Graduates, parents, in-laws, step-parents, former step-parents, first wives, second husbands, crazy uncles, exes, soon-to-be exes and friends:

As your commencement speaker, I must first apologize that I am not Beyonce. I know you were hoping for a big name like her, expecting her, but as you all know, Beyonce is already expecting. Nevertheless, I am so honored to be your second choice even if I actually am not.

Looking out at all of you today, I am reminded that some years ago I was sitting in those very same seats that you are in now. I, too, was there expecting Beyonce, 27 years before she was born. That’s the kind of foresight you can get from a university education.

This is such a proud moment for all of you, so full of hope, mainly because you are blissfully unaware that you’ll be paying off your student loans for the next four decades. But I am here to tell you that this moment full of hope is also a moment full of responsibility. It is full of obligation. Full of anticipation. It is, in fact, full of it.

That’s because your generation is confronting a world far different than the one I knew so many years ago. My world didn’t have kimchi. None of us could pronounce quinoa. We thought face time was time you devoted to shaving. We had just started learning how to use air quotes ironically. Our lives were not yet fully documented on Instagram, which meant, as you know, that we didn’t exist.

Your world, by contrast, is a technological marvel, even if your parents can’t figure out how to Skype and still have old VHS tapes around the house. Now, as you head out into that new world, I should warn you that the traffic there is terrible. Not only that, there’s almost no place to park.

Yes, the world is getting hotter, the seas are rising and some people may take several minutes before they reply to your texts. The job market is terrible, and the only position currently available is doing public relations at United Airlines. Even worse, no matter how frequently you check all your social media, you will find out that there are many parties to which you haven’t been invited.

So your generation definitely has its challenges but I am certain you have the skills and the passion to make a difference or at least get reasonably priced passes to Coachella. Always believe that you can reach your goals and do whatever you want to do, as long as no one is watching and you remember not to post it on your Facebook page.

In the years to come, I have no doubt you will all be successful and one day one of you may even be up here like I am, giving the same type of commencement speech. If you do, please remember to credit me or I might sue.

It’s a sobering thought, but in my house I am generally considered the tech expert — the technology guru, if you will, or even if you won’t.

I won this title, and the diamond-studded earbuds that go with it, by figuring out that the desktop computer in the office wouldn’t turn on because the cleaning people had turned down the light switch. Admittedly, it did take me several days to figure this out, and to remember we had cleaning people. It also took an accidental bump against the light switch.

But no one else had figured this out — which tells you something about the high-tech capabilities within the household.

Also, I should mention, the kids had long ago moved out of the house, taking with them all knowledge of how to record a television show while watching another television show and what MP3 stands for. That left just my wife and me, and she is still working on how to set the clock radio alarm for 7:30 a.m. not p.m. (We’re both pretty good with the toaster, though.)

So, yes, I was, indeed, the tech guru only by default, but that didn’t stop me from letting the title, and the earbuds, nevertheless go to my head.

Because of that inflated sense of technological competence, I believed I surely would be capable of figuring out recently how to print documents from my laptop, if I could connect the laptop to the printer wirelessly. This was an attractive idea because it meant I didn’t have to use any wires. (Wires, like zip drives and thermostat-setting, are outside my field of competence.) And I wouldn’t have to remember to turn on any light switches.

Meanwhile, the printer was already here, and functioning, at the bottom of the desk, already connected to the desktop computer, already printing, as long as someone already had remembered to replace the ink cartridges.

According to the instructions I found online, to get this new system all up and working, all I had to do was …

First, open the control panel. I wasn’t specifically told which control panel, so I opened them all — on the desktop, the laptop, the printer, the toaster. I was able to re-set the toaster to extra-wide so that it worked with bagels.

Then, I was told, I had to “select devices and printers,” which brought me to a long list of “devices and printers,” none of which I remotely recognized or thought that I had ever bought. Then, the instructions said, you were supposed to “add a network, wireless or Bluetooth printer.” I decided to add CBS, although I would have preferred the Comedy Channel.

The final step was supposed to be selecting the network printer from the list of available printers. My printer was not on the list of available printers.

It turns out, after actually reading the instruction manual for the printer, which I had filed under “Items I will never look at or understand,” that my printer is so old it cannot work wirelessly. It needs wires.

Fortunately, at least the light switch was on.

When I was in elementary school, I used to cheat on a test. The eye test.

As other students would stand in the back, cover an eye and read from the chart placed at the front of the classroom, I’d memorize what they’d recite — Z F G H S D, and so on — so when it came my turn, no one would know that I was so nearsighted I could only see the giant Z at the top and thought it was an S.

Or maybe an H. How about a $?

(I also, to be frank, had no idea what ZFGHSD meant, although I thought it could have been a Croatian acronym for boneless chicken breasts.)

I cheated because I didn’t want to wear glasses, which I thought would interfere with my career plan of playing centerfield for the Yankees. I understood that my eyesight wasn’t great back then, but I was willing to bump into walls as long as I wouldn’t have to admit I didn’t see them right in front of me. I preferred admitting to clumsy, not nearsighted. Fortunately, the walls, as I remember, were softer back in the day so I could get away with my little charade.

Unfortunately, as I’ve gotten older, so has my eyesight. I can no longer fool anyone, mainly because the print on menus, in an attempt by millennials to dominate the farm-to-table market, has continued to get smaller and smudgier and more difficult to make out.

Now, when I see Z F G H S D on the chart at the eye doctor’s office, cheating isn’t possible because there’s no one else in the examining room except the eye doctor, who refuses to recite the letters before I do, no matter how much I offer to up the co-pay.

Most of the time when I look a the chart in his office, I just guess — It’s an F, right? The @ symbol? A topographical map of Nepal?

Then the eye doctor makes me stare into one of those bulky headsets where he can check what kind of new lenses I need for my glasses. (Yes, I now wear glasses, mainly because I discovered I couldn’t hit the curveball — or any ball — and the Yankee plan was probably not going to happen.)

The eye doctor slides the lenses in and out as I stare at another chart, this one inside the headset. And although the chart is just inches away, I have no idea what I’m seeing.

The doctor asks, “Is that better?” “Is that worse?” as he tries different lenses. The answer he’s looking for, apparently, is not, “I can’t remember what the one before looked like.” And even if I could, there’s not much difference between seeing an R or a G when the letter on the chart is actually an F.

The eye doctor prescribes new glasses for me. I order them and try them on. I still can’t see the Z at the top of the chart. And because of that now I cheat on the test you take when you go to renew your driver’s license. I’ve memorized where all the stop signs are.

A couple of years ago, I decided that I was going to try to run a half-marathon. I thought it would be a good test of my physical fitness, my determination, my perseverance and my utter cluelessness. It didn’t matter how old I was, I thought; I could be just as stupid as I used to be.

I never did run that half-marathon. I would like now to explain why.

First, I found out that a full marathon is indeed 26.2 miles long, or 26.1 miles longer than walking to the mailbox to get the mail. Second, I found out that a half-marathon is, in fact, half a marathon.

To get a better grasp of what that means: technically speaking, it’s 13.1 miles, 21.08 kilometers or, in England, 16.7 imperial liters. It’s a lot of liters. It is, in fact, the equivalent of running to the supermarket, then running back home, then finding out you didn’t buy anything at the supermarket and having to run all the way back, just for a loaf of bread.

And then it turns out the supermarket is closed. And that’s assuming that the bread was any good and the supermarket was only one state away, and mostly downhill.

In addition, I discovered, you can’t just run a half-marathon without preparation apparently. You need to train for it. I would have much preferred that meant I needed to book on Amtrak. But it turns out that means doing a lot of running even before you have to do a lot of running.

Yes, I know it seems unfair.

In particular, in training for a long race, you are supposed to start small and build up over time. I was fine with starting small. I was so fine with it, I stayed small.

You are supposed to slowly increase your mileage until running a half-marathon is as easy as going to the supermarket and buying a loaf of bread. We know how that turned out.

When I was training, after running about three or four miles I would begin to get that certain feeling you get, that runner’s high — you know, that moment when you are certain you are surely going to die.

My feet would swell, my legs would hurt, my back would ache and my breathing would be labored. It was sort of like when I’m watching a presidential press conference.

In addition, all that preparation to run a half-marathon takes a lot of time, and, frankly, I’m a very busy person. I have naps to take, emails from acquaintances to ignore, dishes in the sink not to wash. Sometimes, I have to spend whole days figuring out how many characters I have left when I want to tweet something.

But perhaps the most important reason I gave up on my half-marathon quest was that I found out I could just buy one of those “13.1” bumper stickers and not have to prove that I earned it.

You must create a password to register for this account. We recommend that you create a password that is strong, untraceable and sufficiently unique so that no one would ever dare hack it, nor would anyone, including you, be able to remember it.

Please note that your password has to include at least 11 letters, three numbers and four smiley faces. The smiley faces should not be the ones where one eye is winking.

The numbers preferably should be in German.

You also have to use symbols. When you use a symbol in your password, make sure it doesn’t have an umlaut because we are not sure we can do umlauts or even, really, what they are or how to find them on the keyboard. If you feel you absolutely have to use an umlaut, make sure it is encrypted.

If you don’t know how to encrypt an umlaut, welcome to the club.

Acceptable symbols include #, $, % or &, unless that is, in fact, your user name. (If it’s actually your real name, you have other problems.)

Your password cannot be the same as your user name. It also cannot be the same as the name of your spouse, your dog, either of your children or your favorite potato dish. Your password should not in any way be identifiable with you and, if it is, you should change your identity and move to Jersey City and become a clarinetist.

Your password is case-sensitive. That means you should either use capital letters or lower-case letters but shouldn’t tell anybody which ones are which. Don’t overthink this. If your cases are too sensitive, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the password business in the first place.

Your password also cannot be all capital letters because, in the world of the internet, that means you are SHOUTING, and that means you won’t be able to hear us when we tell you your password is no good and you need to start over again.

You should not use the same password that you used to order from Amazon or to pay for your car insurance or for your ophthalmologist’s health portal. If that means you have no more passwords left, you should have thought of that before you started.

If you’ve run out of password ideas, why not try using as your password your address, including street number, zip code and the Dewey decimal code for non-fiction, when you were 9? No one, except perhaps the old children’s librarian, will remember that.

How about the first letters of the words in the second verse of the Marseillaise? This would be extremely safe because no one knows there is a second verse of the Marseillaise. Not even the French.

Congratulations. The password you have created is acceptable, strong and unhackable. Unfortunately, it took you so long to come up with it, it is now time to change your password.

Your smartphone does so many things. It would be so nice if one of those was actually making phone calls.

That little device in your pocket — my friend Dick calls it a “thingamagig,” which is actually the name of the new Samsung model — can play games. It can play music. It can find the nearest sustainable-farm-to-table-gluten-free-nearly-vegan-sushi place in the neighborhood.

Or, if you’re interested, in a Portland, ME., neighborhood.

It also can tell you the weather in Portland, ME., and take photographs of the rain in Maine as it falls mainly on the plane, just as you are arriving there at the airport.

It can keep track of your bank accounts and remind you when you’re overdrawn (although it rarely reminds you when you’re under-drawn).

You can take notes on your smartphone and talk to it and read trashy novels on it, frequently all at the same time while you are driving on the interstate.

But phone calls seem to be an after-thought.

Of course, it’s true, no one actually needs to talk on the phone anymore. You can always “talk” in air quotes, raising two fingers on each of your hands and making little bending movements with your fingers, which people know are ironic quotation marks even if they don’t know what ironic means. That way you “talk” to people on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google Chat and, if you are really old-fashioned or just plain old, diesel-powered email.

But let’s say you want to talk and your fingers have lost their sense of irony. Well, your smartphone actually can help you do that, although it’s not particularly easy.

All you have to do is go to your smartphone’s telephone app. That’s the app with a picture of a phone on it that actually looks nothing like a smartphone but more like the handle on the princess phone your parents had in their bedroom in 1966.

Once you’ve found that, then you can “dial” except you don’t actually dial. In fact, no one under the age of 45 actually knows what a dial is. Instead, you click on the little icon for the keypad, which is just like dialing, except it isn’t.

This is assuming, of course, that you know the phone number of the person whom you want to call. If you do not know the number of the person whom you want to call, you can click on contacts, which will improve your eyesight so that you can see the list of everyone whom you might have called in the past.

You scroll down the list of people, including those whom you have never met, those whom you don’t remember and those who have called you to see if you were interested in buying a lifetime insurance annuity.

Or, on the other hand, you might be better off to just see if they’re on Facebook.

Like many of you, I have outsourced my income tax preparation to someone who actually understands how to add lines 23 through 35 and then find the smaller of lines 44 through 68 while entering the amount from 46 divided by the credit from line 73.

Unlike me, my tax preparer knows all about capital gains (or loss), S corporations, ordinary dividends, not-so-ordinary dividends, the domestic production activities deduction (Yes! It’s right there on Line 35, but only if you’ve attached Form 8917), and even whether Line 79 is more than Line 68, but only in months that have an R.

But, unfortunately, my tax preparer is not in charge of gathering all the information for my tax return. That’s my job.

He doesn’t know where I probably or possibly or might have or could have carefully stored all my tax stuff that I have to give him before he can figure out if I qualify for the advance premium tax payment credit or the 50-percent off an item of equal or lesser value if I choose the nontaxable combat pay election.

If I want to get the Depreciation and Amortization deduction (Form 4562), I would have to show him all the bills I have for when we depreciated and amortizated the house last fall. If I want to deduct Expenses for Business Use of Your Home (Form 8829), I would have to provide all the bills I paid for the work done on your house, too.

To qualify for the Profit or Loss From Business deduction (Schedule C), I have to prove that I already filed Schedule A and Schedule B, even though I’m pretty sure I didn’t have either of them on my schedule.

Meanwhile, the tax deadline is quickly approaching, and my tax preparer is already explaining to me why if Line 8 is more than zero I’ll still owe a significant amount of money even if I prefer Line 7. So, for the last several weeks, I have been searching in the obvious places — the desk, the filing cabinet, the bread bin, next to the carburetor — for a number of extremely important tax documents that he says he needs, including:

  • The W-2 forms, which I believe I had filed with the WD-40 forms that came with the lawn mower. It’s also possible I may have thrown them out when they arrived in the mail, thinking they were solicitations for satellite TV packages (“4,726 Channels — Only 43 cents for the first 12 months — then we garnish your children!”).
  • All the 1099 forms, which had been reduced from 12.99 and would have come with free shipping, too. (As long as I spent more than $65 and attached Form 1116.)
  • My carefully annotated list of medical expenses, which included doctor bills, dental bills, pharmacy bills and insurance premium bills, minus my deductible but divided by my co-pay multiplied by my medical mileage co-efficient. Unless that number is less than zero or higher than my tax preparer’s fee.
  • And last year’s tax forms. I’m sure I can find them, unless they were amortizated last fall.


We would like to apologize for a series of errors that have appeared in previous posts.

A report on the brunch I prepared last weekend that featured French toast, granola cups and curry-flavored hash browns mistakenly noted that president Kim Jong-un of North Korea was among the guests at the brunch.

A paragraph devoted to my inability to effectively load the dishwasher described incorrectly the machine as previously belonging to Chance the Rapper.

A recent aside about my running prowess referred imprecisely to how long it took me to complete a recent 5K race. The reference should have noted that it was a 1K and it was actually not a K but an R.

A sentence alluding to my plans for retirement misstated the relationship between two of the characters in Handel’s Third Oratorio. The two are not sisters but are, in fact, financial advisors together at Goldman Sachs. Also, it was not Handel’s Third Oratorio but a hip hop revival of My Fair Lady.

Because of an editing error, a recent question mark should have been a semicolon.

A listing of promises I’ve made to myself that I haven’t yet fulfilled erroneously attributed all the fault to myself. Some of the fault should have been shared with others who have egged me on, including but not limited to Kim Jong-un.

A catalog of the items I have recently lost misidentified the contents of my wallet. Instead of a driver’s license, three credit cards, four health insurance cards, 17 dollar bills and a small sheet of paper with a phone number written on it that I could no longer attribute to anyone I knew, the contents actually included only 11 dollar bills, my car insurance card and an old newspaper clipping of a recipe for eggplant parmesan.

A recent notation concerning eggplant parmesan should instead have cited risotto a la Milanese.

A column devoted to prunes misspelled the names of my children. They are Dick and Jane, not Othello and Desdemona.

When writing recently about the threat of nuclear annihilation, I mistakenly gave an outdated title to Captain Kangaroo. He is no longer a captain but is, instead, a chief petty officer (ret).

Because of a writing error, a column that should have been about the Top 10 Places to See in Kazakhstan was wrongly focused on questions about repairing my lawn mower instead.

A correction in a recent post incorrectly corrected a mistake that had tried to rectify an error that referenced a gaffe included in a lapse that was part of an inaccurate oversight.

We sincerely apologize.


Not as sharp as you used to be? Want to improve your mental abilities or ward off cognitive decline? Can’t remember what the word cognitive means?

Are you becoming worried that your intellectual prowess isn’t nearly as prow as you would like? Or are you just simply concerned that you’re losing your mind and can’t remember where you put it?

Don’t worry. Now, thanks to a new generation of interactive games, riddles and clever Internet-based whangdoodle programs designed to prey on anyone who has ever forgotten her keys or failed to nab a Nobel Prize, you can train your brain to do better.

These programs are like going to a gym for the brain, except that you don’t have to wear shorts that are too tight or strain your elbow doing bi-lateral curls.

No head bands! No need to waste time reading or studying or even actually looking for your keys! No figuring out calculus equations! No going to the lab and having to put on those icky white lab coats!

Yes, you can improve your working memory, your cognitive flexibility, your processing speed and your gas mileage — and you can do it without actually flossing your medulla oblongata.

No need to get on the treadmill to exercise your brain. All you have to do is just play some games and solve some riddles. Like these:

  • Two trains are heading to Chicago, one from New York and the other from New Orleans. The one from New York is traveling at 103 miles per hour. The one from New Orleans has a better snack bar. What time is it in Peoria?
  • Carol’s mother had three children. The first child was named April. The second child was named May. What was the third child’s name? (I should tell you that even Carol got this one wrong.)
  • If it’s 3:15 p.m. in Bogota, Colombia, why are you in Bogota? Weren’t you supposed to be in Piscataway, NJ?
  • How many three-letter words can you make out of Piscataway, NJ? How many three letter words can you make in Piscataway, assuming you were stuck there during a snowstorm and couldn’t get to the brain gym?
  • Repeat all these numbers without looking at your phone or asking Carol, April or May for help: 6
  • Without looking at your phone which is still, probably, in Bogota, Colombia, what letters on your phone keypad correspond to the number 6?
  • Find all the verbs in the above paragraphs and arrange them in a grid that will look like the Eiffel Tower. Do it again, this time while eating a grilled cheese sandwich.
  • In a labyrinth, start at the bottom and find your way to the top before the train gets to Peoria.
  • Which of the following doesn’t belong:




Warren G. Harding

Now explain why your answer was “giraffe.”

  • Connect the dots. Please don’t ask which dots.