Friday, June 30, 2006

Heard On The Scanner

A few things I've heard over the years.

10-8, local code for "ready for next call..
Car is dispatched to check on female hanging out on corner. Officer reports back, "It's just a well-known local prostitute and she's 10-8."

Missing person report:
"Person is described as female, 5-foot-2, eyes of blue..."

Ambulance reporting in to hospital:
"Person was at the Ukrainian Literary Society getting literate, when he fell off the bar stool."

About a chronic area parking-violation complainer:
"Her again? Tell her we'll get there when we can. We've got more important things to do.”

The ambulance crew will discreetly radio back and ask for "manpower," when two of them are not strong enough to lift a very obese person -- referred to, when calling the hospital, as a "doorbuster" if they need additional help there.

The hospital may call a 10-69 ("dogfight") when a couple of under-the-influence street people get into a tussle and they can't break it up.

It's a colorful world on the airwaves.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Disregard The National News

Regardless of what some national news showed/said:

(a) Wilkes-Barre was not flooded
(b) Helicopters were not picking people off roofs (that was two counties north of us)
(c) Whatever water damage Wilkes-Barre got was in the south end and was caused by streams from the Back Mountain, not connected to the river.
(d) Parts, and only parts, of the city were evacuated from 8pm until noon as a precaution
(e) Everybody is fine.

In the low-lying areas, there was the usual and expected flooding. It happens more often than you realize and is part of life here. Goes with the territory and is just another day at work.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Other Shoe

...As in, we're waiting for it to drop.

For those of you who never lived in an apartment with poorly-padded floors, you'd be lying in bed at night and the fellow over you would take off the first shoe and drop in on the floor. You would wait for the other shoe to drop, sometimes wondering why it took him so long. =thud= Ok, you can go to sleep now.

It rained a lot here in the last day or two but, more importantly, it rained a lot in the Binghamton NY area. That's where our river comes from and their rain becomes our high water. We have "river banks" level (22 feet) and we have "dikes" level (41 or 42 feet). As of early this morning, crest levels are predicted to be about 36-38 feet; we've all been there and done that, a function of living where we do. Someone asked if the college is near the action and I said, "We're on River Street, so that might tell you something."

Parts of the city, the low-lying South Wilkes-Barre area, have a mandatory evacuation order. Oddly enough, it has nothing at all to do with the river. It has much to do with that pesky Solomon's Creek which meanders down from the Back Mountain and goes through the south end at near ankle depth. When there is a lot of rain in the hilly section, which has been the case these days, all bets are off down there and it's time to leave.

So now we're waiting for the local EMA to tell us when it's time to evacuate the Valley, east side and west side, most likely only as a precaution. Better to move to a higher location gradually "just in case," rather than a mass movement very quickly. We've done this before; it's part of life here. Luckily for me, those of us who live on a slight hill just a few yards above the flat "flood plain" area will not be affected.

The storms are gone; the sun is out and it's a very nice day. Then you look at the flood gates going up at each end of the Market Street Bridge, the water almost up to the bridge, and it won't crest for another twelve hours.

What's worse than being on River Street? A block away, the county prison is just below us on Water Street.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Now Would Be Fine

"The schedule of our current cultural climate is everything all the time. I'm not sure I like that. I do like being able to choose when I can shop, but my freedom is imposing on somebody else's Sunday."

This is from my friend Marie's blog, over at
(scroll down to "One Banana Two Bananas Three Bananas Four" to read her excellent reflections.

It’s nice to have the local news every night, including Sundays and holidays. We’re not working, but we expect all those involved in keeping the tv station and its news crew to be. It’s 11:00pm and we need, or think we need, something from the local supermarket; how would we feel if we find it’s closed after, say, 7:30 so the help can enjoy the evening?

I’ve done Christmas Eve and Christmas Day radio. There are no such things as three-day holidays in the broadcast industry. Now that I’ve worked in a restaurant (many years ago), I tip generously on Thanksgiving and Christmas; my convenience imposes on their family time.

What about our parents when we were young? “Honor Your Father and Your Mother” is not a commandment for young children. It is for adults, so they may not forget to honor their parents as the old folks become needy and perhaps a bit dotty. We were the biggest imposition they ever had; we took away most of their freedoms for as many years as there were children under their roof.

Let us remember that when our children seem to be an imposition. If nothing else, it’s just Mother Nature’s way of paying us back for what we were like.

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Mug Of Hot Steaming Tea

There are moments, events, in life that are so personal and intimate that they cannot be shared by others. Romancing our Best Beloved, for instance; there are no books to guide you, because each of you bring your own selves and emotions into the mix, as well as the way you choose to be romantic. It's nobody's business and you don't even try to instruct others in a how-to way.

How you relax in the evening is another personal choice which others are invited to keep their noses out of. You like doing this or that; fine. Just don't push it on me. Respect my choice of enjoyment as I do yours.

But, perhaps more intimate than either of these examples, is the making of one's mug of tea. It is a sacred ritual open to no other. It is the Consecration, the birth of a new life, the maiden voyage of a marvelous new ship. It is the ultimate confecting of the beverage which brings forth cheer and merriment, the liquid which excites the muse of thought and contemplation, the very spirit of contentment.

How do I bring forth this genie of all that is good? These are my immutable rules. Should even one be lacking, I will choose one of any inferior hydrating fluids.

1) Prepare hot, boiling water and a mug. Not a wussy tea cup, but a solid mug, as thick as possible. Thick mugs take more time to warm up and, therefore, longer to cool down.
2) Fill the mug at least halfway with boiling water. Allow it to heat until it is too hot to touch. Dispose of the water.
3) Pour boiling water over the tea bag. If the bag has a hole, as in Lipton's, carefully open it up and lay sideways in the mug so the poured water goes into the center of the bag as you begin pouring.
4) Place another mug on top of yours, to keep the heat in and prevent the steam (hot air) from escaping.
5) After a few minutes, remove the tea bag and squish it with the bag's envelope.
6) Add one teaspoon of sugar and two of milk. Milk binds the tannin so it will not do your innards any harm.

7) Sip slowly as you contemplate the Mysteries Of The Universe.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Watching My Own TV Show

There's nothing I find interesting on tv tonight, so I'm watching one of several shows I produced, directed and did the camera work myself: My cruise videos. I spent time studying how The Travel Channel does things, how it chooses each shot and photographs it. There is an art to camera steadiness, to a smooth zoom (whether in or out) or an equally smooth pan to left or right.

The first tape is relatively good. That is, I've seen far worse from other amateurs on vacation. Some very good moments, some equally poor; most are medium to good. The eye is there.

The following tapes show improvement. When I finish with a subject, I let the camera linger for 3-5 seconds -- giving it a tail. The switch to another shot is not so abrupt that way. I brace myself in whatever way I can, regardless of how it looks; the other passengers will never see me again, so what do I care. That gives my shots a very steady quality, helping the "steady-shot" feature of the camera. My zooms, in or out, are slow, with speed dependent on the subject and action. Panning and zooming are done with great care and only when they help advance the shot.

I want people to think these are, perhaps, professional videos I bought somewhere. Or very top-line semi-professional stuff. I'm competitive; I want my stuff to be better than others' vacation videos.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Single Parent, A House, Kids

I was going to name this blog, "Four Months, and Twelve Months," sort of like the Arabian Nights "A Thousand Nights and One Night." But that wouldn't make sense to anyone but family and an explanation would only bring a, "oh ... thanks ... but I still don't get it."

Anyway, it's really about how Mom deceived me when I was a kid and now I'm paying for it.

We were a single-parent home for a while; nothing we could do about it, as illness comes and sprinkles its germs where it will. And we were a single-parent home without warning. Twice. Well, to skip over a lot of stuff (from age 11 to age 64), I'm living in my apartment, a new one, doing laundry for two days when I can find the time. Just vacuumed the floor, which I kept putting off "until later in the day" for about three days now. Lunch was half of a leftover sandwich from yesterday's lunch. The cat just coughed up a hairball on one of my shirts, so that's going into the next load of laundry after I spray some stain remover on it.

You get the picture. We kids grew up knowing that times were tough, but never realized just how tough until we were much older and able to look back with some perspective. How did she manage to get things done without the Other Half around? I'm doing laundry for one and it's piling up; how about for a family? Shopping for clothes and food ... health matters ... school stuff. Oh -- and where are the $$ supposed to come from? This went on for 16 months and during that, it was with no end in sight.

I think Mom put in for a nervous breakdown, but just couldn't find the time to schedule it; there were always more important things to do. Luckily, many years later, she had her time in the sun and quite a while to relax with no household worries.

I don't know how she did it, but I certainly will ask when finally we meet. I know the answer; it's what she always said when a tough job had to be done: "Somebody's got to do it."

Friday, June 23, 2006

Look Out! They're Flying Low

A friend of mine reports having been hit by a bird while she was driving along minding her own business. And I don't mean the bird was doing its business and hit the car. The bird flew into the car =donk= as if it didn't realize there were huge amounts of air real estate above for it to traverse the countryside.

"I felt awful," she said. "I almost killed a bird. But maybe it was despondent and wanted to end it all."

My thinking is less a bad love affair than just the atmospheric conditions that day. From having lived on the water a long time, I noticed that birds --seagulls, anyway-- tend to fly lower before a storm and actually will stay on the ground if possible. On our way home, we had to pass an airport and our bad-weather report would be, "Seagulls on the runway." If a plane landed and they scattered, it was still a ways off; if they stayed put at the end even when the plane passed over them on its landing pattern, we knew it was going to be a really good storm and it would hit soon.

Sometimes, at a baseball game, a bird will get pinged by a ball in play. I don't watch games, so I never think to ask what the weather conditions were like when it happened. Perhaps there was an approaching storm and the feathered biped thought it was keeping a low profile when it suddenly occupied the same space & time as the round stitched object of interest.

Seagulls fly amazingly low when they are going somewhere and the sea is calm. Their wingtips barely miss the surface of the water as they move to wherever it's important to be. When the sea is breaking onshore, it's a bit different; they hang in the air, pushing into the wind just enough to hold steady over an interesting spot, then swoop down to pick up lunch. If they want to work a piece of shoreline, they will fly into the wind, then fly at less than wind speed so it pushes them slowly backwards, then fly into it again. If you are inside and don't feel the wind, it appears they are flying backwards -- and that's what I tell the outsiders at the shore diner. "Did you know that seagulls can fly backwards? Yeah, really. Look at that one out there."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Slight Chance Of ...

When I was at WICC in Bridgeport CT, many years ago, we tagged every summer weather forecast with, "Slight chance of widely scattered thunderstorms." The station covered a large area and we figured, hey, somewhere there might be one and, if there wasn't, all we said was "slight chance" and "widely scattered," so if one area didn't get one, by golly, another area might have. We were probably right somewhere, at some time.

People do things, on a basis ranging from "not so bad" to "what were you thinking of" based on the perceived slight chance of something happening:

>Running a stop sign/light late at night with no cars or cops in view.
>Riding your Harley without a helmet.
>Using professional fireworks without experience.
>Driving while buzzed.

I can only guess that people are thinking, "There's only a slight chance that something will happen to me." I know that, so far, most things have happened to someone else; I also know that, for everyone in the world, I am someone else. It, whatever “it” is, can happen to me.

A slight chance is still a chance; a possibility can quickly become a probability. We can say that much of what happens in life is a roll of the dice, but we do have some control as to how the dice lands. If we take precautions, the dice land easier. As do we.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Actually, I'd Rather Be On A Ship

Well, anything that floats would be fine, but since I've become accustomed to cruise ships, they're now my favorite way of traversing the seas.

When you grow up on the water --literally, on the water-- it stays a part of you. I've used old wooden ironing boards as makeshift surfboards (although I never trusted them enough to actually stand; they were just for paddling on). I've been in flat-bottomed row boats, our sea skiff which took us everywhere in all kinds of weather, larger cabin cruisers, and out on the Atlantic in the fishing boat my father worked on.

Never been in anything better than 25' swells, but I'm hoping for something tasty this fall when I'll be passing Cape Hatteras. I really don't care to be on the water and feeling as if we're in a hotel lobby, steady and unmoving. I'd go to a hotel if I wanted that; I want to know I'm on the sea in a floating vessel. I think the best I've seen would be the 12' swells in a whole gale we ran into as we went up the North Atlantic on a New England cruise one time.

On our beach back home, I've seen the moment the tide changed from "going low" to "going high." Just as it reaches the point of perfect low tide, the water shakes ever so imperceptibly and three or four very slight ripples head toward shore. I wonder if that's where the expression "sea change" comes from? The water has to be very calm for you to see this and people from inland seldom believe you when they hear about this.

For those of us who have spent our summers (not to mention springs, falls and winters) on the beach, it has truly been said that, "once you get sand in your shoes, you can never get it out." In more literal terms, I brought some of that sand with me and have it in both my apartment and my radio studio.

Weather Music

We had a couple of thunderstorms pass through here this afternoon. I wasn't looking out the window to see the lightning, but did hear the thunder -- the "weather music." In the interests of full disclosure, I told my fellow radio announcer over at WNAK, Paula Degnan, that I would credit her for first use of that term.

Perhaps if we described thunder that way to our children, rather than "angels bowling in heaven," they would not be so scared. "Listen to the music of the storm," we might say, "listen to the weather music. These are the kettle drums of the lightning."

During a storm, I like to tune an AM radio between stations and listen to the lightning static. That's what static is on the radio: the sound lightning makes in the radio spectrum … the soundtrack to an electrical storm. You watch the lightning, even from a distance, and listen to it at the same time on the radio. As it gets closer, you have this light and radio performance, along with the kettledrum weather music.

It's an evening at Mother Nature's concert hall!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

You Can't Tell Me What To Do

Theologians have been wrestling with the fundamental question of Original Sin since Augustine or Thomas Aquinas had too much time on his/their hands and didn't realize there were bigger fish to fry. So we've condemned deceased unbaptized children, born and unborn, to (a) burn in Hell, (b) be kind of happy in Limbo ... depending on what era you've lived in. Hey, we invented O.S. so we can invent the consequences (and Limbo), as well.

Here's the real answer:

We refuse to learn from those who have gone before us. We even refuse to listen to those who try to warn us. We will not accept the wisdom of those who have learned and want to share. It's The original sin, the one which came before all others; had we listened from the first, we would not get into so many messy situations.

Speed limits? Those signs were put there because someone realized anything faster was not safe. So we exceed them and end up wrapped around a tree. Alcohol use? We know how to use it responsibly, but we've all seen people who decide not to; at best, they look like fools but at worse, they wreck families or DUI and cause a road fatality.

Yeah, that's gotta be it. Every person, when born, needs to "invent the wheel" all over again. Everybody starts at zero, despite the amount of knowledge their elders, our civilization, have built up. It's the sin of not listening, of refusing to learn. Nobody ever went to Hell or Limbo because they did not have Original Sin wiped away by Baptism; all they did was hit their foreheads and go, "Duhhhhh," when they realized they should have listened.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Robin Has Been Sitting On My Fountain

I've got a small fountain in my small garden. It's pretty much a small ball on a small pedestal; there's a recirculating pump inside somewhere and the fountain bubbles up a couple inches when it's full, maybe a half inch if it has evaporated.

Just after lunch, I looked out my dining room window and there was a robin sitting on top of it. I've seen birds hopping through sprinklers, and I've seen them standing on top of our sprinkler back home waiting for it to be turned on -- but never seen one just parked on top of the bubbler. So it just sat there, occasionally moving over so it could put its head down and drink. If anyone went out, it took off a ways, but always came back.

It was a fairly warm day, about 88 or higher, and perhaps the robin found this Bird Jacuzzi was just right for conditions. Another bird sat on the fence, watching carefully (as birds do) and I think we may find them lining up for a few minutes worth of "sit time" on the bubbling fountain.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

What Name Do We Give The Baby?

My brother was named after his father, middle name and all. I was to be named after the saint on whose day I was born; that was all well and good, except I came real early and ended up on some African saint's day. That wouldn't do, so I was named after two brothers who were close family friends.

You see, in the Catholic Church, you have to be named after a saint. Any one will do, just as long as it's a saint's name. You may really be named after your aunt or uncle, some close friend or a currently-popular entertainer; as long as there was a saint with that name, you are home safe. If your first name is Moon Unit or Dweezil, your middle name had to be a saint's ... just sneak it in there somewhere.

So the parents go through the book of baby names and, I am sure, often the grandmothers stick their pointed noses in there and make some pointed demands, as well. There is the kid, stuck with some ancient uncle's 1870's name: Ebeneezer Socrates Cooper, for instance. (I do, in fact, know someone whose father wanted, and got, a son named Socrates.) Or something nuts, like musician Frank Zappa’s kids in the previous paragraph.

Our name is, really, the only thing we have. We might run through half a dozen or more cars in our lifetime, we might have many addresses and as many jobs; everything about us may change, but the one constant is our name. We can change it, but someone will know us "before." We meet; "You're Wilda Carten? Weren't you Wilda Vail before you married?" Or the newspapers will say, "Rap artist KK5 (real name Joe Smith) was arrested...."

Why not ask the baby about to be born? Ok, the kid's not about to answer, but you and your Significant Other can sit back on the couch and say, "What do you think the Little One would like to be called when he or she is a teen or an adult?" Do you think they'd like to be saddled with your identity from day one, or would they like to start out with their own? How will the cute, unique spelling go over in the professional world 25 years from now? Well, ask yourselves -- would you want to be stuck forever with what you're going to hang on your kid?

I always wondered what happened to Socrates Fronhofer. I see an arm wrestling champion from his state on the Internet; it’s probably him, so apparently he's ok with the name.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Suppose we learned an asteroid is out there with our name on it; a big one, a very big one. Even the survivalists are saying, "Might as well sit on a deck chair in your backyard with a tall cool lemonade and enjoy the show, 'cause Jesus is going to come and say, 'th-th-that's all folks.' Ain't no hiding place this time."

I wonder what we would do. Pack churches? Riot in the streets and steal things? Camp peacefully in the woods? Let our morals loose (to put it discreetly)? We'll never know unless and until it actually happens; we can guess, we can give our opinions but, it's not until that growing spot appears in the sky that we really know how we will act.

Suppose we won a real big lottery, lots of millions of dollars after taxes. What would that do to us? There was a show on early tv, "The Millionaire," in which a couple would, out of the blue, receive a million dollars, tax-paid. The program was about what it did to them; an interesting study. If we received the equivalent in today's dollars, it would be equally fascinating to see how people react. The New York Times magazine section followed several lottery winners; a number went broke, a few did well and I think most of them pretty much felt the whole thing was something they would not want to do again.

Their plans, in theory, seldom worked out in reality. Everybody, from their pastor to the beggar on the street, felt they had claim to this windfall. It wasn't fun anymore.

Suppose we could have anything we wanted, but each time we had to give up something we already had. Would that make us choose more carefully? Maybe we would cut down on our "wants" when we knew a previous "want" would disappear, without our choice of which one. How badly do we really need this or that item?


Never Did That Before

I was just about to get into the shower when I felt a sneeze coming on. "This is a first," I thought. "Don't think I've ever done this before, sneezed in the shower."

Do others notice things like this? The first time something happened? I was in the college cafeteria one weekend and accidentally lifted the handle for chocolate milk into my tea. "Never done that before," came into my mind. I generally eat with one hand or the other, but one day switched right during the meal; "first time for that," I thought. "Huh."

I don't take notes on stuff like that, but these "First Time When" moments do tend to stand out when they happen. It wasn’t the first time I played the operaQueen of Spades on the radio; that's what I did at that station. Realizing that I never had breakfast in the Arctic before this, well, I was on a trip and that was to be expected. But getting up at 3:00 a.m. to "take care of business" and finding the sun way up in the sky; yeah, that's a First Moment ... in the Arctic, of course.

Tripped the other day and landed on my bed. "First time for that," I said to myself. I wonder why I (we?) can remember that this has not happened before? It's never a planned activity, but something that just sort of happened and it dawned on me that I'd never done this.

I've been writing this all day. If it wasn't one thing, it was another. In, out; phone calls, people, meals, radio show. This is not a "never done this before" moment; just another "another busy day" time.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Money Falling Right Into Your Lap

"Big Cash Settlement" the tv picture says, as the announcer tells us that if you used this or that product and you had anything go wrong, you may be eligible for a Big Cash Settlement. On some ads, the words flash on and off; with others, they grow ever larger. Lots of money to spend.

A few years ago, a woman tripped on the sidewalk outside the fire hall near us where she had been playing Bingo. She was laid up for a while and sued for medical costs and the usual things: pain, suffering, inability to play Bingo, scuffed shoes, etc. Her husband also sued for $20,000 for "loss of consortium." Now, I don't know how many times a month she puts out, but that seems excessive. The girls who work Wilkes-Barre's south side get $100 per trick and it's $75 across the river.

I even saw a billboard locally for a lawyer who said, "You might not be a victim now, but you may be one in the future, so contact us today so we can be ready to be on your side."

We are, slowly or quickly, becoming a nation of victims whose plight can only be aided by cash settlements. Money will cure our emotional distress; cash will ease our inconvenience; a large check will be our revenge against someone who has, or we feel has, harmed us in some way.

Are we less neighborly now because we fear that neighbor may sue if something happens to their house while we are watching it during their vacation? Do we dare give a ride to someone, knowing that they are accustomed to suing people (actual situation)? Do we see lawyers hovering where we used to see a chance to do a good deed?

Jerry Sirota, a local resident, died the other day. In 1958, he founded Eastern Auto Leasing. He was a pioneer in the leasing industry and was one of very few companies to creatively transform the well-known daily rental into a long-term leasing transaction. Leasing had not gained nationwide popularity until the 1980s and he was clearly ahead of his time.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Due Date Is Just Four Months Away

I know what the name's going to be, where and when the event will take place. Name: Noordam. Place: Passenger ship terminal, New York City. When: 5:00pm, October 14. Depending on the "chicken" aspect, there will be 1,918 of us onboard ("chicken" refers to the fact that it's hurricane season and the ship may be at less-than-capacity).

Let the wusses stay home. I was raised on boats and don't consider it rough until the engine bolts tear loose. I've a friend who spends many hours in very high seas coming across the Atlantic recently. God invented the North Atlantic and its storms, then God gave us the intelligence to build ships that can take it. By crimminy, let those "I'll never cruise again" people on the message boards go to a Disney park for the rest of their lives and let us enjoy God's good oceans.

After all, the first movie we had on the Veendam, when I started cruising alone, was "Titanic" and odds are the movie on this ship, especially if we run into a storm, will be "Poseidon."

Everybody Has a Story
Shirley Ann Yelen, a local resident, died recently. Her obituary notes that, "surprising to many at first, Shirley was a real 'motorcycle momma.' For more than 20 years, Shirley had sat behind her husband on their motorcycle, putting on more than 80,000 miles of touring the country." It goes on, "She was predeceased by her parents ... and by her kitties Skit, Skat, Skoot, Skeeter, Skamper and Skiddles. In addition to her husband, Barry and their cat, Scruffles, she is survived by her son Howard and his wife Marcia and their son Mark and their cats Kit, Kat and Tiki; daughter Debra and her husband Sean and their cats, Cole and Nina."

Monday, June 12, 2006

I've Met A Few Strangers In My Life

Some people never meet strangers; I wish I had that talent. No matter who they run into, no matter where, no matter what the circumstances, there is some sort of instant bond. It takes me a while to warm up, to get a conversation going, to feel at ease with another person. I probably spent my first five months in utero trying to get up the courage to inquire as to who was this big person on the other end of my umbilical cord. On the other hand, my brother, at that stage, had probably already made an invitation to take her out for coffee and play a hand of pinochle.

I've seen salesmen glad-hand me and act as if I were their newest best friend, their pal, the most intelligent and wonderful person on earth. That's not what I mean; they are meeting a stranger and the relationship ends when they hand me the sales receipt and start scanning for the next prey.

There is an art -- is it inborn? -- to meeting people as friends from Moment One. Not lifelong friends, of course, because you have just met them, but people with whom you can instantly identify with and can meet on some sort of common grounds, even if they are only coffee grounds.

I've also seen people who never met anyone as good as themselves. Pity. They appear to live in some rarefied atmosphere where, I suppose, there might not be enough air for everyone and the peons should stay down where they belong. Unfortunately, almost everyone is a peon and their circle of friends is remarkably small. They meet a lot of strangers and miss the great mix of life, of personalities. How can you enjoy humanity when your experience is so inbred? Reminds me of the Maggie and Jiggs comic strip; she likes the higher stratum and he escapes to Dinty Moore's bar to stay with his friends, the ordinary folks.
A friend has a school assignment to read the classic book, "The Stranger." I've got some who could write a book called, "The Friend." Ask them what a stranger is and they'd have to look it up in a dictionary.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Cobalt Blue Car Is Across The Street

Memories of my grandparents' house. For some reason, my brother and I ended up on the covered front porch; maybe we were getting underfoot inside and our mother needed a reason to get us out. It was a large porch and she sat us in two chairs. Our instructions, in this hurriedly made-up game, were to count the cars going by. My brother got all the black cars, I got all the colored cars. As I recall, we pretty much came out even. You couldn't get away with that today.

Across the street are a cobalt blue car, one that's gray and one that's white. The car I use is some kind of red; my boss lets her son use their yellow car; one friend's is green. Ah, a black car just went by.

At one time, cars tended to have two colors. One of ours, a '55 Chevy, was red and white. A friend, who lived closer to the lighthouse, had pink and gray (popular colors then). I can't remember the last time I saw a car painted in two colors, nor do I notice cars with whitewall tires. They used to have white turn signals; now they are all amber. I remember watching the switchover and wondering how long it would take for all the whites to disappear. You hardly see suicide knobs on steering wheels these days; maybe I would if I looked closer.

Running boards don't seem that popular anymore, now that cars are lower. I remember a Hudson where you stepped in and then down. There was a nickname for it, but I forget what it was. Like the old Studebaker that looked the same, front and back, said to "go through life glass backwards." My uncle Ross had one.

What I really need right now is a two-tone (one of them black) car with whitewalls. Only in a nightmare would I settle for one of those hideous Chryslers, I think, that had three colors; looked like a birthday cake on wheels. A color scheme that lasted one year.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I *CAN* Get That Satisfaction

One of the most satisfying days of my life: the Motorola two-way radio salesman came calling at our invitation. Several of us gathered in the Security Officer's room, including the Business Manager and I (introduced as a dorm counselor or something, and dressed in a suit). As he spoke, I sat there, glassy-eyed, sometimes staring out the window, obviously bored and out of place.

You see, Motorola has a reputation for, well, they don't have a reputation for being honest to the dot over the last "i" and the crossarm thru the last "t," especially when dealing with unknowing customers.

Meanwhile, back at the sales pitch, the others were paying close attention to The Man Behind The Curtain as he pulled the levers and pushed the buttons. Finally, with a condescending smile, he turned to me and said, "I guess you wouldn't understand any of this." I smiled back and said, "I hold a First-Class FCC Broadcast Engineer's License." I kept my smile as his disappeared into the "Oh, sh*t" realization that someone had been sitting there listening to his overstatements, mis-statements and baloney -- knowing just what was going on.

I kept an expectant smile going. He cleared his throat and went to Plan B: Be a little more honest. It was a wonderful afternoon.

* * *

Yesterday's blog mis-identified the Stan Freberg morality play. It should have been "Incident At Los Voraces," a Spanish word meaning, "The Greedy Ones." I think the last time I heard it was around 1960, so I was pretty close, considering.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Incident At Las Cruces

Back around 1970, I was doing radio near Cape Cod. Just east of New Bedford, a new mall opened -- a big one, judging by its sign: "72 Stores, All Indoors." Seventy-two stores! What more could one ask for? What would you need that was not carried by six dozen shops?

Not big enough, I see. They became larger and larger. The Mall of America, in Bloomington, Minnesota (near Minneapolis/St. Paul) has 520 stores, over 12,000 parking spaces --not counting those for the 12,000 employees-- can fit seven Yankee Stadiums inside (258 Statue of Liberty laying down, or 32 Boeing 747's parked). How big is big enough? Is big enough measured only by the maximum loading of the steel we can raise? The number of stores we think will buy into, and stay with, the place? And after a disaster of any possible origin, does the building withstand and do the customers continue?

Cruise ships are becoming larger and larger. 45,000-ton displacement, 1200-passenger comfortable ships are now the small fry of the industry. One popular ship, in the size becoming common (110,000 tons) holds 3,000 passengers and a crew of 1150; that's 4150 people onboard. The Queen Mary 2 may not hold quite as many people (3870), but it's probably the biggest at 151,400 tons. At least for now. What happens to the cruise industry if one of these goes down? It's hardly possible, given the way they are designed and built, but it sure is possible; you've heard of rogue waves and what can happen if a very large one hits a ship broadside. Highly unlikely, but the Titanic's sinking was also highly unlikely; a number of conditions just happened to add up the wrong way that night.

In 1957, musical satirist and radio comedian Stan Freberg did a skit on his show, which he called "Incident At Las Cruces." It was about two or three casinos in an imaginary gambling city in, perhaps, Nevada. Each tried to outdo the other in the size and drama of its stage show. Finally, to top all the others, one casino announced that it would detonate an H-bomb on its stage. That was the end of the casino, of all casinos, of Las Cruces. Greed and its manifestation in "bigger will earn us more" ended up with nothing.

I'm not afraid of growth. Let us have fast, steep roller coasters; but not so fast and steep that one comes crashing down because it had to be faster and steeper for no good reason than the cash register. A megachurch certainly looks impressive, especially if you are the pastor preaching to the crowd; but it can end up being little more than someone doing stand-up with no personal touch to these thousands.

We don't yearn for big cities, you know. We yearn for the small towns, the mom and pop stores.

My Brother Says, "I Never Get Lost."

From a piece he wrote, "Getting Lost."

I simply decided that I would no longer get lost, but rather I would find new places. YES … and to my kids and wife, "Stuff that in your pipes."

It worked, aw man did it ever work. Unbelievable.

What a pleasure to know that if I missed a fork, 'twas no big deal. One time while driving west in Arkansas I had overdosed my tolerance for Interstates and got off and took a secondary road, and drove and drove and near Ozark my wife saw a sign for a vineyard. Huh…A vineyard in Arkansas? Well I’ll be dipped in… Let’s go, and we did. Turns out that there are a few German families out in that area and it is sort of a micro-climate there and they produce some pretty interesting wines.

We purchased a few and headed on and saw, in Ozark a park, Aux-Arcs. I’m from Québec. This interested me very much, so we stopped. Turns out that Ozark is a twisted name for Aux-Arcs, which in this case means a bend in the river. This bend was a meeting place for fur trappers/traders and First Nation people. Well now I surely went to sleep a bit less dumber that night. I didn’t get lost, I found a new place.

We were out in New Mexico or maybe Arizona, I dunno. I liked the road, had no idea where I was or where I was going and in the middle of nowhere found a sign, "Hot Springs, turn left 10 miles." We did. Fantastic find. Best hot springs we visited on the trip, and we did taste a few, believe me. And you know what? I wasn’t lost, I found a new place. Amazing isn’t it?

In my photo album and in my travel log there are testimonies of the best and worst finds, but mostly there are notations of many, many fine people whom we have met along the way, the down home folk who know how to say "Howdy" and mean it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

So Close, So Far Away

I needed gas last night. Well, I needed gas for quite a few days, but since I don't drive much, I can put it off for a week or two without any problem. Last night, the "Check Gauges" red light went on. It's a nice way of saying, "Hey! You've been putting off filling your tank for too long. In a little while, it's going to be too late!"

So, with reluctance, I pulled into the nearest gas station, about two blocks from my house. I should point out that it's always been about two blocks from my house, but really out of the way since I always make a right turn about one block from my house. That extra block is an inconvenience. Well, usually; last night it was a slight inconvenience. As for my destination, all I had to do was make a loop around the block and there I was.

Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?

Took, I think, 12.75 gallons into a 13-gallon tank. Close, but no embarrassment.

It would be a different matter if I were going on a trip. Fill-up at the nearest station to the Interstate and another when the needle starts dipping below one-half. You never know when you might enter a no-gas-zone, or be stuck in a jam and then you're SOL, as they say. Driving around town with the gas gauge laying down and ready to go to sleep is one thing; gambling on an Interstate is quite another.

On a long trip, passing gas is rude, but passing a gas station is stupid.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I've Got An Idea

I've got an idea: The next time someone tells me the world is coming to an end, I'll ask him to give me all his money. Hey -- he's not going to be using it the next day, so why not give it to me? If he's right, neither one of us will be using it. If he's wrong, I'll have enough to help pay for a cruise and he will look like the idiot he is.

I've got an idea: When someone asks me a rather personal question, I'll lie. "What are those medications for?" I reply, "One is for an uncontrollable rage that comes upon me, the second is to stop projectile vomiting and the third is for something I got from a rat bite that I'd rather not discuss."

I've got an idea: If I'm around someone who is the poster boy/girl for the American Nasty Society, I will be so oblivious. I'll just carry on as if it's a normal person in a normal conversation, smiling and making small talk in a normal, conversational voice. I bet it'll drive them absolutely nuts out of their mind.

I've got an idea: When I am in a restaurant and the waiter (m/f) is having a bad night, on my way out I'll say, "I did this when I was young; I know what it's like. Hang in there." Even if I didn't have that job, it might make the waiter feel as if someone is a battle buddy and understands. That can lessen the load of the person's shift.

I've got an idea: When I don't want to do something that's not required, I'll just say "no." I won't give a reason, because people can find a way around it. I'll just say "no" and follow it with, "I don't want to, thanks." Just because someone wants to go to a bar, or to this place or that, does not mean I have to. I won't lose their friendship over it and, if I do, they weren't real friends anyway; no loss. I don't have to be a doormat just to make other people happy for the moment.

I've got an idea: Turn the tv on when necessary, and only when necessary. Get friends with the quiet, if only in hour or two-hour segments. Some night, you'll forget to turn it on at all and --oh, wow-- didn't miss it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Why Work? Today's The E.O.T.W.

Just sitting here waiting for Jeesus to come on a cloud of glory, angels in front, to his left and right, fiery chariots abounding. It's 666 Day: 6/6/06. Or is that the AntiChrist Day? Is this the day when the Devil comes to take over the world, prancing about in his black pointed shoes, long red cape, trident, pointed tail and horns, wicked grin on his face?

In the sequential numbers that PennDOT hands out to our cars, we had license plate number PKY666 and the local Born Again kept reminding us that it was the devil's car. We kept reminding him that he needed to get a life and, with it, a hobby.

I was in the front seat of a MetroNorth commuter train, the kind where the control cab is right in with the passengers. A new engineer was being shown the route and his trainer commented on the overhead catenaries (MetroNorth is electrified). "Right here, where this branch track joins the main line," he said, "we go from catenary 665 to 667. There's no 666; I don't know why."

Many people have devised many sure-fire ways to discern The Great Day, the Second Coming. The Apostles had it pretty much figured out; they lost. Down through the years, many others have …!Eureka!... come up with the date and, alas, like one current denomination, were left on the mountaintop like any group who waited on the wrong corner for the bus. Back around 1988, I think, one person said, "I realize we know not the day nor the hour, but it doesn't say we can't figure out the month and the year." I think he predicted September of 1988. Later that year, he said he would have to check his calculations again.

666? The smart money says it was a code phrase for Nero's name. The Book of Revelation was a "keep your chin up, we will survive" document for the early Christians in the midst of a dreadful persecution. All the imagery reflects back to the Old Testament and would have been recognized by the Jewish Christians of the day. Should any of those scrolls fall into Roman hands, they would not be able to make sense out of it. If you added up the numbers in Nero's name, it comes out to 666 and he was, in effect, the AntiChrist of the day.

Tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow, we'll talk about something else.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Did Your Ancestral-Great-Grandmother Get Bit On The Tail?

For my Ph.D. studies, probably to begin in the Next Life, because I don't have the time or energy in this one, I want to trace back people's ancestry based on what they are afraid of. I think I can locate each person's lineage by that gene, or chromosome, named "fear of something."

Since most of us, and all other primates, are afraid of snakes, we probably come from an area of the world where they are dangerous and, to survive, we had to develop an instinctual fear of all, poisonous or not. "Can't take a chance," our genetic producers said. "Let's make a marker for them." Those who are not afraid may come from a line of people who developed in another area where snakes are not a problem and, so, they did not develop this characteristic.

Some people are petrified of spiders. Where would poisonous spiders hang out in our earliest days? Maybe that's where these folks' ancestors are from and where that gene or chromosome developed. I've no fear of them at all, so my umpteen-great-grandparents must have come from a safe-spider area. Same goes for mice and anything else you can name.

I don't think these fears of ours are irrational. Your fear of spiders may seem silly to me, but it's not to you and that may be because your ancestrally-great-grandmother got real sick due to a spider bite on her tail. She learned a lesson and her brain said, "Note to self: Pass on a beware-of-spiders gene."

The Envelope, Please

Alumni Weekend is over. Friday night was the mixer; a bit loud, lots of eats, not very lubricated -- just a fine time enjoyed by all. Saturday, around noon and such, was the Alumni Family Picnic; a bit loud, lots of eats, plenty of rugrats -- another fine time enjoyed by all. Sunday evening was the dinner and awards ceremony; much quieter, lots better food and wine -- very enjoyable.

But the awards ceremony, it just dawned on me, was skewed and --in my humble opinion-- the correct way. Of the five recipients, three were in broadcasting and two had been my students. One, the top writer/anchor at the top news radio station in the country, publicly credits me as having lit his passion for the radio business and for his success. I say this only because I'm still boggled by the idea that someone who has his own passion for radio can transmit that to another person who never realized he had it.

Wonder how often that happens? When the Great Day comes, will people find out whose passion they turned on? Maybe everybody learns what their example did, how they inspired others. When my "as a kid" barber died (I saw his obituary online in the hometown newspaper), I wrote to his widow to tell her how much he had influenced my life and what a difference he had made. Her son wrote back and said she was just so overcome and never thought Joe the Barber did any more than cut hair five days a week. You never know.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

And Children Of All Ages

I managed to get a backstage pass for the circus between performances today. The Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey "blue unit" (there's a "red unit" as well, working another part of the country) stopped in Wilkes-Barre for several days of shows. The mile-long train arrived, unloaded everything that a circus needs, then went down to park in the Buttonwood section of nearby Hanover Township -- the only place with sufficient tracks to hold that many cars.

Now that the show is arena-only (I think they folded the big top around 1956), the only change is that there aren't any tents. But out of sight of the audience, I rather doubt things have changed much. I saw one of the performers (I assume; could have been a stagehand) stretched out on three packing cases getting a few winks. Others were grabbing supper anywhere they could, sitting or standing, in corners, on packing cases, in costume or street clothes. When you see Madame La Joule, queen of the aerialists, dressed to the nines and eating pasta on a packing case, you realize why it's better you did not run away to join the circus.

One cute girl was at a sewing machine fixing her costume; it may have been the costume repair "shop," as I saw lots of thread and such. There were make-do curtained dressing rooms that a good gust of wind through an open door would have turned into make-do peep shows.

I saw people lined up at the "pie cart," the food wagon at the back of the arena. They looked like any hard-working people. Clowns, for all I know; maybe stagehands. Hard to tell them apart when the show is not in progress and they aren't in their work clothes.

Later, I passed the classroom. Yeah, the classroom; there are little kids who are growing up in the circus and in there are at least two Ringling Brothers wheeled steel lockers marked "Classroom." The circus children take classes here in this curtained section (not unlike the curtained dressing rooms) and, when I peeked inside, I was told about the nuns who traveled with the show and the priest who was helping them this weekend.

Turns out the nuns are the official chaplains and travel with the Blue Unit. Each weekend they are performing in a city, they find a priest who will have Mass for as many performers who are able to attend during their supper break. That's what was happening in the classroom-turned-chapel. I asked about all the red cloth on the altar table. "Those are the long chiffon drapes the aerialists swing from," my guide told me. "They are new today and the aerialists wanted them blessed before they use them in tonight's show, so the priest has them on the altar."

The Mass was just ending. "Go in peace," the priest said, "and bring joy to the ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages!"

Friday, June 02, 2006

'Round About Midnight

My time of day. The smaller AM radio stations have shut down for the night and the distant stations come in loud and clear. After a while, from my home on the East Coast, I had heard a station on each AM frequency, from 540 all the way up to 1600. That took some doing and it took a lot of hours after midnight.

I did a fair amount of driving then. I worked at some radio stations where I'd do evenings to sign-off and I'd drive back to where I lived. If I didn't have the road to myself, it was nearly so. At one station, I'd occasionally drive the other way, to where my parents lived, leaving the station after its 12:07 a.m. sign off and arriving around 2:45. Me and the truckers. Or, from their point of view, the truckers and that guy in the old VW 'Ghia.

The newspaper I write for is also the one that provides me with copies of the paper for the radio program I do for the blind. Sometimes I go over there when the press run starts around 12:15 a.m.; more often, around 1:30, when the press stops for reloading and it's quiet in what's called the mailing room where the bundles are made up. A noisy newspaper operation becomes still for fifteen minutes while people stand around and chat.

'Round about midnight is the name of a song, but it's also the anthem of the nighthawks among us, the people whose lights are on when you look out your window on a sleepless night, who are the voices on the radio in the wee small hours.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Outside Of Town, Was It News?

It was a town of 3,000 which kept pretty well to itself. Nothing much newsworthy ever happened there; well, maybe a few disagreements and some people who couldn't handle their alcohol on occasion. Once in a while someone would land in the brig. Recently, a guy jumped off the tallest structure in town and died. Tragic, but not the sort of thing that would make the national news.

Except it did: Newspapers, internet, probably radio and tv. The guy wasn't even well-known, but since he dove off a cruise ship, it suddenly became Big News.

It was a town of 4,000 and 128 came down with what we commonly call the Stomach Virus. Not all at once; a few here, a few there over the course of a week. For something that spreads so quickly and fully, it really was amazing that so few were ill. By all the media reports, you'd think this cruise ship was a floating hospital. It's the second most-common illness in this country, outdone only by the common cold, occurring everywhere there are people, all the time. But cruise ships are what get the publicity, not schools or nursing homes.

I don't know the figures on total number of passengers carried each year. Is it eleven million? Or thirty-five million? Both figures ring a bell. Out of those, I think 24 have come up missing in the last five years. My guess is that most are jumpers; it would have been 25, but I stopped one. Add up what cities you need to make those figures and, although 24 missing are still tragic, it's a miniscule figure.

But it makes for breathless, where is their responsibility, we're on your side, reporting by people who will have forgotten this when they produce and broadcast next week's breathless report on, whatever, toads in your toilet or something.

How did humanity last this long without "20/20" and "Primetime Live" and all those eye-popping programs that show up during ratings ("Sweeps") months?