Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Intellicast.Com Has The Measles

It’s that time of the year again, when blue skies turn black quickly. You go onto my favorite Doppler radar map and you see the little splotches start popping up. A little green (rain) here, a little yellow (heavy rain) there, a little red (thunderstorms, most likely) in the middle. It's not a storm moving across the country, just splotches like paint splatters on a drop cloth. Or measles.

When you see these, you know that there are storms popping up all over the place and you may not be immune to them. Sunny this minute, dark clouds the next, then thunder and lightning with strong rain. I like this kind of thing, even if I get caught in it -- although I like it better if I can stay dry somehow.

If you would like to see it coming, go to and look for the "US" tab; on the drop-down menu, click on "radar" for a map of the country. To get in closer, click on your area. Readers around here can move their mouse until they see the word "Albany" next to the pointer.

During summer days when you see "measles" around your area, update the map every 15 minutes or so and watch what's happening. Click on "start looping" up above the map to see where the storms have been so you can figure where they might be going.

You say you don't have a computer? Well, that presents an interesting problem.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It's Just A Fad And Not Going Anywhere

In 1970, I was working at some little chickenpoop AM radio station which, previously, also had an FM side. One of the owners (previous or present) had sent the FM license back and I asked the current Operations Director why they didn't keep it. "FM is just a passing fad," he said. (Remember, this is 1970 and FM had already established itself as a growing radio service.) "After the FM's get rid of this music stuff, they will use it to send newspapers over the air so people can print them out at home."

He was, and probably continues to be, at idiot. That spot on the dial is worth lot of $$ and whoever picked up the license is doing well for themselves.

Talking movies were the wrong way to go. Someone, at the time, said you get more emotion and transmit more of what is going on without the distraction of the words. Talkies will never work.

Television won't work. Why watch movies on a tiny screen (if and when the studios allow them to be broadcast), when you can go to a regular theater and see them on a large screen, as they were meant?

Women broadcasting the news? Nobody will believe them; they don't have the credibility.

* * *
Beware the nay-sayers. Try it out; see how it works. Give the new idea a chance, work out the kinks and fine-tune the operation. Maybe it's no good and maybe it's got a future. But if the negative folks have an investment in the past, watch out; we'd still be buying buggy whips.

Monday, May 29, 2006

You Mean You're Offended? Why??

I gave "the finger" to someone from Uganda. He looked at me and said, "What does that mean?" I said it was the worst gesture we can do in this country; you can get arrested for lifting up your middle finger and you can also get punched in the face for doing it. He thought that was pretty funny. "That does not mean anything where I live. But this," then he gave the 'thumbs up' sign, "is a very bad sign, very bad sign."

Uh-oh. I said to him, "If you do something really good, there is an excellent chance that someone will give you the 'thumbs up' and in our country, that means you did a good job. It is a nice gesture here, a very friendly thing. Don't go over and beat the person who did it."

I could just see an international incident happening somewhere in the future.

The "A-ok" signal (thumb and index finger rounded and touching, other fingers up and spread out) is equally good here but to a Frenchman it means what he has done is worthless. Worse, in parts of South America it means you are an asshole.

Visiting the Ivory Coast, in Africa? If you gals wear shorts, you will be hauled off to jail after they cover your legs, you shameless barelegged slut, corrupter of children. You don't have to be wearing a top, as the fact that you have breasts is of no particular interest; goes with being a woman. No big deal. Back here in the US of A, it's the other way around and don't try to tell either country their standards are wrong. It should be obvious -- even if it's not.

Each area has its own good and bad signs, its own taboo words and body parts, food you just don't eat, pets you don't keep. Nothing seems to match from culture to culture and it's so easy to cross the line. I wonder if that's why we often apologize in advance? Get it over with, just in case.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ma's Family Restaurant

Someone asked me if I've tried the local "Smokey Bones" restaurant; I haven't. I've also been asked about some other places up by the mall; sorry, can't comment as I've never been there. I have not stepped inside a chain eatery, by my own choice, in years; I much prefer to patronize a Mom & Pop.

Several reasons:

(a) Mom and Pop have put their lives and what they have into building up this place and, if they have done a good job (i.e., the menu is varied and they haven't poisoned anyone), they should be rewarded for their efforts.

(b) M & P probably have local dishes you won't find in a cookie-cutter chain. There's also a better chance you can get something made to order, especially if they aren't rushed at the moment.

(c) The place's income probably stays local, at least more than a large chain which diverts profits off to Big City, SomeState.

(d) You will feel like a valued customer, not an item to be rushed through. "Thankyousir,nextplease?"

Yes, Smokey and the others do provide waiters who treat you nicely, but I still see the artificial atmosphere in the identical restaurants, the money going far away, the locals being affected by the Big Chain influence. I don't mean to damage the chains --my avoiding them won't even show on the radar-- but to support my neighbors who work hard to provide the restaurants I like, the pizza shops that, each, have their own very vocal following.

My favorite pizza place has its rest rooms on the outside. It used to be a gas station.

The Family Came To Town

My brother and his wife pulled in early this morning. (Let's define the term: "early," for someone who works late at night, here means "anything before 9:45 a.m.) They are travelers, which I am not, and have been in something like 40 of the contiguous states, which I will never be.

That's only one thing we (bro' and I) don't have in common. Matter of fact, he says the only thing we have in common is our parents. That well may be true, with one exception: We both respect each other's likes and dislikes. Nobody ever said there's only one way to look at things (except for churches and certain militant governments) and we're into celebrating diversity.

I've seen pretty bad fights start over a difference of opinion in which, when you get down to it, the object being fought over is quite secondary to the egos of the people doing the fighting. They don't respect each other's right to hold a different thought, to see things a different way.

How dull a world this would be if everyone had to dress the same way, believe the same things, listen to the same music and read the same newspaper. You seldom (if ever) find respect in those situations, which do exist. You find people at the top disrespecting those beneath them.

Respect does not equal agreement; you do not give up your principles, your likes and dislikes, when you respect someone. You just acknowledge that it is within the universe of possibilities that you do not have all the answers, that your tastes might not be the standard against which all others are measured.

You know the old song: "I say 'tomayto' and you say 'tomahto.'" We have updated it to: "I say 'potato' and you say 'pomme de terre.'" He's from outside Quebec City; we don't even have a language in common!

Bon nuit, mes amis! Time for bed.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Local Custom

You see things as you meander, even as you are waiting for a traffic light to change.

There's a street in town that's a non-street. It exists, if you go to an official (helps if it's rather old) city map; it's only half a block long (connecting to another very minor, ends-in-a-lane street). There is no street sign, the city does not take care of it and a local family uses it as a parking lot. I don't think the city even wants to go through the trouble to officially abandon it -- if the administration even knows it's there.

Local Custom. A necessary part of life in a world where we are so antsy about safety that it's a wonder our parents and grandparents ever lived long enough to sit in their rockers and tell us about the old days when they drove tractors into town at age 10.

-Local Custom in the small area where I grew up allowed me to sell beer to a state cop when I was 14 (and the legal age to do so was 21). He didn't care; he had just come off work and wanted his two bottles of Piel's Beer.

-Local Custom was that, if you were not 16 and old enough to work legally, you started in the very small Mom & Pop at 13 or 14 and went next door to the drugstore when you could get working papers.

-Local Custom was that the coffee, quick lunch, variety and gambling front across the street was visited regularly by the cops --to gamble-- and nobody asked any questions.

We need a little wiggle room in our dealings. It's what makes the Local Customs become part of the pattern of our cities and towns.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Haven't I Heard That Before??

As one of my many activities, I write a weekly column about Big Band music and old songs for the local newspaper. Occasionally, as I notice them, I will comment on old music used in commercials. Why ads aimed at today's consumers would use music that goes back as far as 1924 is beyond me, but apparently they feel it will sell their product.

For instance, Lipitor used "I Only Have Eyes For You." A good song, but it certainly predates the product by some years. Pillsbury and Chase Bank both use "Tea For Two," a piece Moses used to sing as he wandered in the desert. is, appropriately, singing "It Had To Be You," an old chestnut. Appleby's, figuring nobody knows that "Mack The Knife" is a terrible narrative about murder, cheers up our appetite with it. Unless, of course, you know the plot of this Moritat, or "death song" (Bobby Darin to the contrary notwithstanding).

I'm so interested in music that, often, I can't remember what product the songs are selling. Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" for ... uh, let's see ... hmmm ... oh, yeah -- GMC vans and Pantene something or other.

I'm sure the composers don't give a rat's butt about any of this, 'cuz their cash register rings every time the commercial plays. They (or their estate) own the rights and get paid every time the piece is used. Write a good song and you are set; make it the kind of piece that can be done solo, by a small group or the Boston Pops. If you can convince DHL that "Pick Yourself Up" fits their concept of package pick-up, that telling viewers Lexus is a good car when "Baby, It's Cold Outside," then you have it made.

Listen to the music in the commercials. Haven't you heard that before?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

There Is Nothing So Insignificant

I am looking out my front window at the patterns on the sidewalk across the street. They are the moving shadows made by the leaves on the oak tree in front of our house. There isn't much to an oak leaf; in full bloom, it looks as if the ladybugs have already had half of it for lunch.

Then I glance up at the sun, a mighty body of blazing surface fire, fueled by an awful lot of hydrogen and, I suppose, oxygen (or something) in a billion-years' operation of fusion or fission (or something). I don't know how it works, but I do know that it's real powerful and you can't look directly at it or you will lose your sight.

And yet, those little oak leaves will block the sun from shining on the sidewalk. Each individual leaf has its mark, even the smallest. It amazes me that there is something this tiny, this fragile that can block the power of a giant, blazing star. It's almost as if these skinny, irregular leaves are saying to the sun, "Pump out the energy, the heat, the light all you want; any one of us can block it to the extent we are able. You can't make it through us. We will shield the birds and the bugs from you."

Or, in more common language, "Nyah, nyah, nyah."

Get enough leaves together and people will rest under them; their oxygen and their shade together will provide a coolness. We little note, nor long remember, the dimensions of these little sun-blockers until we start stripping the branches and chopping down the trunks that support them. Then, much too late, we realize that those little pieces of greenery were all that stood between us and the powerful, wilting sun.

God created the sun and said, "This is good." Then God created the trees and said, "This is better." Finally, God created the leaves and said, "This is what I really needed to give my people. They are some of the smallest of my creation, but there is nothing so insignificant that I cannot use it for good."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Day After Monday

Tuesday: "Tyr, name of an ancient Teutonic deity, identified with the Roman Mars." [Oxford English Dictionary] day, akin to deity. [Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.

Mars' Day. The Roman god of war, in whose honor we have named the third day of the week and the fourth planet from the sun. Home of the Martians who, for a while, made for some good movies and were supposed to visit or attack Earth. And this is not to forget Mars Bars (and the Scottish habit of Deep-Fried Mars Bars, guaranteed to eliminate those older, unproductive, years of your life).

I wonder if the more planetary-oriented of our ancestors carefully planned their wars to start at certain locations of Mars in the sky, or on Tuesdays. President Reagan, or his wife, was deeply into astrology and the country ran to some extent on the prognostications of some astrologer, rather than the elected head of state. Imagine that: the most powerful man on earth was the person who cast astrological forecasts! He may well have counseled for or against attacks based on the position of Mars based on its relationship to other planets and stars.

The old names don't matter to us anymore -- we don't even know what they mean, or who they honor. For business and outside the home use, we can keep using them. But at home, why not invent our own names?

* * *
Momsday, Jillsday, Tomsday, Bobsday, Gramsday, Grampsday, Dadsday.

Instead of the original:

Sunday, Moonday, Marsday, Odinsday, Thorsday, Friggaday (later, Venusday), Saturnsday.

* * *

Sometimes I Wonder

Ants... Do they wonder if we appreciate how far and fast we can walk with ease? We can walk three blocks in a matter of minutes, a hike that would take an ant ... hours?

Question Marks... I once wondered how many people were typing a question mark at the same time around the world. Is this something I would be curious about after I have reached heavenly bliss? Would it be revealed to me that at 12:12 a.m. Eastern, 57 people hit the "?" key at precisely the same instant?

Everything Starting At Once... One time, I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if every vehicle on earth started moving, at once, in the opposite direction of the earth's revolution. Would this affect the length of the day, by however slight the amount?

Pencils... I wonder if people ever believed the line in a song, "Pencils come from Pennsyl-vania." They really do; the Eberhard Pencil Company is just up the hill from us. Or, used to be until it moved to Mexico. Eberhard "Tim" Faber Jr. still lives in the area.

Old Ladies, Boys and Dogs... Would you become afraid if you found yourself in the presence of a good-looking guy and gal, an old lady, a boy and a dog? I would. That seems to be the make-up for disaster films. I'd be a little bit fearful that something dreadful was about to happen.

Life On Other Planets... I wonder how many places are out there, wondering if life exists on other planets, with their churches solemnly issuing proclamations based on their holy books.

If you would like to comment... It's easy. Just click on where it gives the number of comments, down at the bottom under this paragraph. Write your thoughts in the upper right box, type in the spam-proof letters as indicated, then click on "preview." You will see your message off to the left bottom; if it's ok, then click "publish" (or whatever it says) and you're in.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Now The Fun Begins

It's graduation day at King's. For the students who have been preparing for this since they were juniors, it's an exciting time and they are ready to go. True, it may be an entry-level job waiting for them, but they know it's the start of a career. For others, they may be entering at a somewhat higher level; they worked hard for it and are ready for the challenges that will come shortly.

There's another group: those who have slid through doing the minimum work, blaming their profs, telling anyone who cares to listen that the school sucks. They haven't a clue. They are about to graduate (two hours and ten minutes from now, as I write this) and they've only lately looked around to see what's available. They'll find something; 95 or 98 percent of our grads find jobs right away. I'm not sure where and it's quite possible that these latter people might be wearing name badges for the first three years until they wake up. Either they'll be asking if the customer would like fries with that, or they will be asking if the customer would like the extended warranty. One way or another, in about five or so years, they will be kicking themselves for thinking that their four years after high school were just an extended underage party.

As soon as your hand touches the diploma, your fun days turn into a pumpkin, the glass slippers turn into work boots, the coach turns into a '95 Nova with 120k on it. Either you rub your hands together, smile with confidence and say, "Ok, let's go -- can't wait for the graduation party to finish so I can get to that new job," or you say, "Oh (bad word), now what the (another bad word) am I going to do?"

I know; it all works out. The beer-swillers get their act together, become moderately successful (if not more so) and, some years later, visit the campus and look down their noses at the students who are weaving down the lane. I met one such and said, "Want me to remind you of what you were like??" He laughed and said, "Forget it!"

Saturday, May 20, 2006

On The Parking Meters And Phone Lines

There's a robin sitting on the parking meter across the street. Just sitting there looking around this way and that. Apparently it doesn't have the correct change, but I don't know how the parking enforcement guy could ticket our winged violator; maybe he could leave it between its bill.

...Well, there it goes. I heard on the scanner that the only meter man on duty was down on Public Square, so the bird could have hung out for a long time without being fined.

When I lived off the coast of Connecticut, we had a road that went thru a swampy area that connected us to the mainland. It was a skinny little road, elevated above the water (usually, except for real high tides during storms) and had lots of "No Parking Any Time" signs along it. There always seemed to be Red Wing Blackbirds on those signs, watching the passing scene. Never seagulls, of which we had plenty out there; they would be busy working the many streams which twisted through the "non-reed" part of the area, for obvious reasons called "The Gut." Plenty of fish to keep them well-fed and happy.

Around here, we have a mixture of mature trees and telephone/cable/electric wires. That's like an intricate pattern of Interstate and local highways for squirrels. They go up a tree on the east side of the street, along a branch until it tapers, then jump to a wire that takes them most of the way across the street, off to another wire and, eventually, to a branch on the west side and down the tree. All done with a graceful aplomb (a word which comes from, oddly enough, "perpendicularity," as a surveyor's plumb line).

That robin is back now, walking on the tree lawn, such as it is -- more dirt than grass and probably a robin's buffet line. They have their own menus, as do the squirrels, and there is no competition, no fighting. They get along well.

They carried on their business long before this area became settled and citified. What I wonder is if they even noticed us moving in and whether they will notice us gone if there is another flood and we decide to move elsewhere. Are our buildings and cars mere incidentals in their lives, not worth the bother to note? My guess is that worms and nuts are all that matter; we, and what we have built, aren't even on their bird and squirrel radar.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Sticky Problem In My Life

I use rubber cement on a daily basis. I use enough that I run through three gallons each year and you just can't find gallon cans in a retail store anymore. When you say you cut and paste, most people assume you mean you do it on a computer. CTRL-C, CTRL-V. I tell them, "No, I cut a piece of paper and then I paste it onto another piece of paper, using rubber cement." They look at me strangely and show me the aisle where the 1.5 ounce jars are. "No," I say, "I need gallon containers, three of them." They give me a look and a "Sorry, sir, but I don't know of anyone who carries them and I don't think they are available anywhere."


I called around and found that Dick Blick's commercial supply house carried it, in six-gallon boxes, a two-year supply. Fine; that's no problem. Two years later, I called them again and asked for six gallons of rubber cement. "Sorry, sir; we no longer carry it. Our last order was two years ago." ?? "Oh," I replied, starting to laugh. "That was me. I was your last customer."

After I searched the Internet, I found a place and they directed me to their supplier, a nice fellow in Ohio. "Sure," he said, "I sell a lot of the stuff. I even carry spirit duplicator fluid." I was surprised about that and said, "The stuff we used in grammar school that made purple print and smelled so great?" It was his turn to laugh. "The same. You would be surprised how many school districts in the sticks don't have the money for the latest devices and still use the old Ditto machines. I'm sure their students smell the fluid just as you and I did."

I don't know if this place is a nice warehouse with a cement floor and metal shelves, or an old warehouse with wooden floors, wooden shelves and a quiet way about it. I'd like to think the latter. A place where history resides, where the Ditto machine is as welcome as the latest Xerox printer, where you might find a cat sleeping in a corner to keep the occasional mouse on its toes.

I just can't see selling Ditto fluid in a modern building; you need creaky floorboards. We need a place where, when you say, "I can't find anyone who carries this product anymore," the owner says, "How much would you like?"

Thursday, May 18, 2006

They Were Here Just A Minute Ago

The FBI is digging up a rural horse farm outside Detroit, looking for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa, last seen 30 years ago by whoever decided his time on earth was over. Judge Crater's disappearance in 1930 is still a mystery, although a letter left by a recently-deceased Queens NY woman claims he's buried under the boardwalk on Coney Island. Likewise, D.B. Cooper, who, one fine night in 1971, stepped off the back steps of a Boeing 727 with $200,000 and, if you were Duane Weber's wife, would hear her husband say was D. B.; most people think he splattered in the thick woods.

I understand that suspicious death cases are never closed; eventually, they end up on A&E's "Cold Case Files," or in some detective's lower desk drawer. But the feds like to have closure. Dead or alive, they want to know what happened to those who walk off into the fog.

Part of my job at the college is to find lost alumni. People move all the time, especially in their early years out of college as they establish themselves in the workplace. You need someone who knows how to use the Internet and has good intuitive skills to bring closure -- that is, find them. Some days, I feel like Sherlock Holmes and, although he never really said, "Elementary, my dear Watson," there are times I am tempted to.

I wonder what happened to Dinah Kelly? I lost my first girlfriend last month, but Dinah was the girl next door I wanted to marry. She was six, I was seven; I still feel nice vibes for her, even though she is now 63 and who knows in what shape. I'd like to meet her some time and say hello, bring a little closure to our relationship. Meet the husband, the kids, the (gasp) grandkids, the ... no, let's not even go there. My last photo of her is when she was seven and that's how she stays.

There are so many people who helped form me, teach me, put up with me in my younger days. I'd like to bring closure by telling them how much they meant to me. I've been able to do it once or twice. Another time it was in a letter to a person's widow when I happened to see his obituary in our back-home newspaper. Maybe they have that knowledge now, it being given to them as they left this world as part of their "ya done good" examination of life. I pray for them often, that their contribution to my life be taken into account.

They were here, it seems, just a minute ago. Are they gone that long?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Convenience Is Not Always Convenient

I went to a funeral parlor recently to pay my respects. About an hour later, I heard a call on the scanner for the coroner to meet the rescue unit at the parlor; someone had fallen over dead. "Convenient," I thought; "you're right there when your time comes."

We had a youngish guy over at the courthouse waiting for his hearing on drug charges. He excused himself for a minute to make a bathroom stop and, while there, decided to do a joint. One of the guards smelled it and now he is up on two charges.

In my efficient mind, it seems good to have a given action occur where the following action will take place. It's so tidy, so neatly packaged. Whether the event is good, bad or indifferent, it's compact.

Life should be such. Unfortunately, we're seldom at the right place at the right time. I know I'm not. When it comes time to cash in, it would be my luck to be traveling somewhere and get lost, stop at the only store in sight --a porn shop-- to get directions, and have a massive coronary at the counter. “Thomas Carten died Friday at the ‘Peek-a-Boo Adult Games and Barely Legal Shop’ on the highway.”

The old days of going “Downtown,” as we called our trips over to Bridgeport, are pretty much over. Leave the car at the railroad station parking lot, walk up a block or two to Howland’s Department Store, then maybe to Jack Bowman’s Record Store, make a stop at the bank, stop in at Leavitt’s Department Store for lunch (we took at ticket at the automatic turnstile when we went in; I never knew why), then a quick stop at the Thom McAn shoe store and perhaps go up to the elevated railroad station and see if any Boston to New York (or opposite) trains were passing through.

Now it’s convenience. The Super Stop & Shop has just about everything except the shoe store and the railroad. Ah, wait a moment – the railroad goes by just behind the store, so we still have that. You need a bank? A florist? Some recorded music? Whatever you need is there, all so conveniently laid out. What it doesn’t have are the storefronts you pass as you go from one store to another, places which remind you that you needed some product, some service.

Convenience has its cost, and that is the loss of storefronts, of smells, of businesses with clerks who are older than 20 and know their trade. Now that I think of it, that’s the real convenience.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Special Submission From A Special Friend

The Grateful Grapes of Gratitude
Written by someone who put it better than I could

Before my Mom left, way before actually, she taught me something – or, even better than that, I learned from her and a situation which was created by the passing of my Dad and the circumstances which were to follow. So profound is this that it will be difficult to type in the proper words so as they fit and possibly make sense. Do me a favour: hang in here with me while I try to work my way verbally through an era of my life.

One time she was bitten by a huge German Shepherd and right on the right cheek of her fanny. Funny thing here, she had a photo party as she needed vivid and explicit proof of the dog’s mis-doings. I mean, here is an 80 year old lady mooning a camera in her living room in front of her best friends and neighbours. Well the dog and the settlement enabled her to buy a top shelf lawnmower with two-wheel drive and speeds which would leave her breathless because she did not know about throttle control. The problem was that she was not strong enough to fire it up, so the grumpy old guy across the street would come over. He was the cheek party’s photographer’s husband. So would another neighbour, Carl. Carl would walk over with his pipe tightly gripped in his natural teeth and with his very slow and low voice would ask her if she would like to pull the starter cord, and then he would leave. She later found the photographer’s grand son to cut the lawn while she figured in her Yankee mind that the few bucks paid to the kid was well spent, and on top of that she got rid of a grumpy old dude with a heart the size of a pumpkin. Bookmark this!

Come winter, in the northeast, snow fell. She would try out her favourite scraper which was in reality a widow-maker with a handle. She farmed that out to the kid who did the grass, but he never charged her anything. Mebbe ol’ Grumpy got to him, dunno.

Many other sundry tasks were absorbed by neighbours and she enjoyed the attention and care. Her tea pot was never further than the toaster on the kitchen counter.

Folks were taking care of my Mom. In later years, the summer of her passing, I would wonder about that lawnmower and so did the neighbours. Why would an 80-year old lady buy a lawnmower? Reminds me, today, of my podnah who, as he is nearing the age of 78, bought himself a chainsaw. Could this be a fantasy of the mind concerning immortality?

I found it! It hit me like a clap of thunder. That lawnmower was bought for me. She often mentioned the phrase, “buy good stuff and pass it on.” The lesson was that, as I sat there on her special place down on the beach, I realized that not only was it a gift, an act of motherly love, but rather the entire situation showed me the power of what good doings can affect us. It came to me like a long wave which did not break out on the sandbar and roll a bit higher on the beach than the others.

Many years later a neighbour of mine died, not old at all. My mind came alive with that pipe-smoking Swede and that old grumpy Stan, the photographer’s husband. Finally I could pay my debt so to speak of not having been around to mow the lawn and shovel the snow. I offered to clear out the widow Morin’s driveway that winter, my own little secret, shared with no one. She offered to pay me, I refused. Come spring she pops by and hands me a bottle … very good Beaujolais. I understood.

Since then I have become more receptive of the efforts or politeness or plain just bein’ nice and my gift, through my Mom, would be either some homemade maple syrup or bottle of wine. Not a screw top bottle of wine or a Nasty Spumanti, 2000 Wal-Mart, but something which I believe would go with the person.

So, here we are in the spring many years after my Mom’s name showed up on a headstone in St. Michael’s Cemetery. A kinda like friend, a fellow with whom I ski and who happens to be the president of the cross country ski center I frequent, asked me if I could use some wood as he knows I wood heat the house. The trees had been broken by ice storms, and died by time and I needed a 4-wheel drive to get in there. I asked him for two or three loads if he had enough laying around. So, I cut up three loads and he called me, asked me if I wanted another load or two. Quite happy over that, I stopped by and picked up a bottle of Spanish wine, a good red, Cadenas de Hoya. Upon arriving there, I presented him the bottle and we argued over it, friendly kind of arguing and the showing of a mutual appreciation of the gift. So surprised was he that he showed me another trail and more wood. I logged all day today, and have accumulated a total of nine loads of hardwood. Y’see ……. the grateful gratitude of grapes is a small pittance for the pleasure which both of us have and will enjoy. At noon, I called my podnah and told him to come over and we split the wood between us as I have much more than I can use. It was raining hard all afternoon. He is 78 in a few weeks. He is my pod, my main man and without asking questions, he knew why I called him. No longer can he log, but Mom was there and I paid back this friend for just being whom he is, a friend and also one who helped out my Mom when we went down there together.

A bottle of wine emanates ambience, warmth, friendship and is also a bonding factor among humans, and my way of thanking those neighbours who shared the wines of their choice with my mother………

The Rain Came And Went; Now It's Sunny

We've had a couple days of rain, especially yesterday, with more on the way. Right now, it's sunny and bright; you can almost hear the grass slurping in the water and adding an inch or two. The slightly louder noises are weeds doing the same things, only on a larger scale. If you have a garden or anything other than a cement or asphalt walkway at your house, you're probably picking weeds right about now.

Someone said that a weed is a plant for which we haven't found a use. Discover a purpose for it and it ceases to be a troublesome weed; it is now a valued source of medicine, or extract for our food. Or something useful. But it's not a pesky weed anymore.


The students left last week after their final exams and the dumpster behind the dorm was filled with junk of all descriptions. Some of it actually can't be described. I think it was stuff that got shoved into a corner and stayed their, unnamed and unnamable, until semester's end.

Junk, like weeds, is something for which we don't have a use. For a while, we used to joke about how junkyards are now called "recycling centers," but it's true enough. It ceases to be junk when someone looks at it and says, "Hey, I can use this." I have told people that a burned-out fuse is excellent for putting into three-bulb standing lamps when one of the bulbs is missing; the fuse is busted anyway and when it is screwed into the bulb holder, you can't accidentally put your finger in there and get hurt.

I joke that my grandmother had a cigar box labeled, "Pieces of string too small to save." She didn't, really, but I bet someone does, against the day that there is a use for them. Maybe to put in a sock with some catnip for the cat to play with.
Eventually, we will find there's no such thing as weeds, just as there will be no such thing as junk.

Are We There Yet?

It's late, very late Eastern Daylight Time. But I think this blog site is in the Pacific Time zone, so it's still Monday and I'm keeping to my promise to write something every day.

I just forgot; nothing more than that. Am I forgetting more than before? Probably not; I think I'm just aware that I don't remember things. When we're young, we just push them out of our minds. At the college where I work, I notice students forgetting things all the time. What they mean to say is, "I was going to do this, but something better came up and I just tossed the original task out of my cranial to-do list." I am convinced that, if the Second Coming were to occur and they saw a bus about to depart for a beer party out in rural Luzerne County, they'd forget Jesus triumphant in the clouds.

So us older folk have little to worry about. Yeah, we go into a room and wonder why we're there, but it's a lot higher motive than going into Room B because suddenly it's more attractive than the Room A where we promised someone we would be.

I see drawings of people who tied a string around their finger to remind them to do something. Ever try to tie a knot in a string with one hand? The only way I can figure it out is to tie the thing loosely and then tighten it after you've put it on your finger, but even that doesn't work. If you have someone help you, it's easier just to have that person remind you of the job the string is there for.

Speaking of drawings, thank goodness we don't really have those question marks around our heads ??? when we can't figure something out. Can you imagine walking down the street and everyone knows you are ??? lost, or !!! angry, or have a lit light bulb over your head when you get an idea?

I'm not sure if we're there yet, but this looks to be a good place to stop for a mug of tea.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day On The Cruise Ship

Didn't call Mom today; she's on a cruise -- rather lengthy one. Way to go, Mom! She's been planning this one for a long time, planning and preparing, making sure she had everything ready, travel documents all in order, etc. I've seen some rough drawings of the ship, but not any of the interior fixings. That will come in time, as I'll be joining her sooner or later. Right now, I've got too much to do, but she's let me know how great it is.

That's why Mother's Day is a happy time for me, as is her birthday and the day she set sail: May 29, 1997. She's been on many earthly cruises (18, with two more planned that weren't to be), and despite their being on a prestigious, 5-star, cruise line, it can't hold a candle to where she is now. You can't even compare it as a sunken garbage scow to the Queen Mary 2. How can you be sad when the greatest person in your life is having the greatest time of her life?

Do I miss her? I don't know ... she's here all the time, right around me, which she could not be "before." She's with me when I'm taking my own earthbound cruises and I can practically turn around and see her. She's in my radio studio when I'm doing a show, in church with me during Mass (to my left, 5 rows back), around when I need help with something. How do you miss someone who isn't gone?

One day, a voice will say, "Grab the special travel documents; the ship is down at the dock and your folks are waiting for you. Your cabin is ready."

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Look What Happened To Samson

I promised my employer I'd get my haircut once a month, something that I usually do two or three times a year. I can't remember how many months it's been since that promise, but a friend of mine (who actually does the cutting) says I really should get it done. She usually says that about the time I think it's just growing into a good length: 3" below my ears and just below collar length in the back. That's minimum acceptable for me. However, for sake of less static from the more staid people in my profession, I will allow it to be just below the ears and an inch above my collar.

I could have painted these ears blue twenty-five years ago, maybe longer, and nobody would be the wiser.

Up until recently, I had paid for a haircut only twice since about 1961. That's not a bad record for a cheap New England Yankee. Either I did it myself, had friends who cut hair, or traded services with the local barber when I lived near his place of business in Rockport, Massachusetts. The first guy turned out to be a bookie and I didn't tip him, as he had received enough "tips" while cutting my hair ("just a moment, sir," numerous times as people came to the front door, had brief conversations, and moved on).

Oddly enough, I like getting haircuts. I like being fussed over, having clothes adjusted, having people working on me. I just don't like the result: shorter hair.

Look what happened to Samson: when he got one, he lost all his strength.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Summer Plans For The Fall

My boss left us an informal form wanting to know what our summer plans are. It's the kind of place where we can do it that way and he just needs to have some idea. My summer plans are pretty simple: I have none, but I filled out the paper by noting they will occur in the Fall. October 14-25, to be exact, and in the Atlantic Ocean. I made them some time last year and started making next year's some months ago.

My plans are to be on a cruise ship and the best way to get the low prices is to book early. That means to plan early and that means to dream early. You see, cruising is a year-long process: dreaming, planning, experiencing and remembering.

I'm dreaming of what might happen next year. Will it be my regular north/south Canadian swing? I love going that way. Or will I find that I like my new upcoming New York swing to the southern Caribbean and back?

I'm planning, although that doesn't take much time or effort anymore. I'll be experiencing something new this time: more sea days, hotter and sunnier weather. Through the eye of my videotape camera, I will remember it faithfully.

The trip is five months and two days away; tonight I will be checking out availabilities for next year. I'm hoping it will be the somewhat damp, cool, overcast North; that's my country and my people.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Z'up? Z'up.

Harry Truman's idea of a proper inquiry into one's health, combined with a friendly greeting, was:

"Good morning; how are you doing?"
"Good morning; I'm fine, thank you. And you?"
"Just fine, thank you."

That was the cultured and dignified way in his era. It's changed, at least on college campuses. We are now down to the "exchange it without slowing down or waiting for a full answer." Example:

"What's up?"
"What's up?"

Actually, what you hear is:


Gone are the days when you would serve tea from a silver pot and then inquire into the happenings of each other's day. "How have things gone today, Esther?" "Well, (on and on for five minutes)." Eventually, Esther pauses for breath and Agnes manages to get her foot in the door: "Oh, I know JUST how you feel. I ran into Mrs. Fusbottom (five minutes more)." The sun slowly drops 'neath the clothesline, the remaining tea leaves are fat and bloated with an afternoon of hot water.

I think I'll take "Z'up" over "How have things gone today, Esther?" anytime.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Don't Dare Get Them Angry

Let someone get angry and you will often find the silliest response. Not to the P.O.P. (pissed off person), but to those who stand and watch. The P.O.P. thinks it's (a) the right response, (b) justified, (c) and will show them a thing or two.

-- An intelligent person I know, who gets junk mail via the Post Office: He sends it back, perhaps with something heavy, in the return envelope. Does not indicate his name with a "stop sending this," but simply makes life difficult for the company. Somehow, he feels this accomplishes something.

-- A retired person who hung out at a local diner: He kept getting underfoot in the kitchen where he did not belong. They finally asked him to stay in the dining section. He got angry and went around telling people what a dirty, unsafe place it was. I told him to just get over it and move on, but he's too angry.

-- A middle-aged guy who had a sharply ideological program on a radio station: When it ideologed over the line and he was told to pull it in or else, he quit and is now trying to get the station's license revoked.

-- An outwardly religious person: She plays religious music all day. If you cross her, or do something that offends her, she will never speak to you again.

* *

All these make me wonder what I do when I am the person who gets angry over something. I don't know; really don't. It's got to be something I can justify, the right response (in my mind), and shows them a thing or two. After all, I can't be that much different from anyone else. This could be an interesting exercise, like crawling into a cave and finding out what's in there. ...woo-hoo...

Everybody has a story.
Paul Shelley died the other day, locally. He served in the Navy onboard the USS Missouri during World War II when the peace treaty was signed. After serving in the Korean War, he was in the Vietnam War and was in Saigon when it fell.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Syreen Sounded Its Warning

That day in Fairfield Prep (more formally: Fairfield College Preparatory School), a student from the sticks mentioned "the fire syreen" --as he pronounced siren-- and a few city kids snickered. The teacher made a quick save and said this pronunciation was correct, as was the more common "siren." He was right and, as Casey Stengel once said, "You could look it up."

I was out with mom one day when we heard one of these in the near distance. "When you hear a siren," she said, "you know that somebody's day was just ruined."

Whether it was the Sirens of Greek mythology who lured mariners to destruction by their singing, or the sirens on emergency vehicles of today, it's not a sign of good news. In mythology, mariners willingly drove their vessels onto the rocks, the siren call was so hard to resist. If you watch those "wildest police chase" programs on tv, people drive their cars at high speeds, often into rocks or ditches, because the police siren is something they find very easy to resist. The others (ambulance, fire truck) are simply "Get out of my way" indications: pull over, get onto the sidewalk, do anything, but let us get through.

Although they indicate that something has gone wrong, they also let us know that people are on the way to rectify the situation: the dangerous driver will be convinced to shape up; the fire will be extinguished; the injured person will be taken to a hospital. The initial "something's wrong" sound also has its "help is on the way" component.

Siren or syreen, it's bad news about to be changed to good.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Procession Of The Tail Lights

Final exams are on and people are starting to leave as soon as they have finished. North Franklin Street is filled with tail lights as our once and future students leave for other parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

They are once again freed from the college rules that are, in many ways, so unfair:

(a) You can't have your boy/girl friend in your room after 2:00am.
(b) You can't bring alcohol back from off-campus parties.
(c) You can't cut more than three classes.
(d) There are only five stations in the food court.

In exchange, you get the much looser family rules:

(a) You think for one moment you are going to have your boy/girl friend in your room with the door closed until 2:00am? You got another think coming.
(b) Don't even think of going to a party where there is alcohol, not while you're living under my roof.
(c) No, you can't take a day off from work because you got wasted last night.
(d) You eat what I made for supper; what do you think this is, college?

I doubt that the policy of "three unexcused cuts" is good training for the real world where I have seen a sign prominently posted: "If you don't show up today, don't show up tomorrow." The idea never seems to occur that your off-campus drinking party that gets busted by the cops later comes around to bite you in the butt when you are faced on your job application by the question, "Have you ever been arrested?"

We teach them how to learn; I'm not sure we teach them how to grow up.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Lazy Sunday Afternoons

The sun is out, hardly a cloud in the sky; the cat is curled up on her little perch in the window right in front of me while her "open to the world," just to my right, has a few bird calls coming in (a crow, just as I was writing this). I'm finishing a mug of tea and will put some 30's and 40's music on the CD machine.

It is, indeed, a lazy Sunday afternoon in the spring.

I have a sense that the fullness of our life, the part that begins after we are freed of our bodies (i.e.: die) will be a lazy Sunday afternoon in the spring, where there is no clock and the sun never sets. A day when we can just "be." That's the definition of eternity; not something which has a calendar infinitely thick, but only one page which says, "Now." We can stroll through the gardens, visit with friends old and new, wonder at the marvels of creation and never have to worry that "it's getting late."

There we are, chatting with Albert Einstein, understanding every concept he explains; then we run into our great-great-grandfather, who tells us what it was like growing up in his country and coming to ours, all the stories and the good times. We wander into groups and individuals, all fascinating. And it's still "now," it never gets too late; it's always a lazy Sunday afternoon in the spring.

Back here in the reality of May 7, 2006, I have a radio program to put together, some other work to do and it has to be done by this evening. But I look forward to that Sunday afternoon when my mother can tell me, in great detail, what it was like as a teenager to accept a dare from her girlfriend and take a ride with a barnstormer in his biplane around the airfield at a penny-a-pound rate. Then later to break the news to her mother.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Feeding The Birds

Among the many things Mom taught me was what to do when the cookie dough just didn't make it. You could tell there was a major mistake and nothing short of a major miracle (i.e.: Gospel quality) would help. "When this happens," she said, "just whip it up real good, lay it out on a cookie sheet, bake it and toss it in the backyard for the birds. Then try again."

Today's planned, and half-written blog, just didn't make it. Got off to a good start, went a couple of paragraphs, and then the batter stopped mixing well. I put in another ingredient, but the blog bogged down and began going in the wrong direction. It had such promise; I just didn't have enough spices and pieces of fruit to make the kind of snack that would look good on this page. So it's in the backyard and the birds are feasting on it; they don't know.

Maybe I'll think about the recipe some more, go to the store and see what it has, then make another attempt. The birds won't be too happy, but those who stop here for a few moments will be.

In other matters...
-- Do you ever dream of houses where you used to live? I do. Occasionally my first (age 0-7 years) house, more frequently the second (7-recently), which we closed up and sold a few years ago after Mom's passing into glory.
-- How many songs can you identify on the first three notes? The first two notes? The first note? Try it some day when you have your favorite music station on. It's like recognizing our friends' voices when they speak just one word.
-- Have you noticed that we have two alphabets? 50% of our upper-case and our lower-case letters are totally different; others, only slightly. For instance: A/a are nowhere alike; D/d is another example, as is R/r. Check different alphabets used for the upper- and lower-case word BARD/bard.

Friday, May 05, 2006

I Hope The Termites Don't Stop Holding Hands

The History Channel had a program about how some huge bridge was built. Very large beams were fastened together with very large nuts and bolts; very thick cables were made from smaller cables bundled together. It was all quite impressive. But, when you get down to it, what you have is a lot of iron or steel molecules which are held together by some force I don't understand.

Or, to put it another way, we drive across a bridge that is really not much more than a whole lot of tons of iron and steel which stay together because their molecules kinda stick together in some fashion. If they decide not to, then all we have is a pile of molecules like so much sand at the bottom of the river. Along with a bunch of cars and people who just learned how to swim.

We place quite a bit of faith in these chemical attractions, or whatever they are. We are willing to put ourselves 40,000 feet in the air, with faith that all the aluminum thingys will stick together and get us where we are going, instead of a cornfield in Kansas. Short of an earthquake, we have no qualms about being under a bridge and fearing it will turn into dust.

Can you imagine how it would be for all those uppity people if suddenly all fabrics lost their ability to keep the stitches together? We're all equal when we're nude and when there aren't any power suits, we lose a lot of our class distinction.

"The Day Everything Turned To Dust," starring Dusty Springfield and Dustin Hoffman. Opening at a theater near you.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Month Of Hidden Cameras

It's "Sweeps Month" again for television stations. There are four of these during the year and they are the times which determine the networks' and stations' ratings. Ratings = $$. So it is very important that each station grab as many viewers as possible, even though this practice makes the ratings somewhat artificial.

This is the hunting season, the Month of the Hidden Camera, the time when much is promised but little is actually delivered. Woe unto him or her who sits through an entire newscast waiting for the promised tidbit which is "coming up right after this" and never arrives until the last two minutes. Then our initial "Oh, wow!" changes to, "Oh, that rather quickly. All sizzle, hardly any steak.

The networks drag out cruise ship "murders," which were probably suicides the family does not want to admit, and which happened months (if not years) ago and which the cruise lines are not legally allowed to speak about at this point. They gather up victims of priest abuse which happened forty years ago and assume anybody knew how to handle it then; they also conveniently ignore the same abuse by family and neighbors.

The local stations take you inside strip clubs (gee, it's dark in there, someone's head is always in the way, and everything is fuzzy). The station's vice squad reports, with great seriousness and overkill, about an official in some one-horse town who has a few slot machines in a back room. We see from-the-kitchen footage of a cop hanging out in a diner drinking coffee.

It's dramatic, it's "we're reporting this because you need to know it," it's all bullcrap; it's about ratings and, ultimately, about money. Watch it if you want; just don't fall for it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

You Bought What??

The college where I work part-time picks up property on an as-available basis. A house comes on the market, usually the owner will have made an arrangement for us to buy it. Or, if the owner is unreasonable, we can wait; colleges plan far into the future, while people would like their money fairly soon. Bit by bit, we have formed a campus with few gaps.

One woman wanted to sell and the price was right, so now it's ours. It lay vacant for several months until we had an immediate need to move our Buildings and Grounds Office in there and the maintenance people started poking around. It needs work, badly. Down in the cellar was an old, old cash register, a bar, shelving and other doo-dads of a period gone by. A specific period.

We had bought a speakeasy.

* * *

A few years ago, we bought some ramshackle row houses across Main Street, going away from the college. We needed the space for parking and they were just this side of being condemned anyway. We gave the occupants many months' notice that their rental would not be renewed. One of the last to go, we noted, had none of the traditional household furniture. No tv, tables, dressers, kitchen things. Just a bunch of beds.

We had bought a whorehouse.

* * *

Wilkes-Barre has had, and continues to have, quite a history. Right on Public Square was Mal's Mens Shop, where all the clothing on display had a layer of dust and nothing was for sale. The back room, clearly visible, had a table loaded with phones and you could bet on the nags anytime you wanted. A record store, across the street, had very few records, but the proprietor was dressed rather nattily for someone who did little, if any, business. A restaurant across the street from us was closed at night, but one could enter with a special knock; you were safe, because cops were there, lawyers were there and the local magistrate took the money to the bank the next day.

Our college, too, has its own history: Speakeasy, bordello and who knows what's next.

We're buying what??

Everybody has a story
Local obituary the other day: Mrs. Bartha Miller, 87, "has rejoined her husband [in heaven] so he can give her his customary and affectionate pat on the behind."

A Shortcut Through The Woods

There are at least two ways to get home if you are a kid. The grownups' way (down the street, up the sidewalk) or the best way (through the woods, around someone's backyard, across a brook, or whatever way is the shortest). That's why, when parents rang their respective "supper is ready" bells, you never saw any kids going home on the street. Why take the long way?

Guess I'm still a kid. If I'm at one point, coming back to my house, I take the street; if at another, then it's "where did he go and how did he get here" time. Up through a company's parking lot, then cut between some cars, go up a slight hill, across where someone's garage used to be, cut through a small wooded area (well, where it used to be before I cut out some wild-growing foliage), up an embankment and through another parking lot. A lot quicker than going down one street and up another.

People tell me to act my age. I see people acting my age and they are stuck in their ways, starting to act a bit grumpy, awfully worried about how they come across. When you start getting older, you approach the age when you can tell people to * themselves. You've spent years playing the game, dressing according to other people's standards; now you can bloom. As my mother once said, when asked why she didn't dye her hair, "I'm a gray-haired old lady and that's how I like it."

If anyone reading this is around when they carry me out, tell the pallbearers secretly to veer off and take a shortcut through the woods. Yeah, you'll startle a lot of people, but my friends will understand.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Night Watch

The cat is in the window, gazing into the darkness, with its sounds and smells. It’s pretty mysterious out there, what with the denizens of the night making their rounds and taking cover in the darkness.

We had our dark places back home, too; spots where the shadows and sounds and smells became magical.

One of them was our backyard. We could sit on the terrace and listen to the night birds, the bats, whatever was running loose in the woody area down near the back fence and the occasional sound of a neighbor’s bug zapper. We had enough trees to make the sky view partially obscured, but always changing in the wind.

Another was the beach. No trees there, no bushes and not much nightlife. But many offshore blinking aids to navigation and onshore sweeping lighthouses, along with a few steady ship and tugboat running lights. This was, perhaps, less mysterious for those of us who lived on the water and knew what each light meant, but it was still magical and the waves’ invisible roar during a late-night storm brought up visions of galleons braving Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope in the always-rough latitudes called the Roaring Forties.

I spent many a night on the top open deck of a cruise ship in Alaska. It was pretty dark there, with just enough light so you could see --or thought you could see-- things on a nearby shore. A lone cabin light in the middle of nowhere off in the distance, perhaps a bush plane way off in the air, some formless shape of a mountain. We turned, from south to west, from Gastineau Strait into Icy Strait, so slowly that it seemed as if we were standing still and the hard to distinguish background was moving from right to left. It's somethng best seen in the dark of night.

Right now, the sun is shining and things are quiet. In twelve hours, the night creatures will roam again and the cat will monitor their goings-on.