Monday, July 31, 2006

Txt Msgs

With what you hear, you'd think text messaging was invented by today's pre-teens. Ok, they have the cell phones we did not have decades ago, but we still managed to collapse our notes into very compact form.

"J&H arr 4p. Going to M with P. OLOP 10 tmrw ok? HAL tix in at TOFT." That would be one of Mom's text messages on a kitchen table note. Translated: "Jim and Huguette arriving 4pm. Going to Marnick's (diner) with Phyllis. Our Lady of Peace (church) 10:00 tomorrow ok? Holland America Line tickets in at Time Out For Travel."

Mom never used a name if an initial would do. Sometimes it seemed as if entire letters were little more than text messages on paper, rather than cell phones.

Amateur Radio operators took their cue from the telegraph folks. Why use three dashes and four dots to send "and" when just four dots would do the trick with an agreed-upon abbreviation? The number 9 is four dashes and one dot ... unless you just send one dash and one dot; in context, it works fine. A common "loud, clear and stable" signal report would use eight dashes and seven dots, unless you "text messaged" it into two dashes and seven dots.

Braille, likewise, has its own contractions. The word "character" is properly spelled with just three raised dots in two "cells." The word "nationally" takes up but five. Several words only take up one cell each, while many others take up only two.

We may not use POS (Parent Over Shoulder) as a warning, but when I have a joke to send to a family, I'll note in a message, "after 9:30." It's our own text message for, "It's not something the kids should see, so I'll wait until they are in their rooms."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

'Puter Days And 'Puter Nights

Here I sit at our secretary's machine 'cuz mine is acting crazy. After a long career in broadcasting, plus holding the FCC First-Class Broadcast Engineer's license, I know what the reason is: gremlins. That's what we called it in the business. When something went wrong with a camera and we couldn't find the cause, it was gremlins what was doing it. I may yet diagnose the computer's problem but, for now, it's gremlins.

That having been said, I've been here daily since early April and I just don't want to break the continuity. How good is a bridge that almost makes it to shore? An electrical cord that's missing only a quarter inch of wire still will not make your lamp work. A bungee cord ... well, you get the point.

I'm not lost without my friend on the desk, although I would like to know if their are any thunderstorms headed this way. I've got a Doppler weather map bookmarked. Keeping this blog going is also easier when I can just turn around in my chair and write about whatever is on my mind at the moment. (What I wrote for today, and is in the "drafts" folder can easily wait for tomorrow.) My brother is in another country and I like keeping in touch with him, but the closest machine is only a block away, right here, and I can use the walk -- although it's not fun in this hot, humid weather.

Like a kidney stone, this too shall pass.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


"Thomas Caaten?"
"Sorry, he's not in his office right now."
"Ok; I call back."

You can bet your turban he will. Death, taxes and VISA. I don't believe in death (well, bodily death, yes; eternal, no); you can evade taxes to an extent, especially if you are rich; but VISA's telemarketers will get through. You are on a life raft in the middle of the ocean after a rogue wave has sunk your ship and your cell phone rings. "Mr. Carten, we would like to help with your account insurance." You sit there stunned, watching the propellers disappear beneath the waves. "Well, I could use a new ship at this point, or maybe a Coast Guard helicopter or a C-130."

It doesn't matter what you say, because they will call again that afternoon, tomorrow at the latest. "Mr. Caahten, you can charge that C-130 transport to your VISA card, as we have raised your credit limit. You just need to agree to a 75% APR starting when they drop the cable."

Effers are probably paying these people five cents an hour and overcharging them for their rice lunch.

Meanwhile, back in Delaware, the Accounting Department has been poring over the weather and survival pages of the Singapore Daily Times. "Look here, one of them says," lifting his green eyeshade. "In areas where devastation was not 100% and people are trying to rebuild, they will work for four cents an hour and not break for lunch!"

The phone rings, but this time the caller has a different accent.

The Realtor's Online Photos Looked Great ... It Was Just Reality That Didn't

A friend of mine is "sort of" looking to leave her mobile home and live out her days in a real house. One with a cellar, maybe an attic, wider than 14' and a little more dignity than saying you live in a mobile home park.

Visit #1 of two. Nice view of the Valley, nice yard. Too bad the Realtor can't get in; but all is saved when the neighbor teen goes thru a hatch on the roof and opens the kitchen door for us. We swelter as the Realtor tells us there is no central air. We also notice that it place could use some work (pronounced "$$$"). On with the search.

So on to #2, same Realtor. Nice little place, brick, quite old but cute. Went in thru the basement kitchen. What A Dump! And it looked so nice on the Realtors' online site, inside and out. It would be ideal for someone from VoTech who had some money to put into rebuilding it. I think the Realtor knew from our silence, from the first moment, that this one was a loser.

My friend said, "My mobile home, with its large master bedroom, roomy kitchen and central air, looks pretty good."

This should be an interesting process.

Friday, July 28, 2006

On Visiting My Old Apartment

The construction company and our maintenance people have been working on the left side (187) of the double-block where I used to live, up to a year ago when I moved across the street to here. Every so often, I drop in and see how they are doing; the place was pretty much a mess and they are fixing it up nicely. It will be home, however temporary, for some sports interns who are currently living on the right side (185). Most of our buildings are known by their street numbers – so, for example, I moved from 187 across the street to 190.

I lived in 187 twice; once recently, in the first floor front and, many years ago as a student, on the third floor middle. I had also lived, my first student year, at 149, a classroom and office building; I was on the sixth floor, rear, overlooking the inside of the place. One room was 11x11 with no bath; that was down the hall. I was the last student to live in 149, what had been, years earlier, a dorm -- I was also the only student living in the building now. As an older student, I was not going to live with the "just out of high school" crowd in the real dorm.

Much later, when I was working here, I lived at 133, the main dorm. Three years as a Resident Counselor on the 7th floor and 20 years up in a real small private "apartment" (ha ha) above the dorm floors in room 1103 or 1106, depending on the years.

That's seven difference places in what is a rather small college campus where most of the buildings are almost literally within throwing distance of each other.

Over the years, I've lived in a good many buildings of various types (including two barns in Massachusetts and an old estate manor house on the side of a mountain in Vermont). I've done radio in the Exide Battery building, the basement of an abandoned theater, a radio station at a dump, one in a bank and another that wasn't even on a street -- they invented a name for the sidewalk to use as an FCC address.

So I visited my old apartment at 187, without much feeling one way or the other. Been there for three years; four, if you count my student time on the third floor. Took my Donald Duck faceplate off the light switch in what had been my room and put the original plate back on; wished them a good day and came back here to 190.

That duck faceplate has been with me through several apartments. Where I go, it goes.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I've Got This Theory

When you've been blogging daily for the past four months, it can be hard to remember if you mentioned something already.

Cell phones. Did I give you my theory as to why people using cell phones in public are so irritating? It's nothing more than 'cuz we are voyeurs, every one of us. We want to be able (or potentially able) to hear both sides of a conversation. If two people are walking along ahead of us, even if we don't care what they are talking about, we want to hear both of them talking.

Yeah, we're snoops by nature. Maybe it's what has kept us going as a species for all this time. We knew what others were planning and our genes, or something, haven't adjusted yet. So we get a little irritated when we see people walking around talking, not to someone next to them, but into a phone to someone at a distance.

Gotta be. My theory, anyway.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Real Fear Factor, Not The TV Type

I was in a place today and their tv was showing "Fear Factor." I remarked that it should be titled, "Beautiful Young Women Wearing Practically Nothing Factor." The guys agreed, but without taking their eyes off the screen. While I could admire the pulchritude hanging by their feet on a cable from a helicopter (they were supposed to fetch some objects in the water), I was also somewhat amused by the lack of real fear in the whole operation.

A well-maintained, inspected and licensed helicopter; ditto on the cable. I'm sure that, outside camera range, the producers had whatever emergency assistance might be needed in case anything went wrong. I don't know if there were any rehearsals, but it would not surprise me to find out the girls did a bit of training before the show was taped.

Let's go back to the mid-1920's. Back to the days when barnstormers would fly from airport to airport and put on shows with whatever they could keep in the air. They used to take people up on a "penny-a-pound" rate for a spin around the airport and you can bet there were teenage girls who would bet each other they wouldn't do it.

Well, I know of two who did. Mom and her best friend. You don’t bet Mom won’t do something.

I don't know how well-maintained the aeroplane was, or how old. Was it something left over from the Great War? Were airplanes inspected and licensed in those days? Pilots were licensed, but what shape were they in? Most likely, nobody thought about that, but going up in one was certainly somewhat of a real fear factor. The airport was surrounded by lots and lots of swamp, tidal marsh and water, with a fair amount of open fields somewhat beyond. It was not a friendly environment.

Mom said she told her mother after she got home. She did not say what happened after that. But no matter where we flew in Alaska, no matter what type of plane or whether it had wheels or floats, she was never afraid. I guess her "been there, done that" was far more exciting than some dull inspected, approved, licensed and safe airplane.

When I Do It, There's A Reason...

...anyone else, they're just idiots.

I was here in my Philosopher's Stance (seated at my desk, hot steaming mug of tea at the ready, soft jazzy music playing in the background, cat curled up on her perch in the window at the back of my desk).

Carefully pondering the mysteries of the universe, so I might post my conclusions here, I noticed that what I do makes sense -- but when others do the same things, it's because they are flat-out idiots.

When I am looking for something as I drive along (a house, a cross street, for instance), I will naturally slow down. Do you expect me to go full-blast and still find what I am looking for? But let someone else go creeping along --"idiot!"-- and we suddenly forget that it makes sense when we do it.

I think it's so funny. When I see someone doing something dumb, I think, "Is this something I do??" Yeah, probably ... I'm what they call an idiot for doing what other people have a good cause.

One person's good reason is another's stupidity; one’s stupidity is another's good reason.

Maybe there will be The Great Day when we will understand why someone did that apparently stupid thing, and they will find out that what we did wasn't so dumb after all. We’ll probably all be pretty surprised.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

An addition to Saturday's blog

Speaking of rain and weather: I missed either a small tornado or a microburst by not very many minutes and by a mile or two while driving yesterday. Didn't notice anything; no rain, no winds, no construction trailers or trees flying through the air. Saw it all on the evening news. Mother Nature's tantrum.

Let's Hear The Cash Register Ring

For many radio stations, especially the smaller ones, Sundays can be the most profitable day of the week.

At one station where I worked, we had a Portuguese program that lasted maybe two hours and there were so many commercials (all in Portuguese) that we had to run two and three in a row to fit them all in. We just could not fit any more in. ka-CHING. We had a French-speaking show, one in Polish, and another in Portuguese.

Locally, on one station, there's a Polka show, an Italian/American program, specialty music shows. ka-CHING.

They may be corny, they may not be for everybody (and certainly not for most people), but the intended audience will support them quite well. Advertisers love them: Where can a kielbassa shop reach its target audience best than on the polka show? The Latino grocer loves the weekly Hispanic program.

And the cash register rings. It may ring loudest only on Sunday, but whatever may be the coin of the realm, it's still green and has pictures of dead presidents on it.

The Lord's Day is also the day of the Almighty Dollar. And stations worship at the altar of the latter.

If It Keeps Up, It Won't Come Down

We've had some odd rain lately. Two days ago, there was the pitter-patter of a very light rainfall during supper; very quickly, it turned into a raging squall. Reminded me of a spoiled little brat of a kid who goes from fussy into full-blast tantrum in a matter of seconds. The rains came, the winds came and they carried on at full volume for several minutes until they (a) ran out of steam or (b) more likely just took their show on the road and moved off.

Today, just the rain. A few drops here and there, then the firehose opened up. Straight down it came, from cloud to ground, drenching even those who were mere yards from safety.

Speaking of tantrums and rain: we had a somewhat immature freshman in a high school where I worked. He was known for his tantrums. I think one time he threw one in class and a couple of students went out and got two small buckets of water which they poured over him. End of tantrum.

Someone told me that, in Florida, it can be raining on one side of the street and not the other. It's that well-defined. There are places, especially in Southeast Alaska, where daily rain is common; in Southwest Florida, so uncommon that the daily newspaper is free when it rains (maybe 5 days per year).

The weather is quiet now, although I can hear lightning static on the radio. Probably storms off in the distance and nothing we will get overnight.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Oddly Enough...

I never thought much about it before; apparently I put my socks on left-right, but put my shoes on right-left. During meals, I usually eat and drink with my left hand (but not always); afterwards, when we have dessert, I eat and drink with my right hand. Sitting down, I write with my left hand, but am right-handed when writing at a blackboard.

I guess there are a lot of things we do without particularly thinking about them. My grandfather, so I understand, lit his pipe as he left work and struck the match on the same brick for 52 years or whatever it was. I get out of bed on the wall (south) side, even though the door and bathroom are on the open (north) side. Why? Because I do and I really don't have a rational answer other than it seems the right way to do it.

Like many people, I do sometimes start reading magazines from the back. That's only because the editors realized that back pages are good pages, not to be wasted on classified ads. The pieces are short, interesting and good reading if you are eating alone (or in a diner). Why do people start there? I don't know, but it's a not-uncommon practice.

What I definitely don't like is when I show a person something printed and they immediately turn it over to see what's on the other side. Now I paste it up on card stock (we have lots of leftover tickets here) and paste two of the cards together. When someone looks at what I gave them and immediately turns it over, there's just a blank side. Sometimes they will ask why I did that and I'll nicely say, "Most people want to see what's on the other side; I want you to see what I brought you."

Everybody Has A Story
Philip Waznakowski passed away recently. He was in the Army and served in the Pacific. He was present at General MacArthur's famous landing where he remarked, "I will return to the troops." It mentioned his later career as a policeman: "He was discreet with handling offenders while upholding the laws." I would assume that a good many first-timers got off with a stern warning and never became second-timers.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Thoughts That Came To Mind

We're losing the Moon, at the rate of 1.5" per year. A real long time ago, it appeared a lot larger in the sky than it does now, mainly because it was a lot closer than it is now. Can you imagine the moonrise they had back then? One of these days, or eons, it just won't be with us anymore.

You can't tell me. Also known as, "I'm not going to change my mind." You're right; I can't tell you anything and that's kinda tragic. I may, or may not, be right -- but at least give me a listen with an open mind. If I'm not right, I may have a view that can help you with yours.

The law's on my side. When you have to rely on that, there's probably something wrong with your civility. I know people who have gone through their entire lives without uttering that phrase. If you have to resort to the law, then what's not on your side? Kindness?

Rules of the road. Someone told me, years ago, the wisest words about driving. "The right-of-way is something the other guy gives you; if he doesn't give it to you, then you haven't got it." I've avoided a lot of wrecks that way. Just because his light is red and mine is green doesn't mean anything.

Another rule of the road. Here's something else I picked up along the way. It, too, is filled with wisdom: "Don't argue the right-of-way with a vehicle that has more wheels than yours." I know that from driving a car in Boston, and I know it from driving a truck in Boston; it's a lot more fun driving the truck.

Toilets, use of. Mom said, "Never pass up the chance to use the toilet." Right she was; the greatest words of wisdom anyone ever uttered. You never know where the next one will be and no sadder phrase is, "I can wait." The corollary, "Go before you go."

New things & other works of the devil. I've noticed that churches, as well as people in general, distrust new thoughts. What we don't understand, is bad; churches pronounce so much as instruments of the devil. Just in the past few years, Catholics have been allowed to believe the Earth revolves around the Sun, and not the other way.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Big Top

Just spent the last twenty minutes reading a web site devoted to "The Big Top," a CBS-TV network program that was broadcast in the 1950's. It was a circus-type program, done live from an armory in Camden NJ every Saturday noon. In those days, "live" meant, well, live; while you were doing something in front of a camera, people were watching you at the same time in their homes.

As I remember the show, it had the "spec," the opening parade of performers, followed by circus acts of all types. There was even a circus band and Sealtest ("Get the best, get the best, get Sealtest") was the sponsor. It must have been a bear to broadcast, as the whole thing was actually a tv show which had a start and end time, camera angles and such. A much younger Ed McMahon was one of the clowns in his first national tv exposure; in those early (1953) days, anything on national tv would be your first exposure.

"The Big Top" was a big show, the kind of challenge that broadcasters rise to; in its day, perhaps the Mount Everest for producers and directors alike. ABC, always the fourth of the three networks, had "Super Circus," which seemed like the poor cousin, the not-quite-there version. It was on a stage with a studio audience and had three glass candy jars on stage; at one point, three or four children could stick their hands in the jars and take as many pennies, nickels or dimes as they could grab. The acts were ok, but you never had the feeling you got from "The Big Top": This was a Real Circus, this was in a large armory, this had a ringmaster on the floor rather than on the edge of a stage.

They did it right. Too bad they don't do it anymore.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Half-Clipped Hedge

Who am I to complain about the people across the street and their half-clipped hedge? I've got plenty of half-done things in my own room. But there it sits, the side on Franklin Street reachable from the sidewalk done rather nicely, but the rest of it running wild -- as is the side on North Street. I don't know what's in there; pythons, perhaps, maybe long-tailed marsupials or little boys in tree houses.

Don't get me wrong; I like things that have gone wild. It reminds me of where I lived when I was a kid. Maybe things weren't quite like that but, when you're only pint-sized, it looks like a rain forest fairly filled with mystery and adventure. You could hide in there and feel safe; from what, I don't know, but you were safe.

The hedges are blowing right now, as we are expecting a thunderstorm with strong winds. That would be a great place to escape the rain. It will come pouring down everywhere but under this hedge gone wild; a few drops, but nothing we couldn't deal with. Would Mom have called us in? Dunno. Flip a coin on that one; she was pretty good on that sort of thing. My money says we would have stayed out there until we got drenched and, when we finally ran for the house, we would find hot cocoa waiting for us.

I’ve got plenty to do in my own place, much less worry about the neighbor’s half-done hedge. But before I do anything, I guess I should make a mug of tea.

Monday, July 17, 2006

There'll Be Another In Just Thirty Seconds

Another MVA, as the cops call it, over at the corner of North Main and West Jackson Streets. People going east on Jackson Street will squeeze the last ounce out of a yellow light, as will people going on Main Street.

Thump. Not screech, crash, bang, explosion, fire as in the movies. Just thump.

You'd think they were looking at The Last Green Light In The World. There will never be another one; they will never see their kids grow up and get married. Run the yellow, even though if it's been a slight shade of red for the last twenty-five feet. You gotta get where you're going because... =thump=.


I haven't timed many lights, but I think you can figure most simple intersections deal the cards about every thirty seconds. Complex meeting places are a bit different. Still, the green eye on the bottom of the PennDOT totem pole will stare at you in a reasonable amount of time.

Maybe it's old age; maybe it's being mellow. It could be mellow about the yellow, but I don't squeeze the lemon traffic light. If I can make it, fine; if it's going to turn red before I get there, I'll wait for the green rather than wait for the tow truck.

Hey, for another thirty seconds…

Sunday, July 16, 2006

And They Marched The Illegals, Hungry And Thirsty, To The City Line

The city of Hazleton PA wants to be rid of people who are living there illegally. (Ok, what they really mean are all those Mexicans who snuck across the border.) One can argue the point, as our economy is, in many ways, dependent on cheap labor, however we find it.

But the mayor and his scared populace really want to solve their problem with an intensive cleansing. The original law would shut down a franchise if any other unit, anywhere in the country, had hired an illegal resident; it would fine landlords if they rent to illegals, whether or not they are aware of the persons' status.

The present law is a little less stringent, if no less draconian. Everyone who is a renter must prove to the city that they are citizens of the US or are here legally. Otherwise, the landlord gets a $1000 fine, plus $100/day. Anyone who provides goods or services to a person who is here illegally gets fined.

Goods or services? Yes, goods: You cannot sell them food, water, a bus ticket, clothes or anything else. Services? If one wants to leave the city, you cannot give them a ride; you cannot give them English lessons; you cannot give them directions; you cannot provide religious services.

They are the untouchables of Hazleton's society, not to be fed, clothed or housed; not to be aided in any way. And woe to those who do so; the authorities will punish them for extending even the least humane care.

Hazleton is an overwhelming Catholic city. A city in which its citizens hear the Gospel reading which tells what happens to those who did not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, etc. "Inasmuch as you did not do it to these, the least of my brethren," Jesus says, "you did not do it for me," and then He condemns them to hell.

We do have a problem (call it "illegals" or the p.c. "undocumented" as you will) and Hazleton, with a fast-growing immigrant population, has a big problem which is scaring the locals. Something has to be done. But not in the way that will have Jesus pointing out to them that they could at least have been humane about the whole thing.

I'm sure you do not need to be religious to recognize the essential dignity of those who crossed an invisible boundary without the proper piece of paper containing the proper characters in ink.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Church of Saints Barnes & Noble

Fiction is not where I hang out, even if (as a mariner) I am attracted to the idea of a green light at the end of Daisy's dock. That is almost all I remember from the book.

But history, railroads, broadcasting, maritime: toss it at me. When I was in grammar school, I read the entire "Landmark" series of American history, along with anything I could get from the town library. Generally, I went through a book each day while there and the librarians told me I was no longer restricted to the "Junior" section and could roam the Adult section and check out any book I wanted. I would not know this phrase until much later, but it was like having a credit card in a whorehouse.

My bathroom reading, at the moment, is "Great American Eccentrics." Good, quick reading. Next one will probably be "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pirates," if I don't assign it to some other part of my day. I might take it on my upcoming cruise and leave it in the ship's library for others to enjoy. Arrrrrrrr!

I left the paperback edition of "Plain Speaking," Harry Truman's oral biography in print (a wonderful book, by the way) at my mother's house and would read it in the bathroom. All the pages were now loose from being read so often and I could just lay it on the bathtub's rim. Must have read it four or five times over and I think I have a better copy here for further perusal.

"The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved," by Larry Kusche will have you shouting "Bunk! Bunk!" at your tv screen when all those Triangle shows come on. A thoroughly researched and highly readable book about the occurrences, such as they were (and, in many cases, were not).

"The Last Log of the Titanic," by David Brown, gives a moment-by-moment explanation of most likely happened on the ship, taken from the original testimony. Darn, people overlooked so many clues and this fellow managed to put them in context. No, the ship did NOT hit an iceberg and nobody ever said it did; that's on page 97.

Four-And-Twenty Cops Baked In A Pie

So there I was, dropping off a newspaper around 1:15 a.m. at the front door of my townhouse other-wall. Two kids are running like crazy down the street and into the old lady's driveway next door.

"Doesn't look good," I thought. "And I'm not going to stop them."

I went to the back of the house, the common parking lot, to see where they went, just as a cop pulled up. "You looking for two kids?" He was. "Down there in that path."

So, anyway, he caught the kids ("I gotta find mah bitch," one said, as he tried to run off) and three other cops arrived. After a while, things settled down and we stood around chatting.

...Just another day at work for the cops and another night here on North Franklin.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mahnny City, San Sooey Parkway

We know if you're an Outsider. Just tell us where we live and we'll tell you if you belong here.

Mahanoy City:
Started out as Ma-ha-noy, but to the locals it's "Mahnny."

San Souci Parkway:
San Sooey to us, regardless of what they say in Paris.

Peabody was the governor in Massachusetts, but PEA-biddy is the town.

Anything other than "BONstibble" makes you one of Them.

Where you from? It's P.A. And it’s not a state; it’s a Commonwealth.

The Avenue:
Live anywhere in Wyoming Valley, with its multitude of Avenues, you'll soon find there is only one "The Avenue" -- Wyoming Avenue on the West Side. There are two "Cross Valley Expressways," but only one gets called "The Cross Valley"; the other is well-used, but mostly forgotten. You can cross the river on the North Street Bridge, the Pierce Street Bridge or the Veterans' Memorial Bridge; they're all the same piece of construction.

Spelling our city's name:
Nobody knows. At one time, it was "Wilkesburg"; later, it was "Wilkesbarre;" currently it is "Wilkes-Barre." With the latest spelling, it had an accent over the last "e" for a while, but that has been dropped. I don't think John Wilkes or Isaac Barre ever saw the place. It's pronounced "Barry," in case you were wondering. Not Bear (that's an animal), Berra (the baseball player), Bar (that's a tavern) or Barray (the French way).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Wednesday For You; Columnday For Me

Columnday is here again. This is the day when I look out the window and wonder what I'm going to write for the newspaper's Friday edition. It's going to be on Big Band music; that much I know. It's also going to remind me how quickly Wednesdays come along -- hardly have I finished a column for one than another is coming down the track at me like a fast passenger train. No other day arrives so regularly and as fast as Wednesday, Columnday; the others come and go in some sort of order and, generally, not that fast.

June Allyson passed on to glory this week. She was a cute actress over the years and, I think, did commercials at the end just as cute, if not older. I'll see how much I can find out about her and if it's 18 column inches, I'm ok for another week. I mean, yeah, it's sad when one of the good ones go, but it's good for a columnist; you have these mixed feelings all the time. She was cute and bubbly on-screen, had her personal difficulties off-screen as we all do.

It's surprising, sometimes, to realize that many of these people have home lives not much different from ours. Some are star-struck to the point of feeling they are always stars, even at home, but lots of them turn it off when they go home and deal with the kids, the garbage, the lawn.

And me? I'm doing my laundry, thinking about making another mug of tea, writing this blog, prepping my radio show and pondering June Allyson's contribution to the arts. It's Columnday and she will be the subject.

$150 Worth of Woody Herman's Orch

One of the advantages of working out of my room is being able to listen to compact discs if I feel like it. Couple of days ago, a friend sent me a collection of Woody Herman and his Orchestra. For those who tuned in late, Woody was quite the bandleader and this set of discs covers his work for Columbia records from 1945-1947. I haven't counted the pieces, but it takes seven cd's to hold them all. Plus a 32-page booklet. Plus the container to make this a boxed set. Amazon prices it at $150; for my friend, it's pocket money.

He likes the newspaper column I write each week about the big band days. Much of that came from the years I spent as a disc jockey, playing the bands and, generally, music before 1950. This fellow is a member of the Musicians' Union in New York City. I thought of joining the Local in our city, but never got around to it. That would have been neat: a Union musician who has a music column in the newspaper and used to be a dj. Put that in my obituary next to my years spent as a Notary Public.

You can be sure I sent him a very sincere and enthusiastic Bread & Butter Letter in reply. On paper, with a stamp, promptly.

I read too many letters in the advice columns about people who received this or that gift and never responded. Did it arrive? Did they like it? Do they have any manners? Should I even bother again?

My brother and I had to set up an account to settle Mom's estate some years back. The bank we chose was a fairly small branch a few miles from her house. The manager was very helpful, especially since I live in another state and my brother lives in another country. After a year or so of dealing with the manager, we wrote a letter of appreciation to the head of the corporation, as well as one to her. She told us that, in twenty years of being in banking, it was the first thank-you letter she had ever received.

You don't have to wait until someone sends you a $150 set of cd's to thank them. A note to their boss (with a copy to them); a word of thanks, especially in front of a higher-up; you never know what kind of day they've had and what this can do for them.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

At Least The Bad Guys Are Shooting The Bad Guys

There have been a lot of shootings in Our Fair City these past few years. It's not a case where you might walk down the street, feel a sting and the next thing you are meeting your deceased relatives. It's pretty much a certainty that when two drug dealers (or dealer and user) have had a little disagreement, it will be settled in the time-honored fashion: one person shoots the other. Argument settled.

It's hard for me to feel much sorrow over this. I look at the newspaper story and think, "Well, there's one more off the streets. Drug dealers don't live long and this one isn't going to change the stats."

But, to play the Angel's advocate, they are people -like us- who somehow went wrong. They were born with the same possibilities: "Tabla Rasa," it used to be called, "a clean slate upon which anything can be written." Unfortunately, they started writing the wrong things on theirs: get money fast, live for today, forget what your parents taught you, forget the accumulated wisdom passed down by your church.

At one point, while most people were planning their lives' careers, these people decided that drug dealing would bring in a lot of money fast. It never seemed to dawn on them that there aren't a whole lot of old drug dealers, maybe not even a whole lot of middle-aged drug dealers. Nor did they get the idea that if it seemed they were stepping on another dealer's turf, it would be in tomorrow's newspaper; ditto with any suspicion they were holding back money.

Each zygote is such promise; each birth is such hope. How do you play the gift of life that has been given you?

Isn't it strange that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common people like you and me
Are builders for eternity?

Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass, a book of rules;
And each must make - ere life is flown -
A stumbling block or a steppingstone.

--R. L. Sharpe

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Painting The Kids' Rooms

From my friend John, the homeowner:

"Did some painting prep (light spackling and caulking) upstairs. I've painted the girls' room and our upstairs bathroom but still have two more rooms to do. Painting is such that you have to really do the prep right or the job doesn't look right. I'm sure there is a metaphor there, but I can't see it at the moment."

When I was the Music, Dance and Drama Critic for the local newspaper, I interviewed who I secretly knew was going to be the winning candidate for the conductor's position of the area philharmonic orchestra. This had to be a perceptive article, as mine was an exclusive.

"Tell me what you do at rehearsals," I began. I had been in a community chorus, a good one, for a while and I knew it's where all the work is done, all the learning, the polishing, the directing. At a concert, the conductor's work is pretty much just the final mix -- a little more here, a little less there, a little direction over there. But the rehearsals are where the foundations are laid. Musicians just don't appear on stage, no matter how good they are, and start playing the notes in front of them. Even with limited rehearsals, they need to make sure their interpretation is the conductor's, that their foundation is the same.

No dj (at least, no good dj) goes into a radio studio without having a playlist in hand, commercial announcements lined up, weather forecast handy and a bit early to chat with the previous announcer and get a feel for how things have been going. The executive chefs in fine restaurants will gather the cooks and staff to run down what's on the menu, and this is well after they have procured the meat and vegetables needed for the meals that day. Everybody knows what's going on and nobody says, "I don't know; I'm not sure." They know because they are prepared.

If it's your first time painting an interior wall, there are helpful people in hardware stores who will show you the process. You might be itching for the finished product in half an hour, but you know that it will look better and last far longer if you spend a lot of time prepping the wall, filling little holes, scraping off old paint or wallpaper, cleaning the surfaces.

You just don't run into life and figure out what you'll do when you get there.

True, parts of life will surprise you, but you should know how to change a tire before you get a flat. It's good to have a game plan of sorts for when personal or emotional disaster strikes; that's called "character." You can't plan specifics, but you can prep your life, spackle your dents, scrape off the junk that hangs on. When you get blindsided, at least you won't fly off in all directions at once.

It takes time to develop character, just as it takes time to prep the kids' bedroom walls.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Watcha Doin'?

Exploring part of my mind, and writing it out on the internet, specifically on this Web Log. Something I do every day to keep my brain fresh. Each day, another part; you just never know what's in there and you can find some nice surprises.

Ah, a research door: I'm researching a word the Merriam-Webster dictionary people forgot to include. They suggested if I can show it's been used over a long period of time, in various media and not just in one area, they will consider it. I kept at it, asking my friends to send me any references they found; I also went through dusty reference books in equally dusty corners of libraries. "Hizzoner," the light second reference to His Honor, the Mayor, is now listed. Took five years and about a hundred referenced citations.

Another door: The possibilities. Not that I was born in 1942's United States, white, male, East coast. No; the possibility that I was born on this planet, or in this galaxy. I could have been born a million years ago on another galaxy to another family. My religion could have been --I don't know-- something, most likely presided over by a Saviour who might have come in much the same way as on Earth. Who knows?

Here's a door marked talents: Are you born with them, or do they develop over time? I wanted to play the piano, so I taught myself when I was 21; took trumpet lessons at 37. My brother's great communications mastery, until he was 60, was the ballpoint pen and now he is designing his own web pages, putting Photo Shopped digital photos on them and in general using the new technology rather well.

One door marked "impossible": There are things we will never do, but would love to accomplish. I think it's important to have unreachable goals. Paris Hilton, the spoiled little brat, recently said she's bored; if she weren't so rich, that wouldn't happen. We need it, this unattainable. Because, in reality, I almost certainly will never achieve mine, I will never get to the point where I will have had it all and be bored. I can dream, and smile as I do so.

As we say in radio, "That's our blog for today; thanks for tuning in and we'll see you tomorrow."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Did I Think It Was 1970?

The car's other driver was going on a jaunt downstate a bit, so I figured I might as well fill the tank for him. Unfortunately, the pump's electronics jammed after I put my card in, so I had to pay in advance -- and had no idea how much it would take. "Seven dollars ought to bring it over the halfway mark," I told the clerk. She gave me a look, but took the sale. I got the gas, but noticed it was, holyangelsinheaven, only three gallons! No wonder the clerk seem to think I was odd and, perhaps, from another planet where gas is cheap.

Not really. Just for a moment I must have had a flashback to the gas station where I worked. People would pull up in their cars and ask for "two dollars worth, please." I'd stick the nozzle in their tank, then clean the windshield and back window, check the oil and get back to the nozzle in time as it approached the two dollar amount. Never broke a sweat.

That was in the days when odometers only had five digits and you marveled at anyone who had "rolled it over" and started fresh from five zeros again. Someone came in with a four- or six-year old Nova that had rolled over by five thousand miles. Wanted a grease and oil. I told the customer how impressed I was with the way he had kept his car so clean, scratch-free, etc, for having gone 105,000 miles. He said, "No, that's only 5,000 miles. I live in New York City; we don't use our cars there except for vacations and things like that and the rest of the time it's kept in a garage."

At one time, I was a restaurant parking lot attendant. An older couple came in with a T-bird that was tossing steam out the sides like an old locomotive. They did that with little provocation. I asked what had happened and they said traffic had backed up at the drawbridge; they didn't know if the garage had checked the radiator before they left. I told them it would be fine and to enjoy their meal. After letting the car cool for about half an hour, I started bringing out gallon jugs of water; the radiator normally took five and I emptied four into it. Got a nice tip.

The best vehicle I ever drove? Depends. I used to drive a snowplow with three axles, a gearbox with two ranges and ten or twelve forward gears. Never got stuck; all I had to do was find the right range (upper or lower) and the right gear within that range for whatever I had to do. Had a VW Karman Ghia, bought off someone's front lawn for $450; 4 cylinders, 3 worked; loved to be driven, went downhill real well. Used to drive an airplane push truck with 500-pound fenders (and no springs) to get really good traction when you have to push back Flight 100 for service to Detroit, Salt Lake City and Seattle. New members to the mile-high club are invited.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

There's A Telephone Pole Outside My House

Maybe they're called "utility poles" these days, same as the Post Office is now the "Postal Service." Far as I'm concerned, they're phone poles and post offices.

But I digress.

This one has a lot of wires hanging on it. First ones, going up, belong to the phone company; that's standard everywhere in the country. No matter what you call the stick, no matter who owns it, telephone is the first set of wires on the bottom. Ma Bell and all her little Ding-A-Lings don't want their repair crews climbing through anyone else's copper, especially if it carries the product of the local electric company.

Next up is the cable tv. (I might note, at this point, the travels of a squirrel while I was writing the paragraph above. It ran past my house on the cable wire and across a busy street, just as casual as you would like.)

After that comes any other incidental wires and, always on top, electrical service. Whatever is the topmost wire is the high voltage. We have some transformers dropping the voltage for local use; I'm hoping none of these blows up, as they provide quite a (dangerous) show when they depart this world. On the other hand, since they are grounded, lightning will be more prone to hit them rather than us.

I sometimes wonder how many miles of wire we have hung/buried on our planet? That includes suspension bridges, as well as communications wires in buildings, electrified railroads, power grids, etc. I'm not interested in how many times to the moon and back; I want to know how far it would reach to Mars.

With no apologies to Frank Sinatra
(check my entry for Sunday, July 2):

"Fly me to the moon / and let me play among the stars.
I want to know the wire it takes / to reach from Earth to Mars."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ha, Ha; You Can't Catch Me

Some people commit crimes and then take refuge in a country which does not have an extradition treaty with theirs. There they live, rich and happy until their predetermined number of heartbeats is reached and they pass on without the indignity of a trial and imprisonment. Others have better defense lawyers than the prosecution; if anything does happen to them, it's of such minor consequence they smile with a shrug of their shoulders and take the ritual slap on the wrists.

They got away with it.

Hitler shot himself; O. J. Simpson vowed to spend the rest of his life looking for his wife's killer, at least on golf courses and at country clubs; Ken Lay, after ruining thousands of peoples' savings and retirement accounts, died of a massive coronary before seeing the inside of a jail.

Never served a minute of time; got off scot-free.

Remember the old adding machines that had a "Subtotal" button on them? You would push it to see where you stood at any particular point in your calculations. When you were done, and only then, you pushed the "Total" button to finish the transaction (or whatever you were working on). I am a firm believer that, on this planet and in our creation, we do not have a "Total" button in our justice system. Two reasons: (1) We can make mistakes and punish people who are innocent, or not as guilty as we assume; (2) People can get away with things for which they really should pay a penalty. All we are allowed is to push the "Subtotal" button and do the best we can.

The "Total" button gets activated only by our Creator when we are being judged. He does it after adding or subtracting those items we missed or had no control over. The crimes we skipped out of, the ill-treatment we excused by saying, "I have the law on my side," the wrongs inflicted on us for which we were unable to fight against. These plusses and minuses are entered and, only then, the "Total" button is pushed.

We will hear:
-"Welcome into my kingdom, good and faithful servant."
-"Depart from me, you accursed, into the fires of Hell."

It won't come as a surprise. We knew it all along and realized, as that pain in the chest struck, that we were about to meet all our loved ones -- or that we were about to experience the pain we had caused others, but for all eternity.

There really is no such saying as, "Ha, ha; you can't catch me."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Two Days After July 2nd

Someone (was it Jefferson?) said that July 2nd would be remembered as the great day of independence from England. Or words to that effect. It was the official day of the signing of the Declaration which was first read two days later, on July 4th.

Ok, so we're celebrating it a couple days late. No big deal; the rockets' glare is just as red; the air is still full of bombs bursting. Idiots are still looking down lit canisters to see why their rocket didn't ignite... at least, up till then; say hello to your great-grandmother for me.

It's Independence Day, time for us to exercise our divinely-given right to sit in the blazing sun, eat too many hotdogs, drink too much beer and talk too loud as we interrupt each others' story. That's what our forefathers died for and our foremothers spied for; oh, can you name any of them?

The 4th of July is not just an American thing. Sweden, Jamaica, the Caicos Islands, Algeria and Kenya also have a 4th of July. We are not alone.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Look! Up In The Sky! That Ain't No Bird!

I do believe the world will come to an end, but I'm not so sure the scene will be the classic "Jesus on a big white horse" with a heavenly host of angels singing, "The Party's Over" in 8-part harmony.

I rather suspect it will be of natural causes, with Jesus & The Angels appearing shortly after. The opening act will be the huge asteroid out there with our name on it. We've been making countless revolutions around the sun, as has The Big One; so far, our orbits have been just odd enough that we have shaken hands a few times, but that's been about it. One of these days, we will both be occupying the same piece of orbital real estate at the same moment.

Then the fun begins.

What brings all this about is a program I saw last night on the National Geographic Channel. I'll let the NG explain it: "Imagine waking up to the last day on Earth. What do you think is the worst that could happen in just 24 hours? Inspired by the predictions of scientists, End Day creates apocalyptic scenarios that go beyond reality. In a single hour we deliver five different fictional disasters." It repeats July 6 at 6pm Eastern; July 18 at 7pm Eastern.

To me, the catch is: We don't know; any day we wake up could be the last day our planet exists.

Th' heck is that thing in the sky? And why has traffic stopped with all the drivers out of their cars looking up? Does that mean I don't have to keep to my diet today?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars..."

Sinatra tune. "...Let me see what Spring is like / on Jupiter and Mars."

Not this kid. If I want to pay an afternoon visit, it's going to be at the Andromeda galaxy, something like two million light years away. And, incidentally, our nearest neighbor.

Each galaxy could have something like three hundred billion stars in it; there could be as many as three hundred billion galaxies. They are so far apart that it takes light millions, if not billions, of years to get from one to the other. Galaxies we look at through our large telescopes probably no longer exist, and have not existed for many hundreds of millions of years. By the time their light reached us, they long ago ran out of fuel and died out; or disappeared into massive black holes.

Stars occasionally blow up. "Occasionally" means once a second or so and I'm not sure if that's just in our galaxy or in those we can see. Probably all over the universe, as we would eventually run out of stars. Ours is not supposed to, given how it's made up, but it sure would be exciting to watch the thing explode. The view wouldn't last long, of course, and astronomers on other planets/galaxies would be saying, "Hey! Did you see that one? Hope it didn't have a populated planetary system or those suckers are crisp-fried."

When my soul and body eventually separate, I'd love to take a swing through the universe. What a cruise that would be!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Too Tired To Blog

Yeah, like that's ever going to happen. I'm a writer and publishing a nicely-written piece gives me a great feeling of fulfillment.

My longer, and finely crafted, daily diary entries on the Cruise Critic message board when I'm on a cruise are a delight to write and, as I watch the view numbers spin up, applause to my ears. Some of my friends don't understand why I want to post while cruising; they aren't writers and don't understand how this is the cherry on top of the chocolate yogurt with whipped cream I get each afternoon.

The day would not be complete, now that I have my own corner on Blogspot, if I did not leave something of myself here, whether my daily activities, or just random thoughts on the universe in general. It's just stuff that can't be covered in my column on big band music. Trumpets and trombones are fine, but they can't compete with galaxies and quarks.

But, in fact, I am tired tonight and this will be a shorter entry than usual. I will contemplate the mysteries of the universe with my eyes closed, horizontally.