The reciprocal compliment rule

 I’m not really sure what the protocol is, but it certainly feels like a “should.” When someone offers you a compliment, you say, “Thank you.” Then there’s often a bit of silence into which it seems like there ought to be a return compliment. You know – “Nice shoes.” “Thanks.” (pause) “I really like your coat.” If not, then the big cosmic scale is a bit out of balance.

The plain vanilla “thank you” can be a little flat-footed. I know, because today I failed to lob a return when someone said, “Nice bag.” I was in a local shop and the complimenter was someone I hadn’t even noticed. Although I continued on with my prior conversation after my obligatory “thank-you,” I felt that incomplete sense – like something was missing. It was.

Now, I know that there are lots of compliment grubbers (I would say “whores” but that wouldn’t be nice.) They preen a bit, show off their new whatever, smile expectantly, and then – when they get what they’ve been angling for, they move on to the next potential source of praise.

In fact there are those with the opposite inclination: the compliment deniers. They say, “No, no. I don’t look that good. You are too kind.” If you keep coming back, trying to reassert your true admiration, they will probably just change the subject…somewhat forcefully.

Most of the time, however, there is that subtly expectant silence, into which your reciprocal compliment is supposed to fit. What if you can’t think of anything? Or what if you say something awkward like, “You look wonderful; did you lose weight?” “Well, I didn’t want to mention it, but I’ve been diagnosed with…” You get my point.

The dangers of over or under-complimenting are opaque. It isn’t until you see the disappointment or irritation or distress on the other person’s face that you can tell whether you’ve gone too far or not far enough.

I think the answer is to be prepared. Spend a little time thinking of some generic but creative enough compliments that you can whip out at a moment’s notice, if you need a quick rejoinder:

Wow, you look lovely in that (name an item); that color really suits you.

I like your hair in this style; it really sets off your eyes.

You look younger; what’s your secret?

Unless you know you’re dealing with someone who is embarrassed by attention, it is usually better to err on the side of a little excess in this this realm. And, if you ever run into me, just go for it. I don’t mind a compliment or two…



The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 92

October 20, 2016

When we last looked in on Coolie, he was asleep. In Venezuela. And that’s really not a euphemism for anything. Coolie is in South America. You know, the land of questionable democracy. Oh – wait a minute – I might be getting that confused with North America.

Our boy is enjoying some jellyfish dreams. I kind of wish I was too. Because right about now, being awake is a more than a little disturbing. So, let’s look in on Mr. Coolstein’s dreamstate and see if we can gain a little vicarious respite from the current state of our national distress. In order to accomplish this, we must suspend a bit of belief, swing any rodent of our choice over our heads three times while walking backwards in a circle.

Okay. That’s done. (Did you do it, or are you willing to bear the true nightmare of consciousness?)

Coolie has a special facility for dreaming things into a happier place. Ready?

The day was slightly overcast, but – as Coolie’s consciousness brushed against it – the sun began to shine brightly (see I, told you.) The air had a hint of buckwheat – someone was making fancy pancakes and Coolie decided to follow his nose. He was not really walking, more like skating through the air about a foot off the ground. He waved a little grandly to the gapers who took notice of this strange and wonderful being.

Around a corner that was heavily planted with tulips – Coolie’s favorite flower and an inevitable reminder of the brightly painted wooden shoes that Mothership gave him for his eighth birthday – something that looked a lot like a Disney-ish castle appeared. I would say “loomed” but that’s too scary a word (and it calls to mind DJT’s recent looming), so I’ll say, it arose – not as evocative, but we don’t want to start a stampede. Coolie was just about overdosed with glee and elation.

This is gonna be tutti-fruiti (a phrase he picked up on in Rome…he’s such a man of the world, isn’t he?) I’d like to have some friends to share this with – ’cause it’s always more fun if you can say “LOOK AT THAT” and have someone hear it too. And lo! From his lips…the wish became reality and Mickey Mental and Barbie Blue apparated sequentially (both at once would have blown some mystical interstellar gasket – Daddyetc. monitors these things.)

And, as if it had been choreographed, they did the…one and two and off we go…of Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man in TWOO. Cartoon birds (of course) appeared and chirped their little two dimensional hearts out; a balmy breeze ruffled the hair of those who were – as Coolie understood it – able to be impacted by the physical universe (that would not be the birds).

The three amigos glided down a self-drawing path that glittered with glitter and other shiny things. (Do you want to use a little imagination here? No? Okay, I’ll describe). There were all the lost pennies that had ever dropped from little fingers; they were as bright as the day they were minted. There were chewing gum wrappers – the kind that are lined with tin foil. There were fragments of the big crystal ball that was last seen when Cinderella made her fast getaway; they were easily identifiable by the little tiny zaps of starlight that pulsed inside each one.

As the triumvirate approached the giant doorway – which looked suspiciously like it was made of frozen Milky Ways – something almost indescribable happened. Swirls of every color in the spectrum (and a few others) moved around them, circling first Coolie, then Barbie, then the Mickster. Each one in turn let out first a gasp then a whoop of pure joy. It felt like we have all imagined it would feel to be inside our favorite fantasy.

And, borrowing from yet another fantasy, the door spoke in a bass rumble and said, “Eat me.” So, being cooperative folks, they each picked up one of the golden scoops that had helpfully appeared by their feet, and scooped up as much of the candy door as they could. Cheeks smeared with chocolate and caramel, their eyes danced and they grinned mega-tooth grins as they stepped across the threshold.

TBC to be sure…

Look for my new non-fiction book, FEAR OF LANDING, The stories we tell about commitment and their meanings. It’s available on

Also available on is my science fiction novel, RAYMÒN AND SUNSHINE, It’s about the relationship between an autistic man and a female android three hundred years in the future, when what was once seen as a disability is merely a difference.

You can find more information about me and my books at

Two for a Saturday

Burping at the opera (in Italian)

Don Giovani not holding my interest today. I’m tired and maybe I’m now post-opera in my enthusiasm. But the woman sitting on my right is not helping. At random intervals, she burps. Loud enough to be heard; no effort to suppress. I give her the “gaze;” it has no effect. I give up and return to my cocoon of sleepy boredom.

As it often does, Meatloaf’s immortal words come to mind: Prayin’ for the end of time…

Three hours is too long to 1: sit still, 2: hear every freakin’ word sung and, 3: be unable to stand and stretch at will (except for the regimentation of intermission).

What goes around comes around (in a good way)

Out of the Met after 3+ hours of opera. Now trying to get a taxi. It’s the perfect storm of glut of would-be passengers and traffic and I’m going uptown but all the taxis are going downtown. I start walking in the direction of home when I see a cab about to turn onto the street I’m about to cross. I hail him furiously; he gestures that he’s already spoken for (by the woman to my left.) I continue to walk and wave. Another one comes along but, as he screeches to a stop, I realize that yet another woman had been waiting for a taxi too. I defer to her but she says, “No, you take it.” “You were here first,” I reply. She demurs:”But you were over there.” She gestures to the corner where I had lost the first cab.

See, you doubters and bad-mouthers. New Yorkers are gracious and generous. We are.

Look for my new non-fiction book, FEAR OF LANDING, The stories we tell about commitment and their meanings. It’s available on

Also available on is my science fiction novel, RAYMÒN AND SUNSHINE, It’s about the relationship between an autistic man and a female android three hundred years in the future, when what was once seen as a disability is merely a difference.

You can find more information about me and my books at


First, a definition is in order, i.e.: what’s a “golem?” (Or, if you’d rather, we could ask, “What’s Aleppo?”)

Now that we have created these not quite human entities, aka Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton, what are we to do? The time is getting short (well matched is the shortness of breath I experience when I think about the next four years…don’t you dare tell me “eight.”)

Out of our consummate mindlessness, our disinterest in anything that doesn’t affect our narrow sense of self, our attraction to the reality-show qualities of embarrassing acting out, the hit of apparent danger, and the nasty below-the-belt attacks, we have munched on tacos and popcorn while we watched the supposed values we grew up believing in unwind and come to a screeching stall. We looked on as if we were watching the “shows,” with our favorite mixture of dread and fascination, as these two sociopaths rose through the ranks to become the next best hope for mankind as we know it.

Well, my friends, buckle up. You – I’m certain – are not ready for what comes next.

Will a little piece of all of us die on November 7th? We will see, won’t we?

Look for my new non-fiction book, FEAR OF LANDING, The stories we tell about commitment and their meanings. It’s available on

Also available on is my science fiction novel, RAYMÒN AND SUNSHINE. It’s about the relationship between an autistic man and a female android three hundred years in the future, when what was once seen as a disability is merely a difference.

You can find more information about me and my books at

Two sides of the coin

Once again, here in New York, we have a lovely, warm autumn day. It’s ideal – no fault to be found. It’s a walkabout day, a stroll to nowhere day, an enlivening and uplifting kind of day. But, as is so for an immense segment of the over 40 population here, there is another locale that is flooding (NO! NO!) my consciousness. It’s Broward County in Florida. That’s where my mother lives. So, while I have been enjoying the balmy weather, I am simultaneously in an anxious state.

Nothing good is about to hit the sunny climes of southern FLA. There’s a monster hurricane a-comin’ (gently name “Matthew”) and I’m obsessively calling Mom every hour to make sure she’s okay. She is. There is no pounding rain or violent wind – as yet. And, I guess, as part of the secret to living a long life, my mother isn’t worried. She is somewhat tolerant of my concern, carefully explaining that she hadn’t answered the phone earlier because she was on another call, and – even though she saw or guessed or intuited that it was ME calling, she “let the call go.” Okay, thanks, Mom. For the gut churning minutes of feverishly checking to see if anything catastrophic had happened.

She’s got water – check; she’s got canned goods – check; she’s got her special storm doors installed – check. All good. And, by nature, she just isn’t a worrier. I do not take after her. No. Not at all. I am my late father’s daughter in this regard. My mother treats my worries the way she treated his: almost respectfully, but with that soft-voiced, barely audible disinterest that prompted her to bring our recent conversation to a rapid close with: Okay, I’m going to go eat my lunch now. Bye.

I’ll worry for two. It’s what I do.

the lost Coolstein posts…

Cousin Koolya

originally posted Sept. 6, 2015

The festivities ended slowly but, by the next day, there were just a few stragglers still following the Coolstein entourage. And, as expected, Mothership and Daddyetc needed to return to their patrol of the universe. It was fun, said Mother, and I mean that in the most cosmic sense. You’re okay, my cool offspring, you know how to throw a helluva party, said Daddyetc.

Brownstein and Mickey watched with their friend as his two real parents achieved some kind of weird lift off (it was just for show) and did a little crowd pleasing zoom zoom before popping out of this plane of existence like a couple of soap bubbles.

And now, for something completely different…

Feeling a little guilty about ignoring Sylvie and Morris, Coolie made the always un-fun decision to pay a visit. And who do you think they saw walking into The Building? No. You actually have to guess….

It’s a lot less fun for me if you don’t play along. Alright, point well taken. How the hell should you know? Yeah, I guess that’s true.

Anyway, it was Koolya Coolstein, Coolie’s cousin from Eastern Europe. That’s quite nonspecific, I realize, but Koolya was a bit paranoid and only reported general information. As a matter of fact, no one (except maybe Morris, and his ability to hold facts in his mind was challenged – to say the least) knew how old Koolya was. Somewhere between 20 and 40, was all he would say for public consumption. He sported the darkest pair of sunglasses anyone had ever seen, a slouchy Indiana Jones-ish hat, and clothing so loose it was impossible to guess at his actual physique.

No matter, Coolie was delighted.

The last time Koolya had been in town, they had done a coffee-bar crawl that left our hero in a caffeine daze for months. It’s surprising, but if you drink enough coffee, you will see dead people.

That’s the kind of fun guy Koolya was, so Brownstein offered a preemptive suggestion. “Let’s throw the fake parental units a bone and have a family meal. And yes, that does mean eating Sylvie’s concoctions; but let’s drop a little time warp tea in the soup and hopefully, it will bump the whole experience up a notch or three.
“As usual, you have the best ideas,” said Coolie. “Da!
said Koolya.

Morris greeted the quartet at the door. It was immediately apparent that he was only slightly hinged. “WELCOME to the Jungle,” he bellowed, and immediately began to play air guitar, prancing around like Axl Rose (if he were completely without any pharmaceutical support).

Koolya gave the profusely sweating Morris a hearty clap on the back which set his eyes to spinning in their sockets. Sylvie, hearing the commotion, took one look at her husband and made that face. You know, pursed lips, a deep blink, flared nostrils. She was on her last nerve – which is a place she occupied so often, there was actually a Sylvie shaped-depression that was ready to receive her.

“Dinner will be ready in a couple minutes. Brownie, do you want a bone? Mickey, are you still only eating white things.” She liked to skutch Coolie’s friends; she was, indeed, a little bit of a sadist.

Brownstein was polite and assured her he would eat whatever she had prepared. Mickey, not so much the diplomat, said, “What the hey, don’t you remember – that was three years ago. I’ve evolved since then. You don’t happen to have any jellyfish, do you? Any color.”

Sylvie literally gagged at that and just scurried off to do what passed for cooking in the Stein home. Coolie walked into the kitchen with her and, when she turned her head, dropped a double batch of time warp tea into the big pot on the stove.

Dinner would be, shall we say, different…



originally posted Sept. 3, 2015

Now that our cool best friend has located his real interstellar parents, it’s only fair that they visit his earthbound reality. Turnabout and all that. But how exactly do you get Mothership and that humungous entity that is his father, to take a stroll in the East Village?

Oh, ye, of little faith. Know that I can make it up any way I want to. The parents were able to assume various shapes. No surprise there, right? So, in order to visit Coolie, then donned the appearance of an extremely large hamster (that would be Mom) and a Bugs Bunny-ish cartoon-like rabbit. Crazy, you say? Are you not yet expecting crazy?

They each wore shorts and a tee shirt; after all, nudity might have been just a little too much for the mostly stoned denizens, who were Coolie’s neighbors, to assimilate. Oh, did I mention they (the parents not the neighbors) were, respectively, bright orange and pale lavender. Nice.

We catch up with them as they are walking along St. Marks Place on either side of their still somewhat cool son. Jonesy stepped out of his store and yipped. No words, just a really spontaneous vocalization. And, in truth, what can one say?

Shazamia wept with joy. He/she – oh, what the hell – it, was no longer the strangest entity in the neighborhood. Rantie and Rolfie actually went silent – for the first time in anyone’s memory. The sight of Coolie and the parents was one that would be seared into many a retina.

Being fully conscious of how fascinating a sight they were, the trio decided to incorporate an unrehearsed but perfectly coordinated hip thrusting strut. People, hearing the commotion in the street, came out of their apartments (some for the first time in fifteen years). Slowly, but with ever-increasing velocity, a procession began to attach itself to the rear guard of the Coolstein marching band. And, as they all moseyed, things began to transition: would you expect anything less?

Now Mothership sported a more appropriately nautical look; she appeared as a dolphin with tiny feet and pointy shoes, and a matador’s cape. Father, that showboating entity, would not be outdone. He reconfigured as the USS Constellation (a bit of a play on his heavenly home).

Sailing and swinging, within a remarkably short amount of time, the entire population of Manhattan had come out of their homes and offices, and were celebrating in the street. The day would be forever known as the Day the City Cooled Down. Don’t you wish you were there?

Coolie’s gone dark

 The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 91

He’s gone to Venezuela for the winter (their summer, I think).

Our boy just doesn’t like the cold. He calls it the “chilblains” – something he heard on what he likes to think of as “safari.” That was when he actually walked into the woods behind Uncle Greg’s house upstate and got lost for four days. It was either a parrot with an exceptional vocabulary, or it was Mothership throwing her voice (she is a ventriloquist of unmatched talent).

So, here in Caracas, Coolie hooked up with a childhood friend of Roger Rarebit (I know. You haven’t heard his name before. Roger is Coolie’s Imago: an unconscious, idealized mental image of someone, especially a parent, that influences a person’s behavior. Thank you, Mr. Google.)

Coolie said, “Karen. I need to take a pause from all this exposure – not that there’s anything wrong with it. I just feel like I need a little me time, or you could say – hiding time. Don’t be mad. I’ll be back…”

“Okay. I’m back.”

That was really fast, Coolie.

“You may think so, but in Venezuela, one New York moment lasts pretty close to a lifetime. So, if you return, it’s like coming back from space. Life has moved rapidly here on Earth…so to speak.”

That was really lucid, Coolie. Have you been hitting the jellyfish? Have you?

“Well, in full truthiness, there is a special type of jellyfish here that isn’t a jellyfish at all. It’s more like taffy. As a matter of fact, in V (that’s what we call it – saying those five syllables can get really taxing) we call them ‘taffyfish.’ And, because they’re stretchy, they last almost forever. You can start eating one on Thursday and before you know it its three weeks from Tisha B’av.”

Wait a sec, Coolstein, let’s not forget about the Roger Rarebit connection. Tell me more about him.

“Wow, Karen, are you therapizing me? Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but – you know – it scares the whatsis outta me.”

And why does it scare you Cool?

“Now, Karen. There you go again. Can we just call can audible here? (I don’t know what that means, but I like to say it.)”

Sure, sure, my cool young friend. Whatever you say. The last thing I want to do is to freak you out.

“Well, since you mention it (freaking out, that is), that’s kind of what it’s all about in V. Freaking out in the streets, on the roof, in the hallways, during happy hour, during sad hour. Just pretty much all the time.”

How does anyone get anything done with all that freaking out?

“Well, freaking out is what everyone is getting done. D’ya see what I mean? People get paid according to how well they freak out. Not to brag, but I made a bundle.”

I’m trying to incorporate the strangeness, Coolie, but I am happy that you came away from it with a lot of money.

“No, Karen. No money. I made a bundle. Mostly cloth, a little leather and some transparent plastic. I think there are some silk laces too, but I fell asleep before I could be sure.”

“Coolie. Tell me the truth. Are you asleep now?”

The truth? Okay. Yeah, I kind of am. Do you need me to wake up?

“No, my dear Mr. Coolstein. I wish you sweet dreams.


My new science fiction novel, RAYMÒN AND SUNSHINE, is available on It’s about the relationship between an autistic man and a female android three hundred years in the future, when what was once seen as a disability is merely a difference. Here’s the link:

Look for my new non-fiction book, which should be up on soon: FEAR OF LANDING, The stories we tell about commitment and their meanings.

You can find more information about me and my books at