Things That Please Me

A number of months ago, the curmudgeon in me emerged in a column titled “Things that Annoy Me” about, well, things that annoy me. But I usually try to appreciate rather than complain, so here’s a companion column about things that please me. (Things that please me, please note, not that I love, because if it were the latter it would be all about Ezra, Aviva, Liora, Aiden, and, of course, their parents, aunts, and savta.

1. Audiobooks. I’ve loved to read ever since I was a kid. While my tastes have evolved from sports novels and the Hardy Boys to more serious literary novels and history (and, sigh, mysteries), my attachment to reading has never waned. And yet, over the last 16 years the number of books that I’ve read is in single digits; that is, if you pedantically limit reading to the sense of sight. If like me, however, you consider reading to include other senses, then I’ve read close to 500 books over that time by listening to audiobooks. And that number would be greater except that for the first six years I listened at regular speed. Once I discovered the availability of double speed, I suddenly began reading twice as many books in the same available time.

One major audiobook advantage is that they fill up otherwise dead time where reading physical books is impossible. A quick drive to and from the supermarket and, poof, another chapter done. And now that I try to walk wherever I go in Teaneck (which is pretty much everywhere as long as carrying shopping bags isn’t involved), the time for “reading” has increased exponentially.

Truly a blessing (other than, of course, on Shabbat and yom tov).

2. Mall walking. Since, as noted, walking is now my preferred method of local locomotion — very helpful in meeting my daily goal of 10,000 steps — when errands and visits aren’t on our schedule Sharon and I walk outside around our tree-lined neighborhood, especially on lovely mild afternoons.

Sadly, the weather doesn’t always accommodate walking outside. But indoor malls do, which makes it a plus that we live near Paramus, which has more mall square footage per capita than anywhere else in the United States. Bergen County blue laws? No problem since we found one local mall available for walking even on Sunday if you know the right door to enter — a secret I don’t plan on sharing. Sorry. In fact, it’s even better on Sunday, because the stores are closed so there’s no temptation to stop for shopping. (Guess who’s tempted — and it’s not me.)

So thank you Mr. Simon and Mr. Westfield.

3. MLB lockout. Oops, sorry, wrong column. Those billionaire baseball owners annoy me no end.

4. Being recognized. I not only love writing this column, but it also makes my day when I meet someone I don’t know well and they ask “don’t you write for the Standard?” An added word of praise is always nice, but even if the question’s accompanied by criticism it’s still a wonderful feeling that people recognize me from my picture (even when I’m masked and bow-tieless) and read what I write. Once, while I was walking around Teaneck (see paragraph 2), a woman whom I didn’t know stopped her car, rolled down the window, and asked, well, you know what. “I enjoy your columns,” she said, while quickly adding “not that I agree with all of them of course.” But she read them and cared enough to stop and agree — and disagree.

What more can a columnist ask for?

5. Young(er) friends. I’m a generation older than most of my shul chevrah. I get to be avuncular at times (my pleasure, not theirs), but more importantly it takes me out of my generational silo to learn what the young(er) set thinks and cares about. It’s quite refreshing even when they’re wrong.

6. Good customer service. In my earlier column I criticized customer service representatives who apologize for problems rather than fixing them. Some representatives, however, deserve praise for improving the shopping experience.

One example. A doctor of ours — let’s call him Bernie Segal — recently told us the following story when Sharon complimented him on his shirt during an office visit. “That’s from Land’s End, where I buy all my shirts,” Bernie replied. “I’ll tell you why.

“About 25 years ago, I lost a lot of weight. A lot. So after keeping it off for a year, I realized I needed new clothing to fit my new shape. I called Land’s End (it was the catalogue era) and ordered a slew of shirts in different colors. After taking down my order, the representative said: ‘I’m happy you’re shopping with us, but why are you buying so many shirts at once? It’s very unusual.’ After I told her, she put me on hold for a moment. Quickly returning, she said: ‘I just told my manager about our conversation. He said that Land’s End is so proud of your achievement that we’re happy to send you this order at no charge.’”

That’s service. And that’s how smart retailers, who look at customers as individuals rather than algorithms, can turn one order into a customer for life.

7. Current events. Front page news doesn’t please me; quite the contrary. One pleasant exception, though, is that decency has returned to the White House, with a president who favors truth over lies, the rule of law over insurrection, voting rights over voter suppression, and democracy over dictators.

8. Post(?) Pandemic. Seeing friends and family in the flesh and sometimes actually attending classes in person (but see paragraph 9).

9. Zoom Jewish learning experiences. Between the time I retired and covid struck, I broke up my study time (a significant part of my retirement activities) into two categories: attending the two-, now three-, days-a-week Beit Midrash of Teaneck programs (see “Separate But Not Equal”), and listening online to previously recorded videos of various college courses on subjects ranging from the Hebrew Bible from an academic and/or non-Jewish perspective to WWII to the Revolutionary and Civil wars to Michael Sandel’s popular Justice course, which has been viewed by tens of millions of people worldwide.

And then came the pandemic and the world changed, primarily for the worse. My personal silver lining, though, was the explosion of Zoom courses on an incredibly broad range of Jewish topics, given by scholars around the country and the globe and often for free, sponsored by a wide variety of organizations. Indeed, there were so many fascinating courses and lecturers that I simply dropped taking college courses because there just wasn’t enough time in the day.

Maybe I’ll return to college one day (online, for free, and with no degree at the end of the rainbow; just for the love of learning), but not yet, because while the pandemic finally seems to be ebbing, Zoom courses continue to proliferate. (A special shout out to Congregation Rinat Yisrael’s adult education committee, and most especially to its dedicated leadership, for our continuing amazing Zoom programming.)

I admit it; I waste too much time daily looking at my various screens. Thankfully, not all of that time is wasted.

• • • • •

The pleasurable (which include much more that didn’t make the cut because I actually do have a word limit, even if my editor graciously allows me to exceed it from time to time) surpass the annoying. And so, retirement has become an exciting time of personal growth and enjoyment; a time where I am constantly touched and moved and elevated by so many different and worthwhile people, activities, opportunities, and adventures. And that too is something that pleases me.

About the Author
Joseph C. Kaplan, a regular columnist for the Jewish Standard, is a long-time resident of Teaneck. His work has also appeared in various publications including Sh’ma magazine, The New York Jewish Week, The Baltimore Jewish Times, and, as letters to the editor, The New York Times.
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