Sunday, April 30, 2006

Driving On A Lazy Afternoon

The National Arbor Day Foundation tells us research has found that people tend to drive slower on tree-lined streets than on streets with no trees.

I also leared (ok, a friend told me and it seems to work out) that if you are behind a slow driver, it's a guy wearing a hat.

My own experience is that I tend to drive slower on Spring days when it's warm and sunny. (I do not wear a hat.)

But if someone is ahead of me, lollygaggling along -- word origin unknown, but from 1868 -- even a bit slower than I, then that's the time I start getting impatient. Odd about that; if I were doing the same speed, it would make no difference.

The laws in this state, and possibly elsewhere, are that when the speed limit is not posted, we are to use our intelligent judgement and, if our judgement is not intelligent, we can be cited for speeding. I think side roads in Spring should have the same law, except for a lower speed limit. Anybody going over a Nice Spring Day speed limit should be pulled over and given a ticket for not appreciating Mother Nature, and sentence to sit in their backyard until dusk ends so they can appreciate what's around them.

Such roads would be posted: "On lovely Spring days, this road is reserved for lollygaggling."

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Two Hydrogens And An Oxygen, Please

Not sure if I mentioned this before, but it was a combination of hydrogen atoms and oxygen atoms at different temperatures that propelled, ripped open and sank the Titanic.

It's also the same combination that boils water that we let cool for what will become iced tea.

If you look at any maps, they will show that we tend to settle close to the water, whether near the sea or lakes or rivers. In these motorized days, the Interstates and their intersections take the place of the old canals. But the tendency remains: where there's water, there will you find concentrations of people.

Except Las Vegas; then it's imported, at the cost of irrigating food supplies. sigh.

We are overwhelmingly water and we like being near the water -- at the shore, in swimming pools, running through the lawn sprinkler, taking cruises. We are forever bonded to it.

I was walking through an area where some sprinklers were wetting down the grass. I find it fun to time my movement so I just miss being rained on. This time, there were several and it took some doing.

Quite by coincidence, I was watching a tape I made some years back of a show on The Travel Channel. It took place in Quebec Province and, at one point, the host was walking through Quebec City with an umbrella that had, "Merde, Il Pleut" on it. I think that was the phrase. I disagree; I like weather that way; I'm forever bonded to it.

Friday, April 28, 2006

It's Interesting...

I don't know why. It's just interesting.

-- Birds travel great distances without suitcases, passports, maps and bags full of things that are absolutely necessary. And they do this without complaining.

-- The average tune-in time for an all-music station is 57 minutes; the average for an all-news station is 56 minutes.

-- People don't mind if we are talking to someone next to us, but they seem to mind if that person is on the other end of our cell phone.

-- Automobile speedometers exceed the general speed limit by 65 mph and any known limit by at least 50 mph.

-- News broadcasters tell us about "senseless tragedies," but never report "sensible tragedies."

-- Supermarket owners complain about how incredibly small their profit margins are, yet they continue to build more and more stores.

-- Each religion has definite "going to Hell" sins, but they aren't uniform across all faiths; are Muslim extremist killers in Heaven, while Catholic Lenten Friday meat-eaters burning in Hell?

-- A combination of hydrogen and oxygen powered, ripped open and sank the Titanic; all this was due to relatively minor changes in temperature.

-- You are either happy or sad, depending on whether it's the city or a cop giving you a citation.

Everybody has a story:
This one happened right here in Wilkes-Barre some time back. A man lost his wife but could not afford a proper funeral. The undertaker, a decent sort of guy, cut him a good break, but the man still owed $1000. As the cortege made its way to the cemetery, the bereaved husband glanced at the hearse's license plate and played the number. He won the $1000 he needed. (I, myself, read this story in the newspaper, so I know it's true.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Orchestrated Confusion

My regular readers know that I am a weekly columnist at the local newspaper. I also read parts of that newspaper on my radio station for the area’s visually impaired and homebound each morning. That combination brings me to the paper’s mailing room each night, somewhere between 12:30 and 2:00 a.m.

The front office people are long gone and even the newsroom is dark. But on the first floor, in back, is the most organized confusion you would ever want to see. On the left side of the wall is the press; all is quiet until the “roll” bell rings and then the mailing room staff appears from the sidewalk as the papers start coming in on the overhead conveyor belt.

Papers come off the belt and down through the stacker; two people keep up as the loads drop by weight and fill carts which go to the people at the long automated insert machine. It, in turn, chugs along and newspapers with their inserts are bundled for each carrier by two more people and a wrapping machine.

In the two-vehicle garage, the contract carriers (people who deliver bundles to the paperboys, or deliver papers themselves) move their cars and vans in and out from the street. Bundles come out on another conveyor and end up either in a waiting area, or in someone’s vehicle. Everyone has their own time slot through the night and they come and go smoothly.

Halfway through the run, the printers change rolls of paper and, if there is breaking news or sports, new plates come down to update what becomes the second edition. The later papers go to the “city zone,” rather than out to the sticks, so the locals get the latest news and sports.

This goes on all night, every night. Somehow, it works.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Weather Map

A friend and I like to keep an eye on the live Doppler weather map at (click on “US Radar”). It’s pretty much the same as what you see on The Weather Channel, as well as on your local nightly news. This one does not show clouds; just precipitation, colored for rain or snow, shaded for light to heavy.

Most of us, when we were younger, probably looked at the clouds and imagined what their shapes suggested. Horses, cats, a ’53 Plymouth, whatever. It can be hard doing this when you are stuck inside your workplace. But with this site, you can look at the precipitation map and use your imagination to figure out what it resembles. It’s a good mental break from the rigid demands of work.

Yesterday, it seemed to be a large dinosaur: tail in Nebraska, feet down around Louisiana, head around the Southern Tier of New York state, looking for all the world as if it were about to devour New Jersey. One time recently, it looked like a dolphin jumping out of the water; another time, I thought it might be a racehorse with something (a dog?) on it. And, of course, it changes every few hours as weather patterns join together, break up, re-form and take on new visages.

One time last year, my friend called from work, all excited. “Look at Intellicast!” she said. “It looks like a ghost riding an ostrich!”

May we never get to the point where we can’t see ghosts riding ostriches, or dinosaurs ready to eat New Jersey, when we look at the weather map. It makes life so much more fun … even if people say they sometimes wonder about us.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Who I'd Like To Meet In Heaven

My creator, my redeemer, my family and ancestors, of course. That's sort of a given.

I'd like to meet Kermit The Frog. He's so carefree and handled the craziness of putting on the Muppet Show with such aplomb that I think he'd be a neat person to know on a more intimate basis.

Donald Duck would be another one. His sister, Dumbella, split the scene and left him with her three children; he was always in the process of raising them and tried hard to do a good job of it. Also, no matter what kind of work he did in each comic book, he was a master at the craft. When he lost his temper, he would apologize I never saw any other character do that.

Popeye The Sailorman is another. He was rough and tough when he was on the waterfront, but just melted in the presence of Olive Oyl. I've always been attached to the maritime world and he's my kind of guy.

There are probably a few more, as well, but I can't think of them at the moment.

They are all inanimate cartoon characters or puppets, you say? Yes, but they have the spirit of their creators in them and, just maybe, we might see that spirit when we grow into the fullness of life. Perhaps the ways in which our spirit has manifested itself will be visible then, as well.

Why should heaven be restricted just to us, sitting on clouds, playing harps? Let our spirit, manifested in our talents, be as visible as we are. Our violin notes swirling through the heavenly sky like ribbon candy; our short-story characters acting out their little plays for all to appreciate; our care showing itself in wonderful feelings as we near each other.

Wouldn't that be just the greatest place to be?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Thanks For The Memories. Yeah; Right.

We are richer for our memories, as well as being done in by our memories.

Memories of times past that bring back wonderful trips to Grandma's house, holidays, family events; these are richer.

Memories that we'd just as soon forget ... well, we try to put them out of our minds, unless we decide to use them as definite markers to block us from doing things that might be fun.

I have a friend who would be a good chaplain on a cruise. It's free and all you have to do is fulfill certain duties during the seven or ten days you are onboard. Couldn't be nicer and the ships are stabilized so, for the most part, it's like being in a hotel lobby.

But, no; he either served on a ship in the Pacific or he watched too many documentaries of the naval war against Japan. He is convinced the ships bounce around like destroyer escorts and won't set foot on one. No matter what you say, he responds with, "I've seen what it's like on the water; it's rough out there."

I've a cousin who won't go on a cruise ship because she was (many, many decades ago) in a canoe that tipped over. That did it for her; anything in the water could end up like the Poseidon Adventure and don't tell her othewise.

Sometimes I wonder how many of us get trapped by our bad memories, no matter how unconnected they may be to the matter at hand. Keep in mind that when it's over, it's over. Don't miss the fun because something happened when dinosaurs walked the earth, so to speak.

We're Having A Thunderstorm

I hadn't noticed the online doppler weather map ( until a nice, fat rolling thunderclap let me know that we were having a storm. Then I checked the map to see what was going on and what I could expect for the rest of the night. More thunderstorms, I hope; they are so nice to hear overnight.

When I was younger, and even into my first teenage years, I was terrified of them. At least, of the lightning. I haven't the faintest idea why and did not then. Maybe it was the suddenness of the flash across the sky; maybe a shrink could come up with a good answer. But, one day, I found that it was gone and lightning had become just another part of life. Storms no longer scared me; I found them interesting in the evening and comforting through the night.

Of course, I'm in a house with no leaks, which can withstand the high winds that come with these storms. The Big Bad Wolf can huff and puff all he wants and all I have to do is roll over and get comfortable.

And so I shall. I'm posting more than twelve hours later than usual and will shortly, as my brother puts it, get horizontal. The soundtrack this evening remains thunder and it might be the last thing I hear as I drift off.

Big Bad Wolf, don't waste your breath.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Listening To All The Sounds

During the time I was the Music, Dance and Drama critic for a newspaper, I was teaching a course on reviewing at a local college. One of the lectures was titled, "Listen, Really Listen" (which followed one called, "Look, Really Look"). My one regret is that I did not take the class out into our park, give each student a blindfold and then ask what they heard. Because we don't really listen.

If we were in the jungle, you bet we would listen. Every snap of a twig, every rustle of a leaf, any sound at all could make the difference between us having supper, or us being supper. Mother Nature gave us two ears so we could tell, very closely, where these sounds were coming from. She knew it was vital.

These days, we put almost all of them aside in our mostly safe, mostly visual world. Some remain, but we generally ignore noises; our brain puts them in the "don't bother hearing this" bin. That's pretty good, in many cases, but lots of times we miss some nice sounds.

If you can sit in your lawnchair without falling asleep (or, in the minutes before you do), try hard to listen, really listen. Birds, squirrels, distant traffic, people talking, insects buzzing, and whatever else reaches your ears. You might be surprised at the variety of really nice sounds you've never heard before -- or heard as an inquisitive child, but brushed aside as a busy adult. Go into a library and listen again as a child to the hushed sounds of learning; the post office; visit a grammar school and listen; next time you are in a supermarket, stop for a few minutes and listen.

Really listen. It can be fascinating and it can be refreshing.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Kenai Kitty

I have shared custody of a cat, Kenai. She's named after the Kenai Peninsula, where Mom and I used to dock after one of our many Alaskan cruises. The cat's actual companion (can you really own a cat?) has never been there, but was looking for a neat name and "Kenai" it was. She even has it on her license plate -- a not uncommon thing among pet owners.

She is in the window perch in front of me at the moment, gathering up the sunshine and observing the passing scene. There are a few cars passing by, a young lady of some young ladyish charm that is lost on cats, and the usual collection of birds and squirrels.

Soon, Miss Kenai Kitty will tire of all this and (a) fall asleep, (b) move to another, quieter perch in my bedroom on the lee side of the house, or (c) make the three jumps up to the top of the entertainment center where there is a convenient little shelter she can sleep in. As I write this, she has opted for curling up in the sunny window and following the advice of Jesus in the Garden: "Sleep on and take your rest."

She has lived in three of my residences here. One, due to the lot's incline, had a cat's eye view of the lawn from my bed. I called it the "Animal Planet Channel," and she carefully noted each species of wildlife and their habits. They, I am sure, noted hers and the fact that she was confined.

Cats have their own reasons. I will never know why this one likes to sit upright and/or sprawl out on the back of my desk chair, padded tho it may be. I can move the chair around and kitty will stay put. When I ask, she replies, "Because."

Everybody has a story:
Rose Rechnic passed away Tuesday. She was born in Bendzin, Poland, and having lived in both the Auschwitz and Bergan-Belsen concentration camps, was the sole survivor of her family. As author of “Try to Survive … and Tell the World,” she dedicated her life to being a tireless educator of this period.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

My Genealogist Brother Wrote This

Geo. A. Young, PVT, 1st Wisconsin Volunteers

Amazing story here about this man who happens to be my great-grandfather. Notice that I use the present tense because, in 1938, he became my great-grand-dad. Even if he had been deceased for over twenty-five years, genealogically speaking, his status shall remain as such for eternity.

Upon my wall, which is known in our household as "TheWall," hangs a rusty-looking old document dated 1865, stating that George A. Young, born in Compton, Canada was discharged at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

As far as I know, he was born in Compton, Quebec, Canada, only because I have yet to find any other Compton in Canada that close to the border. His mom, Mary Starkweather was an issue of a Vermont family, hence Compton looks fairly good. However, what was a pregnant Mary doing in Quebec when her home was in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont?

From the family history, told to me by my aunt Emma and her sister, Nellie my grandmother, and my mother, the family had traveled across country in a covered wagon. I must say here that the term "family history" actually means history passed down by word of mouth, or by scraps of paper saved in the family bible -- and if Aunt Emma had not been 93 years old when she related this valuable information, it might have been credible. However somehow they made it to Wisconsin. The name Young has been associated with a fellow named Brigham, but of which again this is only another one of the family hand-me-downs. At Beaver Island there were, at that time, some Mormons established and were farming. Was Barney Young, George’s father, a part of these settlers? Dunno.

George enlisted at Beaver Dam and became a soldier in the 1st Wisconsin Volunteers. On a trip out west, I happened to stop at the Civil War Museum in Madison and found him there in the records; for a meager six bucks, I got a printout of all the skirmishes and battles in which his company participated, the Co. K. What a find!

Finally, in 1865, he was discharged at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and in 1867 he became an American citizen.

It was told to me that he traveled by train (possibly a “side-door Pullman”), to Philadelphia and then to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he was put up with an aunt. It was there that he met and married Fanny Ann Marsh, whom I recollect vaguely. When I was born, we lived in his cottage at 10 Van Ave., Myrtle Beach, Milford, Connecticut.

Such a traveler as he was, I would love to spend some time with him and have him tell me stories of his life, sort of like I would be there, wide-mouthed in awe while he tells me the trip to Wisconsin, his family, his time in the army and his ride to Bridgeport. I think I’d like that.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

You're WHO'S Brother??

Georg Ratzinger goes into a card shop and takes a long time looking through the birthday selections. A clerk asks, "Can I help you?" Georg says, "I need a birthday card for my brother, but he's hard to buy for." Clerk says, "Why is that?" Georg replies, "My brother is the Pope."

I wonder what it's like to be the Pope's brother? He can't say, "Drop by next time you're in Rome," or "Hey, I'll visit you next week and we can go to that place with the great sauerbrauten and beer."

- - -

Adolf Hitler's relatives live in the U.S. They have changed their name and do not speak about their uncle and/or cousin. On a recent History Channel (I think) program, they were not shown on screen. The family secret will probably die out in a couple of generations, but the adults carry it around every day.

- - -

The Mayflower was a rather large ship, holding perhaps five hundred people. It had to, when you hear how many people were descended from those who arrived on it. When you see how small it actually was, you wonder if, perhaps, 95% of those claimants might be exaggerating. Unlike the Hitler family, these folks are all too willing to be counted among those who arrived in the New World. I'm willing to bet that many of the "Mayflower" people were indentured servants who, over the years, paid off their passage and rose in rank. Just don't shake the tree too hard, or a ragamuffin might fall out.

- - -

I doubt it would be much fun being related to a famous person. You are always "somebody's something." I'd rather be me, not somebody's son, brother, nephew, cousin. You are no longer a person, but an appendage. I'll take the people anytime.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

On The Corner Of Beehe And Franklin Streets

Every street should have a little plaque telling the passer-by why it was so named. Franklin Street, north and south, was named for ... well, for who? Ben Franklin? Possibly; his signature is on a register over at the Courthouse just a block away, so he at least passed through here. Main Street is pretty obvious, as is River Street (especially in the Spring, when it gets flooded and becomes even more obvious).

Before moving slightly up and across the street, I lived for three years on the corner of Beehe and North Franklin Streets. Beehe (or Beehee) is the street my city wants to forget, and has done an excellent job of doing so for a good many years. They don't plow it, pave it, maintain it, have a street sign for it, or list it on city maps. The college where I work uses this very narrow half-block alley as a parking lot for employees of an adjacent building, as did the previous owner of the house. By default, it is ours, not worth the time and energy for the city to officially abandon.

We have a Hazle Street, Hazle Township and Hazleton. Some day I have to find out who this Hazle was. Since the last two references are in coal areas just south of us, perhaps he was one of the coal barons, which does not answer the question about the city street's name.

The Kirby name is sprinkled all over the area; you can't move without running into it or driving on it. Mr. Kirby, along with a Mr. Woolworth, began the concept of the Five & Dime store and left his mark here (Kirby Health Center, Kirby Park, Kirby Performing Arts Center, Kirby Library, Kirby Avenue, the former Kirby/Woolworth 5 & 10 cent store, and who knows what else).

Plaques would help. "Muffin Street was named after Mayor Smith's pet cat."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Paving Over South Carolina

I read that we have paved so much of our country (roads and parking lots) that it would equal the area of South Carolina. This may, or may not, be accurate as I have also heard that 47.2% of all statistics are made up on the spot -- including this one.

Bad or good? Shameful or admirable? Are we going to hell in a handcar, or is this a sign of progress?

Depends on whether you are driving to grandma's house in another state for Thanksgiving dinner, or out for a stroll in the woods. PBS had a program about a gent who made the first coast-to-coast trip in an automobile, long before there were connecting roads between towns. It was quite a trip and not one I'd care to make. Remember the photos of troop trucks in World War 1 France? World War 2 France? Those mud holes were what passed for roads.

Assuming you had malls before there were paved parking lots, imagine the fun. On a dry day, not so bad. After a downpour ... well, wheel-spinning, shoe-sucking muck. The mom & pop downtown stores wouldn't look so bad after all.

So, as our towns spread out, we paved over the fields and meadows to make roads; near the major highways, themselves once fields, we paved even more to make convient parking. We paved entire cities, leaving perhaps a park here and there. In a gasoline-based economy, this is necessary.

Next to go, Rhode Island.

Everybody has a story:
Mrs. Meriam Dessoye, a local resident, passed away Sunday. She was a "Rosie the Riveter" during World War II on B-29 bombers.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

We Know, But We Still Don't Understand

Life seems to have many "Yeah, I know how it works, but I still don't understand how it works" things. For instance:

(a) I never understood how a railroad train stays on the tracks. The wheel flanges are only an inch or so tall and don't have a sharp edge to them. There seems to be very little to prevent the cars from leaving the tracks at high speeds and especially when bouncing over switches. I know the physics behind it, but I still don't get how it works in real life.

(b) The universe is expanding. Fine. But what's at the edge; what does it expand into? Or does it just keep getting bigger with no real edge in sight?

(c) How can clouds float across the sky so easily, when each one weighs the same as a locomotive?

(d) Why do people have to learn the hard way? Life would be so much more pleasant if we could learn from each other's mistakes and listen to the accumulated wisdom of those around us. But, no.

(e) Zero Tolerance. Never seen it work; always seen it backfire. Thank goodness that God doesn't have Zero Tolerance or we'd all end up in Hell. Maybe the ZT folks will; what goes around, comes around.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Star Light, Star Bright, First Star I See Tonight

Eighty years ago, in 1926, Edwin Hubble discovered that we most certainly are not alone. Or, at least, the huge amount of stars that we could see above us, pre-electricity, are just the neighborhood, the little settlement in the vast desert, cut off from all the other little settlements.

He discovered galaxies: huge clusters of stars, beyond his ability to number. The universe was not just our planet surrounded by a few other planets and a million or so stars. We are but one of countless enormous clusters going off almost to infinity.

We have discovered even more. Perhaps 300 billion stars in our galaxy, perhaps 300 billion galaxies in the universe. Maybe more. There have to be other civilizations out there with, may I even bring it up?, visits by our Creator in their form to bring them the message of salvation.

It took us a long time to realize that Greece was not the center of the universe ... quite a long time (and bodies burned at stakes) to admit that the sun, moon and stars did not revolve around earth. Now that we have passed from educational infancy through adolescence, it's time for the adulthood of acceptance that our Creator has blessed the universe with life and salvation. It's going to take some growing up, but we can get there.

Star light, star bright,
first star I see tonight.
Wish I may, wish I might,
grant me the wish I wish tonight.

Wishing all of you a pleasant Spring.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Rain, Rain, Go Away; The Brooklyn Dodgers Want To Play

It's been raining here since last night. I love it. Rainy days remind me of hanging out on my grandmother's front porch, close to the elements but protected from them. We had a close-up view of all this water pouring down from the sky, but seldom felt a drop on ourselves.

Maybe that's why I prefer to hang out on the protected decks during my yearly cruise when the weather is picking up. Why be warm and comfortable inside when I can feel a bit of the spray and the rain just as I did back home?

The Creator of all (us, our planet, its weather) put it together and we should experience it when feasible. A good, pouring rain from the safety of an open porch, or the safety of a full raincoat and hat. No, you won't catch your death of a cold; you get that sort of thing from exposure to someone else's germs, or bacteria or cooties, whatever.

And a really good downpour -- I mean, a firehose from the heavens -- just can't be beat. When we'd have one, the manhole cover in front of the house would bubble up. There was a creek that went from our side of the road, a few houses up, underneath and came out the other side. I don't know where it eventually led to, but I do know that the dip underneath the railroad bridge would pond up very quickly. I never did see what happened behind our neighbors' houses, but I would imagine the creek covered most of their backyards during a high-water storm like that.

Everybody has a story:

Local fellow's obituary mentioned that he loved playing the horses at the local track, gambling, going to the Atlantic City casinos and had an eye for the ladies. Further on, it noted he was survived by his ex-wife. Anybody surprised?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me, When I'm 64

I remember playing in someone's front yard with Gail Shipp; I was 5 and she was 7. Odd, what you remember from those days. This memory, very distinct, is of me thinking, "7 ... that's old." I've no explanation for why I didn't think of my brother, at 9, as some sort of fossil.

In my early grammar school years, the sixth graders (I think) were allowed to become crossing guards. Again, distinctly, I remember the nuns introducing them to us in that way and I thought, "Sixth grade ... they're all grown up."

When our next-door neighbor Buddy Hewitt, at 15, was walking down the street with someone, they were sort of looking down. Either I was told, or I assumed, that older people walked that way and someday I would, too.

People at 27 were of some indeterminate, unclassified, blah sort of age. Not kids any more, not real adults like our parents.

Above 60? Family garden, take gramps for a drive on Saturdays, speak loudly, tape your name on the bottom of things you want.

So, here I am: 64. I'm too active to have a garden; you don't need to yell, because I can hear the grass growing. My brother and I have been the same age for quite a few years now (at a certain point, four years ceases to be a difference).

I'm a religious person, unlike professional atheist Madelyn Murray O'Hare, who was also born on this day. I love trains, but that's not why the Pennssylvania Railroad was founded on this day.

I arrived at 6:27am on Monday, April 13, 1942. A gentleman named George Rihan was on a bus going to work, and he was passing the hospital pretty close to that time. He lives just a few miles from me now and we have been great friends for over 30 years. "Who goes around, comes around."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mom's Nature Walks

Astronomers peer far out to the depths of the universe so they can see what things looked like in, or near, the beginning of time. The oldest "memories" are out there, if we can retrieve them.

Some years back, I wrote a short story and Mom said, "Your story takes place in exactly the same way as our nature walks. Do you remember them?" Her telescope hit my distant galaxy and, yes, I did start to recall those times. She said they happened more or less out of desperation when she ran out of things for me to do in my very early years. So she would say, "Let's take a nature walk."

As we talked over the phone, I remembered brushing leaves aside to see flowers pushing themselves out of the ground; I saw myself turning rocks over to see what was under them, the bugs running for cover, the wet earth. We looked at trees, at bark, at leaves and birds. I discovered the small.

There is so much big in the world today, with bigger tomorrow and biggest the next day. Things get so big we can't enjoy them; either we enjoy just a small part, or we see it all in a quick blur -- and that's certainly not enjoyment.

When I take my yearly cruise, I spend time each day just looking. I look at the outside lights and think: How many companies were involved in making this light fixture? Someone made the light filament, another the glass bulb around it, the metal base for the bulb, the glass plate over it, the copper wiring, the insulation, the metal covering for the fixture, the screws, nuts and bolts -- we're up to nine companies already and we haven't even touched the shipping container and the printing on it, the labels, the truck that picks it up and all the associated people involved in delivering it to the ship, the people who installed it at the shipyard. How many people are responsible for that light being created and placed where it is! And there are so many devices on this ship with a similar history.

It's my nature walk. It's how I appreciate that it's not just the light, it's not just the showroom piano, nor the buffet line in the Lido restaurant. It's the whole ship in miniature, my appreciation of those who put these huge things together. I think of every person who laid tool to metal, whoever they are. They are not nameless, faceless workers. They are the ship.

Everybody has a story:

A priest friend of mine is a far more religious person than I. He's not nuts about it and is very balanced in all parts of his life, including his spirituality. A gentle, caring guy who is the easiest person to have around you. So it came as very much of a surprise when he told the parishoners at the church where he helped out that it had been revealed to him that he would have a violent death in the month of September. When he went to visit his sister in California on September 11, he chose United 175, the second plane that crashed into the World Trade Center.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"They" Just Aren't That Clever

Just last week, some Professor of Blather at the University of Wherever confirmed the old joke that, when Jesus walked on the water, He knew where the rocks were. What the prof said was, "There are ice floes in that lake and, as the apostles were rowing across, Jesus was actually walking from floe to floe."

...uh huh.

The National Geographic Channel's recent two-hour informercial for their books and magazine about the Gospel of Judas did quite a spin on this gentleman. A lot of conclusions based on very little, and rather shaky, evidence.

Not much different than ourselves in our daily lives. Too many conclusions based on very little, and rather shaky, evidence.

I've had enough jobs to hear the grunts talk about the machinations of "them" (the suits) and been in a position to see the suits in action. If there really are plots, they are well-hidden. Mostly, it's people doing their jobs and others spending a lot of time trying to figure out what is really happening.

The result? Anger, at nothing. Useless animosity that ends up causing strife and building walls of distrust. Sometimes destroying friendships.

Most of us aren't smart enough to construct really good plots. What we are doing is more obvious than we think. Someone is bound to get the word back to the people we are planning to screw. (The Judas Gospel thing says that Jesus' dismissal of him at the Last Supper was a pre-planned signal; most likely, someone tipped Jesus off and He let Judas know it.)

Maybe we shouldn't assume someone's plotting. Leave that to the sitcoms and watch how stupid the people act when they get convinced of it. Just go and ask. Life's simpler than we think.

And check whenever you get a "send this to all your friends" e-mail about some nefarious plot.

Monday, April 10, 2006

I'd Rather Cry In A Porsche Than A Kia

Someone said they'd rather be rich and miserable rather than poor and miserable. I think that miserable is miserable and your bank account and/or toys don't make much difference. My feeling is, having all that stuff around you may make it worse: you finally have everything you want and none of it makes you feel better. It's all junk.

When we laugh about things, it's always about the hard times. Disc jockeys laugh about the horrid stations where they began, the dirty studios, the equipment that never worked reliably, the impossible situations they made possible. One local newspaper was located for many years in a real roach motel; the reporters had to shake out their coats to get rid of the cockroaches at the end of their shifts. Married couples will tell stories of their first homes and how inadequate the places were.

We feel a sense of pride in how we existed in the midst of squalor, of near-poverty, of make-do. We look back with some warm feelings on how we hung in there until better times came along. As we knew they would, somehow.

I have a '98 Chevvy Cavalier (Cava-lee-aay ... sounds better) which isn't much to look at, but it runs fine. Still, I think back to my ancient VW Karman Ghia, which I bought used for $450. Three out of the four cylinders worked, as well as a few other things (but not the heater). When I left the radio station each night, I'd take the Interstate 195 crossover and, as I started down the entrance ramp, floor the accelerator. By the time I got to the bottom and, perhaps, a mile beyond, I was up to 70mph. I couldn't get a speeding ticket if I tried. I miss that car and its uphill speed of 25mph tops on a good day.

Paris Hilton recently said she's bored. I think she ought to get a job in a garage, changing people's oil and filters, doing inspections and getting dirty. It's not the party life, but it's not boring. And she will have something interesting to talk about. She will never cry in a Kia, but maybe underneath one.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Get Out Of Hell Free

I forgot my wallet this morning; only the second time that's happened. On the way back from church, I thought about what's in there:
(a) My driver's license, for one (just renewed two days earlier)
(b) My one credit card
(c) $37 in bills: a 20, 10, 5 and two 1's -- the fewest number that I really need to carry.
(d) A few "Get Out Of Hell Free" cards.
(e) Other essentials.

"Get Out Of Hell Free"?

I get them from Randy Cassingham's site,; a spinoff from his site. They are a really good take-off on Monopoly's "Get out of jail free" cards and people love getting them. Generally, I give them out to people who indicate they've had a long and/or bad day. Randy says he sells 10,000 a month, sometimes that many a week.

We want that assurance, no matter how comic it might be, that all will turn out well in the end. The cards don't give us assurance, but merely confirm what we already know -- unless we are real rounders, we will, indeed, get out of Hell free.

Everybody has a story:

A husband and his pregnant wife emigrated to the United States many years ago. Upon landing here, the wife became a mother. The girl who was born in the Ellis Island immigration center moved to our area and just recently passed away in her old age. Were there many people who opened their eyes for the first time in this country?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Nuns Never Hit Us

I looked out of my window this morning and saw the flowers blooming. We planted bulbs in our little garden and they are producing flowers (or, at least, popping up). Spring has arrived and, with it, memories of the nuns at my grammar school.

I will always associate the smell of flowers with the nuns' school. We seemed to have them all the time in the spring as the students would bring them in from home. I was returning one day after lunch and saw some colorful flowers in the woods, so I cut them and gave them to the nun. Unfortunately, the bouquet contained ragweed and several students started sneezing. I can only imagine the conversation at supper in the convent that night.

From 1947 to 1956, I cannot remember ever being hit, embarassed or humiliated by the nuns. I do remember being insulted by the laywoman who taught fifth grade. The nuns treated us with respect and I returned it by passing it on to others. It was one of the biggest lessons I learned from them and it has stayed with me all these years: if you want someone to respect you, then you respect them first.

I learned another lesson, too, but I don't know what started it. Apparently, some students made nasty remarks about our eighth-grade teacher and she eventually heard them. She came into the classroom and made some vague remarks about the situation (apparently those involved would know) and ended with, "it always gets back." I've remembered that over the years. Yes, it always gets back; so don't say it. Or, since it always gets back, make sure it's something nice. People like to know that someone is saying nice things about them.

We had a reunion 37 years after our grammar school graduation. No good reason; someone just felt like having it and many of the students showed up, along with three of the nuns. The old gals said they could only stay a while, as it was an hour drive back to the motherhouse and, at that time of night, it would be a bit much for them at their age. To nobody's surprise, they were the last ones out.

Everybody has a story.

A local priest died recently. Ordinary guy, perhaps a little more active than most inasmuch as his ministry had taken him to distant places and he met some big people, but he was as down to earth as you would ever want a person to be. What he absolutely never spoke about to anyone was the approximately two years he spent in a Japanese prisoner camp in the Philippines when he happened to be in that country when they invaded it. Whatever they did to him was more than he wanted to remember, or could speak of. But when the New York World's Fair opened, he made a point of going in and out of the Japanese exhibit because, he said, the doormen had to bow to each visitor. He had to bow to them so often in that camp, he wanted them to bow to him as often as possible.

Stand By ... You're On The Air

Broadcasting is a strange business and, let me tell you, the people who do it define weirdability. (New word; don't look it up.)

The basic idea here is: "The only thing that matters is what comes out of the speaker."

What doesn't matter: How you feel that day, what's happened between you and your Best Beloved, any aches and pains, your kids' problems, and so on.

So there you are in a tiny booth, talking to yourself with a microphone in front of your face. You know there are thousands of people listening ... well, the "B" side of your brain says, "there's nobody out there; you're just playing a game." The "A" side of your head is reading a live commercial when, out of nowhere, the "B" side chimes in with, "Your stomach is rumbling and I bet you're going to burp right on the air." The A and B sides continue to fight while you push on, trying to get those last three or four sentences out and back to music before you burst out laughing.

Right then, the Program Director walks by the window and sticks his tongue out. Let the audience figure out why you're choking.

Who are those weekenders? They are the stalwarts who keep the station on the air during the off-hours. Here are some of their day jobs at stations where I've worked: Rug merchant, pipe organ builder, Stock broker, Insurance salesman, Movie theater projectionist, High school teacher, Retired university employee, Electronic equipment tech, and moonlighters from other stations using fake names.

I once worked: a station where the owner's bed was behind the transmitter in the next room. He had a hot plate to cook on and not much else. In the studio, we soundproofed by closing the window and air conditioned by opening it.

...Another place had been a pool hall in what was now the basement of an abandoned movie theater. A filthy, dirty place that had water and fried rice coming up through the bathroom drain from the Chinese restaurant around the corner. Eventually, we were evicted. The city wanted to tear the building down and the owner was in no hurry to leave; it finally had to take legal action to get us out of there.

...In a nationally-known auto battery plant's office building, second floor. Nice studios; just a strange location. We never told anyone where we were.

Everybody has a story, part 3:

We had a fellow in the next township who drove the Public Works' garbage truck and anything else that needed to be driven. Nice fellow; always had a smile and a wave and, when possible, a quick chat for anyone who crossed his path. If he knew someone was elderly or ill, he would take their trash containers back to the rear of the house for them. Ordinary guy, ordinary job. Except his life-long kindnesses weren't that ordinary, apparently. He passed away a short time ago and 1,600 people attended his wake. He had made such a difference in their lives that they had to pay that last visit and see him off.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Big Bands Play On

I like the big bands. That may be somewhat of an understatement, when you consider that I have been co-writing a newspaper column on them for twenty-five years. There are marriages that have not lasted that long -- lots of them.

All too often, four or five people get together and call themselves a band, for whatever the occasion. They can play well, but there's no depth of sound. You can't get any real body without two or three trumpets, the same amount of saxes and trombones, some rhythm and a piano.

Those numbers are so important that, when you hear an Original Cast Recording of a Broadway show, you are listening to an enhanced orchestra. You are getting the original pit band plus a few extra pieces added in to provide an extra kick that you would experience if you were in the theater itself.

There are times when even the best of bands used trios, quartets and quintets. But they were only "breakout" units, used for more intimate sounds and usually with a band singer. The best music came from that extra brass instrument, the additional strings, the effort to make a fuller sound.

They cost a lot to run and, because of the draft, many shut down during and after World War 2. The band singers became solo acts with maybe a combo behind them. You can still hear these great sounds on compact discs. Go for it.

First Communion, First Girlfriend

I dug out one of the few photos I have of my first girlfriend. It was taken at our First Communion, as we posed afterwards in front of a statue and baskets of flowers. She was cute as a button and, so I've been told, I was also. There aren't any worry lines, no cynical looks off to one side; just the assurance that we could explore the world with confidence that our parents and the nuns would be our good and faithful teachers.

Each set of parents thought we would grow up and get married, on the basis of my habit of trying to steal the Zweiback toast from her stroller. How that translates into true love, lifelong commitment, and "for better or worse" is beyond me, but they seemed to equate Zweiback with a wedding ring. Didn't work out. The friendship vibes were there, then as now, but nothing beyond that.

We eventually went our own ways, but once in a while I wondered what it would have been like... Well, you don't wonder, because what you feel at 7, or 15 or long-distance later in life, has little to do with the reality of being part of another's life.

But there we are, in our little white outfits, holding hands. Our parents are probably thinking that all we have to do is keep holding hands, grow up and then unite the two families by the simple act of walking up the aisle.

She passed away three days ago of breast cancer. I took that photo, put it in a frame and brought it over to my radio studio. There we stand, innocent and hopeful, hand in hand. We would go our separate ways, of course, but at least I can see her during my shift.

Today's Story: A woman who lived about two hours south of here passed away a while back. She is survived by a daughter, 96. Yes, her daughter is 96 years old. The mother had been listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as being the oldest person of whom there is reliable record.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Everybody Has A Story.

I read the newspaper every morning on the radio; it's for the visually impaired and homebound of my area. The obituaries are a big feature, perhaps because we want to know if any of our friends or acquaintances are still with us. As we get older, we know more people and there is a greater chance that one of them will show up in the morning paper.

They aren't just names. Joe Blow was born here, worked there, made a bunch of kids, retired and died. That's not what you will see when you read them carefully. You see, many times, the little differences that families allow to be seen.

"Daniel Fields ... was self-employed as a marriage broker, owning and operating Fields Exclusive Service." He was Jewish, born in Poland; perhaps he conducted his business over there.

"John Barberio ... was a recycling pioneer, establishing his regular practice nearly 70 years ago." I went to his wake and learned that he was a junker since he was 12. Picked up anything he saw that would fetch a dime. Cans, bottles, glass, metal. He knew where the best spots were. Made some good money.

"Geraldine Van Dyke ... treasured her childhood memories of a time when her home often was the hub of holiday festivities for family and friends who visited for food and drinks during the Prohibition years." Just think -- mommy and daddy ran an in-house speakeasy and Gerry was there to experience it.

One woman, who passed away at 77, had been a Radio City Music Hall Rockette many years ago. Another was a five-time winner on "Jeopardy!" and made it to the Tournament of Champions. Yet another was born in a logging camp in a remote part of Luzerne County and, in her old age, decided it was time she joined the Metropolitan Opera. If you've seen the Met, there are people who populate the stage and have no singing roles other than walking around in costume. She was in several productions, fulfilling her ambition to be onstage at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. I knew her; quite a character.

Everybody has a story. Maybe mine might be that I'm the only person in my profession in the U.S. who also has a broadcast engineer's license, the highest class of Amateur Radio license, was a Notary Public, had a music column in a strike newspaper for over 27 years and is listed in Marquis' Who's Who in Entertainment.

What's your story?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Notes about starting my blog