By Hannah Reich Berman

Missing signals is not a good thing–and I miss a lot of them. Usually, my problem is with the written word. For example, I get confused about the dates that stores place on the packaging of perishable foods. On some packages, there is a “sell by” date, but on others there is a “use by” date. That makes no sense at all. Are the people responsible for those messages to the consumer purposely trying to confuse us? Either way, they are succeeding admirably.

Exactly what benefit is it to me when I see the “sell by” date? What that tells me is that the store has to sell the product by a certain date, but if the item is still on the shelf after that date (which it often is), I am supposed to leave it there and keep on walking. Apparently, customers are supposed to purchase the cheese, cream, or whatever by that date. So what if I do just that? Then what? Since it does not indicate what the actual expiration date is, I am forced to guess. Once I get it home, I am left to wonder if I have two more weeks to use it or if I have to eat it within 20 minutes. The situation annoys me.

If this were the only thing that confused me, life would be grand. It is not! Occasionally, the younger generation also confuses me. In truth, they confuse me every time we have a conversation. The most recent example of this was when my son, Robby, who is the executive director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society, a.k.a. HODS, called to ask a favor of me. His call came over Skype, so we were able to see one another. After he was finished with the normal amenities, he asked if I would like to run in the 5K race in support of organ donation. He told me that the race will be held in Central Park on March 1.

I sucked in my breath and held it. I did this in an attempt to get control of my temper before responding. Was sonny boy in la‑la land? For starters, I do not run; I don’t remember the last time I did, but I believe it was sometime during the 1970s. Eventually I exhaled and gave my answer. I did not bother to tell Robby that I was not even entirely certain what 5K meant. But I figured that so long as I would not be doing any running anyhow, it did not matter what the K stood for.

I did my best to keep the irritation out of my voice, but my response was firm. “No, my dear, I absolutely will not be running in any race!” I explained that my running days had been over for a very long time and said that I was surprised he would even make such a ridiculous request of me. Naturally, I made it clear that I am a supporter of organ donation. I carry an organ-donor card. But there are limits to my support.

My thought was that if I did run, I might collapse–and then who knows what could happen? Possibly my organs would be making their way to someone else within hours. I am a good person, but I am not that good. My hope is that my organs will be donated in a more timely fashion–not just yet.

My son waited for me to finish ranting and raving before he continued. “Well, Mom, then how about walking the 5 kilometers instead?” Until he used the word kilometers, I had no idea what the K stood for. Of course, learning that the race was 5 kilometers was meaningless, since my mind does not deal with any units that begin with the letter K. As an example, I offer the fact that when my Israeli cousin told me last month that she had lost 4 kilos, I complimented her, but I had no idea what a kilo was. I compute only in pounds and ounces.

By the same token, I am fine with inches, feet, yards, and miles–but that is all. I had no clue how many kilometers are in a mile. But I did not let on to any of that. Instead, I ranted and raved once again about how it didn’t matter if I was running or walking. It was not going to happen. I would never be able to walk that distance–whatever that distance might be–because I am not a walker. If I am unable to park my car reasonably close to the front door of a department store, I consider it a major accomplishment when I manage to walk across the parking lot. I did not share this information with my son. But, once again, I gave a resounding no to his request.

I thought I saw him gritting his teeth in frustration before he continued. He heaved a deep sigh and went on. “So, Mom, maybe you could be a virtual runner.” At that point there was no alternative. I had to level with my son and let him know that I was not sure what a virtual runner was. Ignoring the look of incredulity that had crept across his face, I forged ahead and asked him what was involved and what my responsibility would be. There were a few seconds of silence as Robby continued to stare into his Skype camera and did his best to control himself before launching into an explanation.

He took another deep breath before explaining that being a virtual runner meant that one simply pays the $100 registration, which is a donation to HODS, and that the person then pretends that he has run the race. The key word there was pretend. I loved it. Relief swept over me. I could make a contribution to this worthwhile organization and feel as if I had actually run in the race in Central Park, all while sitting in the comfort of my own home on Long Island. It does not get any better than that. So I am proud to say that in a little more than two weeks from now, I will be “running” 5 kilometers and making a significant contribution to a wonderful cause. (Thanks, but no applause necessary!)

It was a pleasure to finally get this squared away. I’m guessing that it will always be problematic for me when dealing with the younger generation, since I do not understand much of what my children say. It isn’t that people give me mixed signals as much as that I mix up or miss what they tell me. It may also be something of a problem for them, since they find it hard to believe that I have been left so far behind. But this time it ended well.

Of course I am still not sure what to do when I buy something on the “sell by” date. Maybe it is my obligation, as the consumer, just to take a bite and decide for myself whether it is spoiled. It does not seem like much of a solution but sometimes that’s just the way it is. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.



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