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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Practicing the punchline for dad's funeral

Jerry looks comfortable with his three kids,
Steven, Barbara and Robin. 
Are you comfortable?
A reasonable question to ask of my 85-year-old father for whom so much has become difficult: hearing, seeing, walking, breathing. 
But he’s the one who likes to do the asking, a set-up for a punchline that he’s trained his children, grandchildren, aides, friends and even his rabbi to deliver, with a shrug: Eh, I make a living.
The other day he and Rabbi Dan spent more than half an hour together in the furniture-packed living room of my dad’s apartment. Afterwards, the rabbi told me my father instructed him to practice the joke he wants told at his funeral, with specific directions that the punchline be shouted from the pews by those of us in the know.  
Yes, at his funeral. Which, the doctors say, could be days, weeks or a very few months away. The other day my father learned he has a malignant tumor that he decided not to treat. Don’t worry, he said, cancer won’t kill me. Not being able to breathe will.
My father likes to point bit by bit from head to hip, reciting which parts are gone, dead or dying. He outlived his wife, and he’s lived with diabetes, kidney disease, two bypass surgeries, the addition of a pig’s heart valve, macular degeneration, hearing loss, the replacement of a hip and now, cancer. When he tips forward in his medical recliner and suddenly zonks out, we think, today’s the day. Then he gets a second wind in time to catch the Off-Track Betting station’s replay from Belmont. Give me my sheet, he demands, checking to see how well he fared following favorite trainer Linda Rice.
My father had a premature wake of sorts four years ago when the doctors promised he was a goner. Turned out, as the rabbi explained, God wasn’t ready for him and, as my brother assured him, neither was my mother, may she rest in peace. Nonetheless, after being told death is imminent, accepting the end and saying all his goodbyes, it took a while to come to grips with still being around.
This time is different.
And so, Rabbi Dan needs to practice. The short version: A man is hit by a car and knocked to the ground, horribly injured. Waiting for the ambulance, a police officer takes off his jacket and places it beneath the man’s head. The officer asks the man, “Are you comfortable?” The man shrugs (cue dad’s loved ones): “Eh, I make a living.”
A loving family, which has grown to include his aides, and the occasional exacta bring happiness, but living has become just too hard. Any day could be the one both expected and dreaded. He wants to go, understandably, like my mother: alive in the recliner one moment, gone the next. Regrettable because we didn’t get to say goodbye, but enviable for an apparently quick and painless parting.

I don’t want to lose my father, but for now my hope each day is an affirmative answer to only one question: Dad, are you comfortable? 

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A fitting funeral for Ed Lewi, the life of the party

Buttons and "fans" were bearing Ed Lewi's likeness
and motto were given to guests at his Celebration of Life.
Ed Lewi would have loved his funeral.

It was, as he wished, not a somber service Tuesday but a party – a festive lunch in an air-conditioned tent along the rail at Saratoga Race Course with cheerful music from Reggie’s Red Hot Feet Warmers, champagne and, for dessert, his favorite cookies and ice cream.

The usual life of the party was there – in spirit, in upbeat remembrances, and on buttons bearing his image and motto, “If it ain’t fun, don’t do it,” that were handed out and pinned on the lapels of several hundred guests who responded to the obituary invitation to celebrate Ed’s life.
This was as close as I'd get to the eagle that greeted
guests outside the party tent. I didn't get any closer to
the porcupine =

Ed was the consummate marketer and public relations guru whose professional work, volunteerism and philanthropy were instrumental to the continued success of the racecourse, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Double H Ranch for seriously ill children, the YMCA Camp Chingachgook, the holiday parade in Schenectady and lots more.

Ed, who died on Travers Day at age 81, accomplished so much, never seeking out the spotlight for himself. He loved people. He had the perfect match in the love of his life, his wife Maureen. He refused to let illness slow him down. He was just plain nice, a lovable gentlemen, full of genuine enthusiasm and kindness. Yeah, he could spin a story for the good of a client, but mostly for the greater good of the community.

Only funeral service I've been at
where lottery tickets were given out
as party favors. 
He liked wacky outsized promotions that people would enjoy and remember. Often they involved animals, so it was fitting to find a porcupine and eagle among the wildlife greeting guests as they arrived Tuesday to his Celebration of Life. And, at the end, in a nod to his enjoyment of a little gambling, guests were handed scratch-off lottery tickets. That left me $1 richer for attending Ed’s party – and much, much richer for having known him. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hard to be a good sport trying to update ESPN subscription

My husband doesn’t ask for much. Just ask him. When he asked me update his credit card info for his subscription, I was glad invest the minute it would take.

That was more than 20 minutes ago.

The window into which I input the new expiration date would not fully display and offered no visible way to submit the information. I tried three times, on the iPad and the laptop.

No problem. The customer service link anticipates the problems under its FAQs and provided this helpful information: “If you are having trouble adding new billing information, please call ESPN Customer Care at 888-549-3776 (ESPN) for assistance.” 

Unfortunately, that number answers with a multitude of choices, none of them remotely relevant:

“Thanks for calling espn customer care. Please listen to this new, brief (yes, it really says brief) message. If you need new help with you new ESPN name or password , press one. If you are calling from outside the continental United States or Hawaii, press 2. If you are calling about Espn/fantasy sports, mobile or espn 3, press something else I didn’t catch. If you are calling about espn radio or TV, press whatever the heck you want, it won’t matter, if you’re calling about the espn network, call someone who cares. To repeat these options, press star.

After more than five minutes of repeating these options, a recorded voice said: Enough already, you win, we’ll connect to a real, live person eventually if not sooner. Two minutes later, Mr. Recording said, Thanks for your patience. A representative will be with you shortly. Two minutes later, he said: Sorry for the delay. We’ll be with you shortly.

Twenty-one minutes later, I hung up. 

I just sent an email to customer service, which automatically promised a quick reply. I automatically doubt it. The quick reply said:

Dear Barbara,

Thank you for contacting ESPN Customer Care.  We will respond
to your email promptly.  If your issue requires immediate attention, please
contact us at 888-549-3776.  We are open 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. ET, seven days a
Does espn wants us as a customer or not?

American Pharoah: Watching history stroll around Saratoga Race Course

American Pharoah rounds Saratoga Race Course
shortly before 9 a.m. the day before the Travers Stakes,
in which the Triple Crown winner will be running. 
If you bring him, they will come. And did they ever. Well before 9 a.m., Saratoga Race Course was filled to the gills with people who didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
As the crowd waited, the New York Racing Association replayed American Pharoah’s wins in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont. Then out came the star, strolling around the track in preparation for tomorrow’s Travers Stakes.
My husband and I were on line with hundreds of others as the gates opened at 7 a.m. We had arranged to meet Joe and Kathy Condon for our annual breakfast buffet at the track before AP’s appearance was announced. We never saw the grounds fill up so fast and with so many people this early.
As AP time grew closer, people staked out their spots at the rail and in the seats. It looked like the busiest day of racing, with no races going on. Why not, for this chance to see a historic horse? Thirty-seven years ago, a year into my career in Saratoga, was the last time a horse won the Triple Crown. Add another 30-plus years to last time a horse did that and won the Travers, too.
So now I can say I’ve seen American Pharoah up close (and that the eggs benedict with salmon was very good). I must confess I wouldn’t recognize him if he galloped past me in the cereal aisle at Price Chopper (er, Market 32) without his blanket. But I’m glad I was at the track this morning, to see the horse and all the excitement he’s generated.

Hats off to Todd Shimkus, the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce president, who revved up the bandwagon to bring AP here. Glad NYRA upped the ante. And happy that AP’s owners decided to bring the horse across the country to run in the nation’s oldest racetrack. Looking forward to another historic day on Saturday. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Must be better place for unsold bagels than the dumpster

More than four dozen delicious but doomed bagels,
one night's leftovers at Bruegger's.
Made it to Bruegger’s just before their 5 p.m. closing last week and snagged the five plain bagels left in the wire bin. Added one sesame because the price for a half-dozen was only about 39 cents more. The sesame is languishing in the bread box, but that is another story. This one is about where all the bagels left in the Bruegger’s bins go at the end of the day: Into the trash.
More than 48 whole wheats, cinnamon raisins, everythings, blueberries, 12 grains, honey grains, sundried tomato, garlic poppy, salt and cinnamon sugars  were doomed to be eighty-sixed on this particular evening.
Whatever happened to the cut-rate basket of day-old bagels in half-dozen sleeves? Can’t offer them anymore, said the guy in charge; something about state law requiring labeling of all ingredients. Can’t donate them, either.
It reminded me of my weekly stops at the Price Chopper deli. The servers are usually spot on. But when they slice more than you want to buy, they simply lift the top slice or two with their gloved fingers – and dump it in the trash. Sometimes I just buy the extra couple of ounces. I’d rather pay the Golubs to let me store their cold c­­uts for a week rather than let them go directly from slicer to dumpster.
Oh, the sandwiches that could be made with those bagels and cold cuts.
Surely these are only tiny examples of distressing amounts of perfectly good food that goes to waste every day. Surely, there must be a better destination than the landfill.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Savoring the views from Lake George and the legacy of Lynn Schumann

A hiker stopping at the gazebo showed me how to use take a panorama with my iPhone. 
“I knew the woman this is named for,” I began several times throughout the morning, as twenty-somethings, sixty-somethings, and in-betweeners appeared at the gazebo overlooking Lake George to take a load off and savor the view. I wanted the hikers to know what it took to create this preserve and the special person in whose memory it was renamed.   

The preserve is 45 minutes from
Saratoga Springs.
Not that anyone needed to hear it from me. The Lake George Land Conservancy has an excellent flyer that describes the Lynn LaMontagne Schumann Preserve at Pilot Knob and its trails. More than 2,500 people annually enjoy what is accurately described as a moderately steep hike with the reward of “a shady rest at the preserve’s gazebo with expansive views of Lake George and the Adirondacks.”

Lynn, who died from breast cancer in 2010, had been executive director of the Lake George Land Conservancy. I was lucky to get to know her because her son, Jeff, and my son Joe have been buddies since Lake Avenue School. She was a lovely person inside and out, smart, sweet and classy – and passionate about preservation.
The trail fit what this tenderfoot was looking for to a T: a do-able hike with a place to sit and soak up the lake and mountains for as long as I liked, with the added bonus of being 45 minutes from home, not counting a pit stop at the outlets.  

Finally took the time to take this
one-mile hike and enjoy the views
of Lake George and the Adirondacks.
Soul food: sky, water, mountains.
So there I was on August 6 – a weekday! – navigating my first hike in way too long; taking my time along the trail; sharing the Lynn Schumann legacy with people from Hudson Falls, New Jersey, Webster, NY, and France; queen of the gazebo with my water bottle, a bag of almonds, a sliced-up pear, a chunk of Manchego, my husband’s binoculars and my new iPhone, whose pictures barely do justice to the scenery but are lovely nonetheless. They are my answer to people asking “what are you doing” since leaving my full-time newspaper job in July. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Searching for Perseids meteors after an evening of Beethoven at SPAC

No-spill wine glass keeps blanket
and me clean and dry listening to
Fabulous Philadelphians at SPAC.
Last night I combined two of my favorite summer pleasures: listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and watching the stars appear overhead. On the SPAC stage, the star Wednesday was pianist Emanuel Ax, who looked like he was having a ball banging out Beethoven. And I got to test out my new no-spill wine glass (it worked!) and cheerfully striped roll-up picnic blanket (thank you, Betsy DeMars).  
Meanwhile, this was supposed to be the first and best night of the Perseids meteor shower. So I stayed up until almost 1 a.m. with the NASA TV folks describing what I hoped to see. Pretty sure I spotted three shooting stars in the course of an hour. Woke up at 4:30 a.m. and ventured out hopefully, but clouds pretty much blocked out any sky show. Anyone out there have better luck? I’m going to try again tonight. This would be my consolation prize for not seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland earlier this year.
As for SPAC, I was so glad to see a well-packed lawn and inside Wednesday night. SPAC is a fabulous place despite the lack of grass on the center lawn and the ridiculously inadequate men’s room (ask any guy who’s had to wait on line). I was so glad SPAC won No. 1 honors as America’s best outdoor music venue in the recent USA Today contest.
Lawn was comfortably packed with people for the Aug. 12
Beethoven night at SPAC. Glad the 49-year-old venue has
retained its classic, familiar exterior.
I could have saved six bucks off my lawn ticket had I followed a friend’s advice and bought it at Price Chopper with my Advantage card. But $26 is still reasonable for the experience. SPAC membership provides 10 percent off inside seats; the Price Chopper card will get you $5 off an inside seat at the box office. One of the nice perks of membership was two inside seats to the orchestra’s Aug. 6 “French night,” which was another lovely evening. You have one more week to take advantage of wonderful live music by a fantastic orchestra, under the amphitheater roof or under the stars.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

After 38 years in the newsroom, it's a wrap

My workplace since June 20, 1977.
On Thursday I’ll help put together The Saratogian’s Pink Sheet racing section for Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course, and then call it a day for the final time – ending 38 years at my full-time workplace since grad school.
I was in college during the Vietnam War and Watergate and was stirred by the power of the press to do good. I discovered journalism was fun, and I was good at it.
I lucked out landing a reporting job at The Saratogian (where Linda Glazer Toohey was my first of 11 publishers) and rose up the ranks in a great place to live and work. Christy Bulkeley made me one of the few women managing editors in the country; there was never a line at the ladies room during national editors’ conferences.
I’ve loved most of the job: the chase of a “good” story, depth reporting and strong writing, news that somehow makes a difference, the simple joy a well-written headline that fits in print, helping staffers improve their craft, the hectic deadline-driven environment, meeting interesting people who do amazing things, getting to know (at least a little) about a lot of stuff.
After years of running The Saratogian newsroom, I was promoted in 2014 to be top editor also of our sister paper, The Record, merging the two newsrooms into a single reporting and editing operation and striving to serve the audiences of both dailies, not to mention the readers of our weekly Community news in southern Saratoga County.
Newsrooms are not known for their feng shui
But that consolidation was nothing compared to the single most exciting – and challenging – change in the news business during my career: the Internet.
It is fantastic to be able to report any time, from any place (with an Internet connection), unshackled by the constraints of a press. I love that content can be delivered to your phone. The challenge for news companies is to keep that content coming, and for the public to be savvy consumers of reliable news sources.
We aren't in it for the awards, but we're proud of them --
and we win an inordinate number for a small operation.
My belief in the importance of reporting – regardless of how it’s published – is as robust as it was four decades ago when I caught the journalism bug. When the company made its recent offer to accept voluntary layoffs, it felt like the right time for me to move on, allowing Louise Kilbara in advertising to continue her unchallengeable reign as the longest-tenured employee. I have tremendous faith in our products and staff in all the departments here at The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News.
When people ask me, “What are you going to do,” I offer the same reply my husband and I gave our first-born when he wanted to know what we did for the first nine years of marriage before he came along: Have fun.
I will continue to teach a journalism class at the University at Albany, which I’ve been doing since 2008. I intend to get back to writing regularly, stepping up the pace in this blog
. I will continue my volunteer work. I will no longer have lack of time as an excuse for the condition of my garden, my tennis game and my gut.
Before signing off, I want to tell you that I feel bad, to varying degrees, that I:
• Praised deserving staff members too infrequently.
• Didn’t write more.
Superhorse welcomes
visitors to 20 Lake Ave.
• Sometimes caused inadvertent pain for people in the news and their loved ones, an occupational hazard for journalists.
• Might lose touch with people in the community who have generously shared their off-the-record insight with me over the years.
• Don’t dare acknowledge colleagues in this column for fear of leaving some out.
• Claimed to always put my family before my job, but didn’t.
That said, there’s plenty I feel good about:
• My kids turned out more than OK, my husband is patient and supportive, and my sense of humor remains intact.
• I beat the big boys at the metro papers in our company in an editorial writing contest, one of the most satisfying of my national and state awards.
• I’ve never been doing it for the awards (though I wouldn’t turn down a Pulitzer).
• I’ve launch the careers of dozens (I think it’s in the hundreds, actually) of journalists and had the privilege or working with countless gifted, amazing, dedicated people.
Most important, I feel good to be leaving this newsroom in the hands of talented, hard-working men and women who believe in the importance of what they’re doing and, I hope, will continue to have fun doing it.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Northshire: Saratoga's community-minded bookstore

Northshire owner Barbara Morrow opens the June 2
Saratoga Springs event featuring the amazing David McCullough,
who was a lot happier and livelier as speaker
than he looked in this photo.
When I sing the praises of Northshire Bookstore in downtown Saratoga Springs, it’s not only because it's a fantastic shop, but because the owners are truly community-minded.
Three examples from this week: the sold-out City Center appearance by historian David McCullough on Tuesday (he was fascinating, talking about the Wright Brothers and more), tonight’s bookstore visit by Jane Smiley (I love her work, but will regrettably miss her visit), and this weekend’s generous offering of support to the projects funded by the local Soroptimist service organization.
If you tell the check-out person on June 6 and 7 that you support Soroptimists, 20 percent of your purchases those days will go toward the club’s programs, which include support for domestic violence victims and other projects that improve the lives of women, girls and their communities, locally and globally. They will also be selling tickets to the Secret Gardens Tour, which will be on July 12 (see for details). As a member of the group, with firsthand knowledge of the initiatives it supports, I am grateful to Northshire.
I am also just plain happy that Northshire is here. My husband and I demonstrate our appreciation by shopping there. That’s the most effective way to say thank you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wouldn't getting the finger goad you, too?

The mix of news on this morning’s front print page of The Saratogian made me sad: police officers supporting the Special Olympics were the happy and positive centerpiece to anchor the cover, but that story was dimmed a bit by one about an officer who was goaded into behaving poorly.

I am disgusted by the driver who intentionally gave the officer the finger and then videotaped their encounter, armed with the knowledge that his disrespect was not in and of itself grounds for arrest. Grounds for being a jerk, yeah. But not for being arrested, according to a court decision.

An investigation into the incident, including the officer’s use of pepper spray, will determine whether the officer over-reacted. Whether an officer is being taped and whether a person is being a jerk are, truth be told, beside the point. The police need to do the right thing. But officers have a difficult enough job without being set up and “tested.” To get respect, give respect.