Coolie Coolstein

The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 1

I know a guy and his name is Coolie Coolstein.

What? you say. Can’t be. No one is named Coolie Coolstein.

Ah, but here is the obscure history: His parents, Sylvie and Morris Stein, were deeply uncool folks. They were all knees and elbows – in the depths of their clueless psyches. So, naturally, everyone called them “The Uncoolsteins.” Naturally.

The guy of whom I speak got ridiculed and mocked all through his youth. He was irreverently referred to as “The Coolie.” As a young man, having fought to raise himself from the humiliation of his birth, he learned to love the bomb (Dr. Strangelove reference – if you don’t get it) and he embraced the heretofore uncoolness of his parental units. Rather than disguise his background, he merely tweaked it and – like the great Eric Erikson – named himself. Coolstein seemed like the right surname, and why not double down?

Coolie Coolstein he became and is. Search far and wide – you will never find anyone cooler than he.

Moral: You can transform yourself or… capitulation is only one possibility.


I write from a shaded bench which runs alongside a segment of the circumference of the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. I am waiting for 1pm, the magic hour when free tickets are distributed for the current installment of Shakespeare In the Park. Tonight, God willing (I thought it would behoove me to add a little old-Jew into the discourse), we will be treated to an outdoor performance of The Tempest. There will be a cast of first rate actors with a few stars sprinkled in.

The under 65 set are on a long winding line, snaking the equivalent of about ten blocks. I’ve been there – packing a picnic lunch and making a day of it, with a gang of 30-something wild-folk. Swilling wine and imbibing other mind-altering substances, the party was the point; the play was a nice afterthought.

My party days are way behind me, but my delight in theater of all stripes has increased with the decades. I just received the best possible news: my wait is only until noon, things have changed since my last sojourn.

There is a camaraderie amongst us waiters. Chatting and joking seem natural. But now there is a rumor floating around: we may be too far back in the line to score. Well, I’m philosophical. I did arrive late-ish and it’s a nice day for this part of the outing.

Two men on my left strike up a protracted rambling dialogue: birds are their first topic, engendered by a nest spied in the rafters of the theater overhang. Since, as we know, all roads lead to narcissism, the two Gentlemen of the Line rapidly discover that they had both been actors – back in the day. They start dropping names at an ever increasing rate. Let’s leave them for a moment.

On my other side, an Asian man exuding a sweet demeanor commits an act of unexpected kindness. I brought and consumed a banana. Leaving the line has its perils, so I just held onto the skin. My neighbor had apparently also eaten a banana. He turns and asks if he can take my leavings to the garbage with his own. Who could ever have anticipated that?

Back to the two posturers: one mentioned he was still collecting residuals for something obscure. I wait to see what the other one calls with or if he raises. I think Atlanta-boy (he’s made sure to mention he has “place” here in town too) is winning in a rout. He has taken the whip in his hand and is flailing his own flank. His bragging is consuming all the breathable air. Time has slipped to a crawl.

Paul Sorvino

Ronnie Reagan. Yes, Ronnie.

Can this go on forever?

The wife of my left hand neighbor arrives. She looks like she belongs to someone else and not in a good way. She stands; hubby sits. Now the convo is a three-way. And it’s devolved (if you can believe that is possible) to naming all the celebrities they have seen on the street. For fuck’s sake, it’s Manhattan. Everyone sees everyone on the street. But on they drone. I know, I know. They are making conversation. And that would be why I don’t.

My boredom ends abrubtly as ticket time arrives. The banana skin man gets the last two tickets – none for me. But this is somehow just. The actors, who were behind me, slink away into the afternoon.

We shall all return for another try.


I thought I would offer to simplify everyone’s life with a few basic rules. You need them. Who can ever have too many rules? Well, in truth nowadays, good ones are hard to find.

1. Don’t be stupid. Maybe all we really need is this one rule. You know what stupid is…don’t pretend you don’t. Just don’t do those things that you feel compelled to do but know you shouldn’t.

2. Don’t disparage stupid TV or fringe political candidates. You never know what your friend/relative/co-worker has embraced.

3. Offer to help. Sure, sometimes people take advantage. Weigh that potential against the positive value of giving someone a hand. There’s really no contest. Your soul (or psyche or some other deep aspect of your true self) will be burnished by this.

4. Listen. Increasingly, we all are enamored with the sound of our own voices. Resist the urge to dominate the landscape. Other people have something worthwhile to say. You will never know what it is if you don’t listen.

5. Take vacations. No matter how important you are or think you are, they can do without you for a while. Without time off, you will get stale. Surly and stale and many other unpleasant “s” words. Think about what they might be. Go to the beach or the mountains or travel or visit grandma or go on a guided tour. Just change the scenery – inner and outer.

6. Use your words. Holding everything inside or flinging it around is not recommended. It’s harder to say what’s on your mind and in your heart – but ‘tis a far better thing. It’s your best shot at being understood; and you will actually process your experience by verbalizing it.

7. Spend time around children. If you have your own, you have this rule built-in. If not, make an effort to be in an environment where you will encounter the little folks. The ones who haven’t made bullshit into a religion yet. We need to have the counterforce of the unvarnished truth that children see and say.

8. Touch someone. I mean that literally. Physical touch is as necessary as breathing. If you don’t have a live-in, reach out to friends or relatives that are touchable. If not, get a massage. Technically you are being touched. But it’s all the same.

9. Try not to put off the things that matter. Sometimes it can’t be helped. But much of the time delay is caused by resistance. Make the call, take the trip, sign up for the course, start your diet, tell that person you love them.

Don’t you think nine rules are enough? I do. At least for now.



Those two words popped into my mind as I was examining the lines that have taken up residence on my face. Never having questioned the meaning before (never having chosen to think that hard about aging) I paused to consider just exactly what “gracefully” signified.

I’m not sure.

Is it about letting the indicators of lost youth show? Or is it something of a grander design?

When I run across the street with agility and a fair amount of speed, I feel pride. Should I abandon that feeling?

I’ve worn a mantle of grey hair (undyed, unapologetic) for decades. That was easy. It happened slowly and began when I was still young, so it didn’t portend what the skin-signs auger.

I guess I have an image of someone who has aged gracefully – but she is MUCH older than me. At least ninety (I’m sixty-eight). So it’s mostly a concept I haven’t had to get too close to.

If I’m willing to stay focused on this less-than-delightful issue for a few more seconds, I will have to admit that one must (even with the finest plastic surgery in the land) cope with inevitable losses as time marches on. The memory of details (proper names – huh?); the texture and tone of muscle and flesh; reflexes; number of hair follicles; gravity writ large on your ass.

So what to do? Well, I guess the first graceful thing is to stop denying it all. Then, perhaps move to good humor. Yes, laughing about it can – at least – make others feel less uncomfortable. And isn’t that what grace is all about. The happy by-product is that you yourself will feel better if you can chuckle about your newfound droopiness.


I am not a fattist. I spent years on the receiving end of that bias, so I’m sensitive. Nevertheless…

Arriving at the theater Sunday to discover that our two seats abutted a man whose arm and resident girth extended far over his appointed space. Now, aside from the obvious displeasure this engendered in me, I must reveal my over-sensitivity: I just don’t like touching anyone I don’t already know. Really. Is it a full-blown phobia? Not really. It’s an extreme preference. If I’m phobic about anything, it’s bad smells. Okay. I’m difficult, but I believe it’s all about heightened sensory capacity. I’m an uber-sensor. That’s my superpower. Details in another post…

Back to the realish-time storyline. Oh, God, my husband is talking to the big guy. (He got the seat next to him; there wasn’t a question. He’s a champ when it comes to accepting my ‘delicacy.’)

Guy (volunteers): “Not a lotta room!”

Hubbie (as if): “You’ve got to realize they built the theater when people were a lot smaller.”

No, I think, with extreme derision, everyone is/was/will be a lot smaller than this guy.

I have thought (too many times) that there should be special seating for the large and the tall. Give them their own section – charge a little more and let them deal with each other.

“Oh, YAY!” I exclaim as a very petite woman makes her way to the vacant seats in front of us. Buzz-killing husband points out she’s heading for the seat in front of him. “You can always switch with me,” he offers. I whisper (ever mindful of the feelings of others), “FAT CHANCE.”

A minute or two later, a second short woman arrives to fill the seat in front of me. “I thought it would be so,” says my wise companion. “They come in pairs.”

You would think that would be my gripe du jour. I wish it were. But wait, there’s more…

Crunching and crinkling

The lights dimmed and the truly hilarious and well-acted, It’s Only a Play swept us into that magical place; Nathan Lane and a brilliant cast generating guffaws and eye-wiping pleasure. But then it began. The unmistakable sounds of a bag of candy being opened and entered. Over and over again. The crackling and crunching began two seats over to my left (big guy was two to my right – is this a hell sandwich?) It was loud and like static, threatening to steal the show.

I’m a shusher (I know, you’re shocked to hear that), but I tried to engage my patient self. It will be over soon, was my hopeful thought. Maybe someone else will speak up – I don’t have to always be the one, do I?

No. It went on and on. It must have been the giant economy-sized bag. Give me a fucking break. Please? Not today. Because just as it subsided (but never stopped completely), over my shoulder a woman began responding to the actors on stage. Aloud. Yes. She was part of the play – inside her own self-deluded mind.

On this day I surrendered. White-flagging it. All you assholes win. This asshole will take it on the chin. I just thank the strong forces in the universe for Nathan Lane. His power to wash away even this level of bullshit was – as always – masterful.


There are things we have come to do as a matter of course, which require that we suspend our very organic and reflexive fear. Prime example: riding the subway. Listen, you are between 100 and 180 feet below street level. For God’s sake, think about the weight of the earth, cement, and whatever that is being held above your fragile head by virtue of the great ingenuity of fallible man.

And what about those bridges? Hanging in mid-air over cold, unforgiving ocean water. One snip of a cable and it’s madness on toast.

We trust – in physics, in the safety of yesterday’s being safely repeated today. Well, no one fell in, was felled by a cave-in, yet.

Yet. So much meaning attached to the word, but so little real predictive value. But what’s a human to do? If we don’t look at things through the hopeful eye of “it’s going to be fine; don’t worry,” we will all be scrunched into a fetal position, hiding out in our bunkers. Maybe that’s what we are already doing…

We are, by and large, on the couch, shoving potato chips and drugs into our faces, watching television.

Don’t hate me because I illuminate the dark side.


What are the odds that there will be a full-blown psychotic on your subway car in Manhattan? I’d put it upwards of 85%. High, you say. Yes, I say. Scary high.

Those of us who have weathered the manic storms many times, have a strategy for dealing. When I first heard the raspy bellow of incoherence, en route to the South Street Seaport today, first my stomach clenched, fear spiked and I said to my PIC (partner in crime), “I’m getting off.” We are aligned in this, but I felt the need to assert my unequivocal position.

At the next stop – which was mercifully close – we stepped cautiously but quickly into the adjacent car, first looking around  to make sure we weren’t going from the crazy frying pan to the nut-filled fire. In repose once more, we continued our ride, knowing it would just be a temporary respite.

There are alternative strategies for dealing with the assault of insanity. The non-reaction approach: This is the I’m not going to rise to the bait gambit, which works in many life-situations but may, in this kind of encounter, actually be inflammatory. If the crazy on your car is driven by a desire to create a response in others, you’re unflappability will just piss him/her off. Then there’s the my good man intervention; trying to have an impact by means of reason and compassion. This only works in the movies.

The “get out of Dodge” method is the only one that I know of that produces the desired result. Don’t hesitate, don’t look back, and don’t let the doors close before you’ve made your move.


Have you noticed a trend? Parents taking great pains (the pain is often in the observer – that would be me) to explain to their very young child why they ought to cooperate. How nice! Is that what you think? Perhaps I can change your mind.

Coming out of my apartment yesterday I had the good fortune to witness one of these New Age parent-child interactions.

Mother with two boys and a stroller attempting to leave the lobby. The unnamed older boy – maybe seven – was mercifully silent throughout the kabuki-esqe scene; Cooper, the younger – twoish, maybe three, not so much.

(Mother has the opening line.) ”You have to get in the stroller, Cooper.”

(Some flailing accompanying head-shaking and full-body refusal.)  “I wanna ride da scoota!!!!!!”

“But we all have to stay together, we have get where we are going pretty fast. Okay, Cooper? Will you get in the stroller?”

“NOOOO!!” (Now bashing various body parts into the wall).

“If you don’t get into the stroller we’re going to be late for the playdate.”

Louder refusal noises (UH UH!!) and two-footed jumping, kangaroo-like, up and back.

[Isn’t this the place where the parent picks the child up, straps him in and lets him cry/calm down as they proceed? Nope.]

” Cooper. Cooper.”  (He does not turn to acknowledge. Too busy stomping his feel and running around in a large circle.) “Cooper, if you ride on your scooter, will you agree to stay close to us and not ride away? And will you promise to listen to me?”

The mighty Cooper does not even deign to fake agreement. Why should he? It’s not necessary.

“Okay, Cooper. You understand what I need you to do.” (I’m not really sure if this was a question or statement of belief.) “Here’s your scooter.”

The scene ends (for me) with the image of Cooper out the door to the street ahead of the other two. Mother is now pushing the stroller, older boy aboard facing backwards. Within seconds she has lost the illusory edge and she’s calling out to a willfully deaf Cooper.)

And now I must ask, What the hell is going on? When did it become the parent’s job to justify every movement and decision to their pre-rational offspring? Are the pc police so ubiquitous that the natural dominance of the adult has been pathologized and pre-empted?

You know these kids are going to grow up with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. Really? Is more of that what we need in our culture? Duck. It’s coming.



There are many people speaking a different language and I don’t mean Swahili or Chinese.

It’s in the choice of words, but more than that it’s inflection and tone. Modulated. It is all quite modulated.

I am not so modulated. Blame it on my Brooklyn, Jewish roots, or it’s just me. But I usually have some kind of edge. The charming, patient dialogue that I hear, discussing the arts or travel or family or whatever with that well-controlled voice and an ease…I confess I don’t quite get it. It does seem foreign.


Dread-locked young man – about 18? With lime green headphones. As he crossed the street he turned his head to look emphatically at the hood of the car that was hanging way out into the crosswalk at the intersection of Broadway and 96th Street. With sarcasm dripping, he said: “Good job!”

We must comment. It’s in the city charter.


Passing a young twenties soldier in beige dress uniform, wearing one of those little hats that remind me of the guys serving hot dogs at Nathan’s in Coney Island. My mind fills my ears with “You’re In Army now…”