrants an FBI investigation,” he said.



Wonton Fever

Wontons as far as the eye can see. Who knew they were so versatile or addictive?

I’m having a slight problem with wontons.

I’ve got a horrendous cold, and the only thing I want is wonton soup from my favorite Chinese restaurant. It’s the only thing I’ve eaten for three days. I even ate wontons that ended up in egg drop soup.

I’d like to say this craving is limited to soup, but that’s a lie. I’ve feasted on pan-fried Szechuan wontons, a decadent concoction featuring tender wontons smothered in spicy sauce. And last night: deep fried wontons, a gift tucked in an insulated bag from the generous restaurant owner who’s becoming my best friend.

“How are you feeling?” he asked when I crawled in for my order last night. “Did the soup help?”

When I told him about the cold the previous day, he suggested hot and sour soup. “You want it extra spicy?” he asked, a gleam in his eye. “The secret is white pepper. I’ll put a lot in there for you.”

He sneezed a few times while preparing the soup, which ordinarily would have alarmed  me. But he turned away from the stove when he sneezed, doubling over from the force. And honestly, I was in no position to worry about germs while contaminating his restaurant with the world’s worst cold.

“Ah, it’s the pepper,” he shouted. “I told you it will clear you up.”

I tried the hot and sour, but quickly switched to wonton. It’s all I really want when I don’t feel well. There’s something terribly appealing about Chinese dumplings. Well, any dumpling. Even the name makes me smile. Dumpling is one of those words that sounds like what it is. Dumpling: a satisfying pillow stuffed with goodness, just what you need when you’re feeling lousy.

A dumpling is the perfect comfort food, the ideal melding of dough stuffed with a variety of fillings ranging from meat, cheese or fruit. It’s no surprise that dumplings are featured in nearly every cuisine, even ranking as the national dish of Lithuania. I’m pretty sure you can’t be in a bad mood eating dumplings, though I suppose it’s possible. There’s only so much dumplings can do.

I don’t eat wontons often because the Curmudgeon hates Chinese food. Let me clarify that: he doesn’t like when I order out and he really grouses when I get Chinese food. It’s been this way for about 20 years. I don’t know what came over him because he liked it when we first met at the Milford Citizen, a small daily newspaper in Milford, CT.

In the old days, we’d escape to Golden Joy or China City for a leisurely meal after putting the newspaper to bed. We were an afternoon paper, and deadline was around 11:30 a.m., making lunch a perfect time to escape and regroup. We went out to lunch every day, and Chinese food was in the rotation along with Mr. Sizzle, the International Hot Dog Ranch, Paul’s Drive-In, Nick’s Hamburger Inn, which served Afghanistan food until the owner had a screwdriver shoved into his head, and El Torero, the Mexican joint in front of the hot sheets motel.

Those were heady days of long lunches and happy hours that began at 4:30 p.m. on Fridays. Today, most people I know grab lunch and eat at their desk, but this was sort of the golden era of lunches, and our jobs almost demanded we go out. Our workday was split in two: crazy mornings running around to meet deadline, and afternoons and evenings gathering news for the next day’s paper. Lunch was our only downtime, the one chance to catch our breath before gearing up for the next issue.

Going out to lunch is often dismissed as a waste of time, an indulgence for people with nothing better to do during the day. I’m not sure where the expression “ladies who lunch” originates, but it’s derogatory and superior, often code for women who don’t work outside the home. “You’re not one of those ladies who lunch, are you?” I’ve been asked on occasion.

Well, no. I occasionally grab a bite out, but for the most part I eat lunch alone and have since I stopped working to raise two kids. On the rare occasion that I do go out to lunch, it’s quite lovely and civilized, and I wonder why I don’t do it more often. But most stay at home mothers are not lunching out. They’re grabbing it on the run like everyone else.

I enjoyed our Chinese lunches because they were so predictable: hot tea served in a tiny pot with teacups with no handle, and crispy rice noodles and dipping sauces served while you studied the menu. We always ordered the lunch special: a cup of soup (wonton, of course) with an egg roll and entree with rice for $7.99. Oh, and two fortune cookies that came with the check.

But somewhere along the line, he stopped liking Chinese food. He made it clear Chinese food was no longer welcome on the menu. Unlike his disdain for Heavenly Hash ice cream, which he dislikes because he once got a “bad batch,” he gave no explanation.

We stopped going to Chinese restaurants and I stopped ordering it. The only time the kids and I had it was when he was out for the evening. I can’t tell you how much we looked forward to those nights.

The only time I can order it without grief is when I’m sick, and it’s the only upside to being down for the count. He eats his chicken and broccoli without complaint, knowing not to mess with me. But he usually slips in a comment the next day, just so I don’t get in the habit of ordering it.

“Wow, Chinese food,” he announced today out of nowhere. “Yea, what about it?” I said. “No, just Chinese food,” he said. “Boy, there was an awful lot of it.”

Full disclosure: I spent $42.17 on Chinese food for three people. All of the dishes except one featured wontons. My bill usually hovers around $25, so this is clearly getting out of control. But let’s not tell the Curmudgeon the cost. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, at least until he sees the canceled check.

An intense craving for wonton soup is a sure sign that I’m sick. I could try to justify it by saying it’s chicken soup, but it’s the wontons. The broth, bits of pork and scallions floating on the bottom are nice, but they’re not what’s driving this train.

All you want when you’re down with a cold is to feel better. Often, food is the best means to that end, at least if you’re lucky enough to retain your sense of smell. I’ve had colds where I can’t smell or taste anything for three days. It’s really tough to find the silver lining when you can’t even taste your food.

Most of us are lucky to have our sense of smell and taste. I pity anyone who can’t taste their food, or who can’t eat by mouth, because it’s one of the basic joys in life. The only upside to this cold was I retained a sense of smell and taste after snorting Zicam nasal gel for extreme congestion.

I made another wonton run today. When I walked in, the owner shook his head.

“Yea, I know, more wonton soup,” he said. “You and everybody else. I should run a hospital.”




Bold Statements

I love bold statements, but I never expected to see one on a T-shirt about mental illness.

So when I saw people wearing bright blue #Team Frank T-shirts at a fundraiser in Milford, CT., I had to ask about them. It takes courage to wear this powerful statement on your back:IMG-2048.jpg

I walked up to a middle-aged woman and asked about her shirt. It turns out #Team Frank was organized in honor of her nephew. She directed me to his mother Heidi, who wanted to know why I was asking questions. “I used to be a reporter in this town,” I told her. “And now I write my own blog. Can you tell me what happened to your son?”

“He died . . . on the eve of his 21st birthday,” she explained. A chill ran through my body. I’m a mother and my son will turn 21 on Sept. 24th. Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. Losing your son right before his milestone birthday is an incredibly cruel blow.

I wondered how Heidi got the courage and strength to move on with her life. Like many parents who have lost children to horrific tragedies, she is channeling her grief into activism, hoping to spare other families pain and heartache.

Heidi is an advocate for mental health services since her son’s death two years ago, saying volunteering for Bridges helps her carry on. “It’s truly helped me get by a little easier knowing I’m doing something so positive in honor of my dearly missed kind, caring, funny and extra handsome, life of the party son with a heart of gold,” she explained.


Loved ones hung this photo of Frank Besciglia during a fundraiser Sunday to raise awareness and funds for mental health services. They wore T-shirts bearing the name FRANK on the front: Friends Raising Awareness & Needed Knowledge. It also said: End the Stigma.

Heidi’s son Frank suffered from bipolar disorder. He died on Feb. 27, 2016. “We got the help, just never the right help nor long enough stays,” Heidi explained. “Our mission is acceptance between friends who may be struggling – worldwide awareness that this is a real disease and should be looked upon the same as someone with cancer, diabetes or any life threatening illness.”

“We want to raise money for places like Bridges that treat clients with no insurance,” she said. “And we want to encourage those affected that they never have to walk alone.”

I feel I was destined to meet Heidi and share her story. I’ve been participating in this fundraiser for Bridges, a Milford, CT.,-based mental health care agency, for about 25 years. I generally cycle or walk with a group, but this year I went by myself. Going solo gave me the time to linger and do a little people watching. After marveling at some exceptionally silly cycling getups – honestly, are these guys serious? –  I noticed the shirts.

I suspected something terrible had happened to prompt such a bold statement: people often pull no punches after a tragedy, feeling that they have nothing to lose by being brutally honest. I wondered if I would have the courage to wear the shirt: would people suspect that I had a mental illness if I wore it on the street? Would they avoid me, give me a condescending smile or think that I was strange?

This is the problem with mental illness. People suffering from it and their families often feel alone because of the shame and stigma associated with it. Parents with depressed or anxious children keep silent and don’t get the support they need from family and friends. People being treated stay silent because they don’t want to perceived as troubled, strange, weird or damaged.

I admire people who are open about their struggles. Discussing it brings it out of the shadows and normalizes it. I can’t tell you how relieved parents are when they discuss a child’s struggles with mental illness, and hear that they’re not alone, that there are others in the same boat. It doesn’t change anything, but there’s safety in numbers. They don’t feel like they’re the only ones going through it, and that alone is helpful.

This fundraiser is close to my heart. My mother-in-law Maureen volunteered and worked for Bridges for several years. She was a staunch mental health advocate, having been directly touched by it in her family.

One of her jobs was to solicit donations for food, drinks and goody bags for participants in Folks on Spokes and Folks on Foot. I still remember her fretting about her lack of bananas one year. “I need bananas for the riders,” she said in her distinctive baritone. “What on earth am I going to do?”

Of course, she found bananas. She may have even bought them. But it was important for her to take care of the riders and walkers. She made sure cyclists wore bright orange vests and helmets. She ensured we had enough food at rest stops – a full banana, not just a third or a quarter of one. She made sure there was a good lunch spread and a bag of swag waiting for us at the finish line.

This year’s ride was very different for me because I had no team. In the early years, the Curmudgeon and I organized teams composed largely of relatives and friends who helped us compete for most money raised. I think one year we had close to 20 people and came in third in fundraising.

After Maureen’s death in 2004, we organized “Team Maureen” in her honor. We asked people to wear her favorite color purple. One year, I was so motivated that I bedazzled a purple T-shirt with our team name. Boy, I had a lot more energy back then. Another year, Bridges officials recognized our team, announcing our name over the loud speaker, taking a photo and displaying a huge poster of Maureen’s smiling face.

But it’s hard to organize people every year. After awhile, it becomes a bit of a chore – you feel you’re bothering or pressuring people for your cause. And everyone got very busy: children were born, weekends were crazy, boats were purchased and other obligations beckoned.

After reaching great heights of nearly 20 people, Team Maureen shrunk to just three or four people. This year, I cycled 20 miles along the Connecticut coast while listening to John Denver’s greatest hits (dork alert?). I hadn’t listened to him in years, but somehow it seemed fitting: a guy singing about nature and coming to terms with life.

I saw him at the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford, CT., in August, 1997, less than three months before he died. He was spectacular, and I remember feeling blessed that I got to see him in concert. He had one of those voices that reverberated through your whole body, demanding you close your eyes to thoroughly appreciate it.

I was supposed to do the 40-mile loop with my sister Diane, but I couldn’t swing it. She did it alone, and we never met up. In truth, I had no business even jumping on a bike and doing 20 miles without proper training. I’m not 30 anymore, right?

I took a few breaks at rest stops along the way and chatted up some riders. We talked about how hard it’s been to cycle in this summer’s heat and humidity, and the advantages of clip-in bike shoes. I said they’re great for spinning, to which a woman responded, “I don’t spin. I’m at an age where I won’t do anything that I don’t want to do and spinning is one of those things.”

I agree with her, though I don’t bike on the road often, and haven’t since I moved here 15 years ago. The roads are narrow and the pavement is rutted. And nearly every cyclist I know has been struck by a car. I’m not naive enough to think I can escape being struck by a distracted driver.

After finishing and wolfing down a turkey sandwich donated by Subway, I spotted #TeamFrank finishing up the walk to remember people lost to mental illness. I walked to the bridge where some people, including Heidi, hung posters remembering loved ones who died.

It was very sad. They were clearly loved, yet their illnesses overpowered them. But maybe their photos tied with bright ribbons on a sparkling September day can save someone else. I certainly hope so.


Photos of people who died from mental illness line a bridge near Milford Harbor.

Diary of a Wimp

  1. 1.
    a weak and cowardly or unadventurous person.
    synonyms: cowardnamby-pambypantywaistmilksopweaklingmilquetoastMore

  1. 1.
    fail to do or complete something as a result of fear or lack of confidence.
    “anyone who wimped out because of the weather missed the experience of a lifetime”

I’m a wimp.

I prefer it to namby-pamby, pantywaist or milksop, though they all mean the same thing: I have no backbone or guts.

I wrote a blog post about how difficult it must be for Melania Trump to deal with cheating allegations against her husband in such a public way, and I am afraid to post it because I don’t want to be verbally attacked.

The piece has nothing to do with politics. It’s about couples and the body language between them that tells the world how things are actually going in their marriage. But the mere mention of Trump is enough to stir emotions and make some people very irrational and mean. I don’t need that kind of controversy. I’ve got enough trouble dealing with snide remarks from my 17-year-old daughter.

This is the only time in 18 months of blogging that I’ve had to think about whether something I wrote should be posted. It’s the reason I haven’t posted for awhile – I’ve been thinking things over. Voicing my opinion on marriage body language may not be worth the fallout.

I don’t know when I became so wimpy, but others are feeling the pressure to avoid and close off avenues to rude comments before they begin too. Some non-profit organizations don’t allow comments on their blogs. Many bloggers, including yours truly, require that comments be reviewed before they’re publicly posted. The exception is Facebook, where comments are immediately posted.

Blogging Central is designed to minimize hateful or hurtful responses, and I’m happy to report I’ve never been the target of any trolls or mean comments (and please, don’t start now). The rules of the road are pretty clear: read a blog, comment if you like but try to keep your remarks positive and constructive,

It’s a little like a massive writing group designed to promote good feelings and positive vibes. If you don’t like a blog, don’t say anything, but don’t be negative. Just move on.

Of course, it’s maddening when you see that a piece has been viewed 40 times, and only gotten two likes. I’m sure I’m not the only blogger who’s thought people are stingy with likes, but those are the rules. By and large, people are very good at following them, though I know a few bloggers who have been trolled and had a hard time recovering from it.

Just to be clear, it’s never OK to be mean or spiteful, but people seem to love doing it on the Internet. Hiding behind computer screens, they say things that they’d never have the courage to say to a person’s face. It’s like drivers who hide behind their vehicles and act like idiots, taking out their anger and rage on innocent people. It reminds me of a baby who thinks we can’t see him because he’s hiding under a blanket.

I stopped following our town’s Facebook page because I couldn’t believe how rude some people are. My friend was doing a kitchen remodel and asked for suggestions on the FB community page for an architect for an adjacent mudroom/pantry. What she got were a bunch of snide remarks from people telling her that any home improvement contractor could do the work, and why was she asking about an architect. She eventually pulled down her request.

I resisted the urge to comment on many posts on the same page because people can be brutal with their remarks. I can’t tell you how many times I went to comment and thought better of it. I don’t need to be raked over the coals for my views by people I don’t even know. Some people can be so smug and rude just because you disagree with them. When did we all become so intolerant?

One of my friends was a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter, and was skewered on Facebook by people who disagreed with her. Now running for public office herself, I asked how she deals with such rude remarks.

“I have an incredibly thick skin,” she said. And she does. It’s one of the things I’ve always admired most about her.

The role of wimp is new to me because I’ve always enjoyed stirring the pot, even as a child. I’d ask questions at family gatherings about why certain relatives weren’t speaking to each other, making my mother cringe. At one point, my mother referred to me as “TM” – troublemaker. Given my penchant for being nosy and stirring up trouble, reporting seemed the ideal career choice for me.

As a newspaper reporter, I most enjoyed coming up with story ideas and reporting – digging up facts and interviewing people for a story. What I most dreaded were night meetings of various boards and commissions. The worst were public hearings where people droned on for 20 minutes about various subjects. I began to dread the words, “Does anyone else want to make a comment?” because someone always did. I embraced board chairmen who instituted the three-minute rule, cutting people off after their time ran out.

As much as I loved reporting, I dreaded writing. With only a limited amount of time to write, you were under the gun to write quickly, and often wondered how you would do it under deadline. The good news was you were surrounded by other people under the same pressure, feeding off their energy. After writing the first few paragraphs, things flowed and stories were filed.

Sometimes you got a call from an angry reader – “How dare you embarrass me by putting in that I haven’t paid my taxes in 10 years?” one woman shrieked at me. But direct reader feedback was rare and irate calls could be passed off to my editor, or in some cases, the publisher. As reporters, we had the freedom to go about our business without fearing hateful comments and personal attacks. It was a kinder, gentler era, the days of a million points of light and just say no. Best of all, there were no Internet trolls or fear of being personally attacked for reporting a story.

I wonder how many other people feel as I do, wanting to say something, but opting to stay silent for fear of being rebuked. It’s sad, but it’s the way things are today.

Back in high school, I was in an English class that required us to write a letter to the editor of an area newspaper. I wrote a letter expressing outrage over a cross burning on the front lawn of a black family in a predominantly white section of New Haven, CT. My letter was published along with a file photo of the cross burning.

I remember being thrilled that my letter was published, and then really scared that my family would be targeted because I expressed my opinion. My fears were unfounded, but you get my point: sometimes, you wonder if it’s worth speaking up or keeping your mouth shut.

I’m still weighing the Melania piece. With nearly 35 years of marriage under my belt, I think I’m qualified to write about marriage and body language if I feel like it. But as I said, I’m not as brave as I used to be. I wonder if anyone is.