Saturday, September 30, 2006

One + One Sometimes = Three

Well, the two city colleges no longer have bookstores on campus. What they do have may be unique in this country: A shared bookstore located in the center of the city, in the building's basement, with a regular Barnes & Noble bookstore and Starbucks to be established on the main floor open to the public. B&N will run the entire operation.

The man from B&N said he never heard of any cooperative like this between two colleges, much less having the store downtown and combined with a regular outlet. It should be a magnet for people who work in center city. The two colleges, B&N and the Chamber of Business and Industry all chipped in, one way or another, to make it a go; all will benefit from the income.

The colleges are each about one block or so north and south of the store, probably closer than you would find on a large campus. Despite their proximity (and I think I've mentioned this before), the city is still debating as to whether or not this is a college town. Maybe when the students start passing green stuff at the store, then going across the street to the record store and passing a little more green, people will get the hint.

One college bookstore, plus one college bookstore, equals two of them plus a general-interest store. I never was good at math, but you get the idea.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Security Blanket

Do we ever give these up? I'll bet not; we just change them to things that are comfortable and reassuring. Some are good; others can be damaging.

I find that having my police scanner going is a sort of comforting thing. I can listen to the cops, the firemen, the college security force and maintenance workers. That may go back to my radio news days when I was a teen and felt secure knowing what was going on, both local, national and international. Beats me.

When I need my security blanket, I write. Anything; for anybody. My newspaper column, this blog, something on a message board. To me, writing with the correct grammar and punctuation, making sure the thoughts are laid out well and the sentences are crisp, is a craft, like building a house.

I prefer that my security blankets be something that works toward a sort of growth, rather than pulling me inward. A nice hot meal at the local family restaurant with friends is one of them, and it can't be beat. Now that I think of it, I should get the five of them together (3 adults, 2 children) before I leave for vacation in a couple of weeks.

And speaking of blankets, it’s getting time to put me under one.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The World Is Not Uniform

The sun was going down around 4:30 in the afternoon, as it does at this latitude during the short days of the year. One of the features of winter here: short days, early sunset and the sun goes down fairly southward. We know that, eventually, it will move more toward the north and set later, giving us lots of twilight to enjoy the evening baseball games.

Well, the student from Africa started to get afraid. He noticed the sun was more toward the south and that it was setting awfully early. I said, "Ok; that's what it does. What's the problem?" He still wanted to know what was wrong; I said, "Nothing; it's winter and that's the way it is here."

It turns out he's from the Equator, where the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It comes up and sets at the same time every day. A few minutes after it sets, the sky is dark; not like our gentle and fairly long-lasting twilight. I had to explain that things are different up here at 42 degrees north latitude: the sun's location changes, its rising and setting times change, the light comes slowly and goes slowly.

This world is not uniform. I was in the Arctic one time and, waking up to take care of some business at 3:00 a.m., I noticed the sun was still hanging there as bright as ever. On the east coast of the U.S., we have hurricanes; some areas of the world have monsoons; elsewhere, you might see several tornadoes in a summer. We might gag just watching what some cultures think are good eats, as we wolf down food that sickens them just in the telling.

Who's to say which body parts can be shown, or must be hidden? We laugh at their hang-ups just as they laugh at ours. A couple of our beloved and positive hand gestures are, in other countries, either very negative or even worse. To tip a Japanese waiter is just as insulting as not to tip an American waiter.

No church, no political regime, no nothing will ever make it uniform. For this, we give thanks.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why Didn't It Destroy Our Psyches?

I hope that's the word. Why didn't we graduate from grammar school as broken, emotional wrecks? After all, we didn't have the toys.

Let me set the stage. We went to the Catholic school which had just started in 1947. I was in the third class and, quite possibly, all three started at once. I was in kindergarten and finished in 1956. The school was as poor as the mice in the adjacent church.

How did we draw circles? We used the cardboard lids off the milk bottles; remember those? Scotch tape was too expensive, so we had leftovers from, I think, the Corsair airplane factory nearby (where, coincidentally, my father worked), with numbers and letters on it. It held things, so we didn't care and, besides, it was free. Class size was a reasonable 42 per nun; they were probably just this side of a breakdown, but handled it well, with good humor and never, ever hit or insulted us. They gave respect and, in turn, received it. We would have lain down in front of a steamroller if they told us to.

When the church finally built a school (I forgot to mention that we were in some old house at the time), it was the greatest thing. It didn't have a library, as that was an expense we couldn't handle, but the town library was a couple hundred feet away and we made do with that.

All this just would not float these days. I don't know why; maybe the kings and queens would be afraid it would damage their little princesses and princes. I don't think we should go back to those days, but if the times dictate that we no longer have all the niceties, all the toys, the bells and whistles, we might do well to remember that our generation did ok. If we did, then we should teach our children that they can, too.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

... Then A Miracle Happens ...

The radio show I produce and direct every day is, so I'm told, a relaxed and easy-going hour of news and information aimed at the visually impaired and homebound elderly. We've plenty of them in this area, and plenty listen to us; they like the comfortable way the crew interacts, and how we make our way through the program.

Well, it's not quite that way. Almost without exception, the other readers came in whenever they had time and read a few separate pieces onto a digital disc. Those cuts, with whatever I might have had leftover from the previous day, are lined up in approximately the order I will use them and I will make up a list of what they are, who read them and how long they last.

When I actually do the program, I slip in and out of "live" (me) and the recorded inserts (them). On some inserts, we chat briefly before they start; on others, they introduce it themselves; often, I ask what's next and start the disc.

Things often foul up, one way or another, and I have to ad-lib my way out of it. I've found that, no matter how bad the show looks in the studio, I try to keep my head above water and then a miracle happens: It sounds good coming out of our listeners' radios. I'm always surprised when that occurs and can never figure out how it happens.

There are things we don't need to know.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Oiceberg Roit A'ead!

I'm just a day less than three weeks before my cruise and here I am, watching "A Night to Remember" on TCM. Reminds me of the time I was on the Veendam and the movie was James Cameron's "Titanic." That was about as bad as, say, taking a trans-Pacific flight and having the movie be "Snakes on a Plane."

Admittedly, it's getting harder and harder to sink a ship, but I suppose there's something out there we just hadn't thought would happen. The Titanic was, in fact, practically unsinkable from the usual danger: Getting t-boned by another ship. Just nobody thought it would run over the underwater ridge of an iceberg and tear out its bottom.

Stuff you don't expect to happen, happens.

We had a demonstration of some new printing machine that was supposed to replace sliced bread as being the best thing since. I politely asked what we should do in the event of a paper jam; the salesman confidently assured us that could not happen. I said, "That's good to hear, but I've used anything that prints since I was twelve; if paper moves, it can jam.” He then became testy and said his machine would not do that, so I backed off. The next day, we had to call him in because there was a paper jam.

I wonder how you plan for the unexpected? Without getting paranoid, I think it's a good idea to look for what can go wrong in our lives. It's just that we can't tell what it's going to be. It's only after the crash, the attack, the whatever, that we learn how to avoid it in the future. People live or die because they changed their travel plans, but nobody knew ahead of time which was the better choice. Earlier plane? Later plane? This highway, that highway?

We do our best, then toss the dice and hope it comes up 7.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Events Of Note Today

Got a haircut today. For those who know me, it's a subject worth mentioning in my daily blog. I've been here since April 4, nearly six months, and you haven't heard me mention it yet. I can't really tell you how many years it's been since anyone's seen my ears; I just saw a photo of myself taken 27 years ago and they weren't visible then.

A friend of mine is in the hospital for some sort of digestive operation. He and his wife are fairly private people and I really don't know exactly what it's all about. What I know is he's probably about 93 and anything big at that age is dangerous. He writes a music column with me every week for the local newspaper and we just had our 25th anniversary filling 18 inches on the entertainment page.

Just saw in the newspaper that a woman died who, back home, lived but a few blocks from us. She had worked in the same factory (Chance-Vought) as my father making the Corsairs that won the air war in the Pacific, then worked in the same factory (Sikorsky) as me building helicopters.

Local guy had a lot of entertainment and other stuff ripped out of his Hummer yesterday, "probably by druggies." He complained to the City Fathers about it. They pointed out the store his sweet elderly mother runs, the Anthracite Newstand (yes, one "S"), is not without involvement: she also sells bongs, zip papers, scales and anything else that will help you ruin your brain. There's a sign saying it's for tobacco use only and she says she's against drugs; "I don't even drink alcohol." The irony was not lost on the authorities who chewed out her and her son. Hey; ya gotta weigh out the tobacco before you roll your own.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Growing Up In A Picture Postcard

It was an island, but not by the time we got there … missed it by about 15 years. Mother Nature created it as one, just offshore a half-mile, and even though some shallow-water swamp had been filled in to extend an airport, it remained visibly, and emotionally, cut off from the mainland. As someone said, when we built our house, "What are you moving OUT THERE for?"

I have learned that the vast majority of people do not have a lighthouse down the street and a large private beach a few hundred feet away. We didn’t think much about the light, because it was always there and, besides, how would we find our way home at night in our boat without it?

The “corner store” was just that: the store two streets away. At one time, there were several very small stores in two small buildings across the street from each other; now it’s just one general store with a post office in the back.

One Catholic and one Protestant church. The Catholics began in the roller skating rink near the sea wall until the diocese got around to putting up a building. The church office was on the west end of our dining room table. The Community Church was in a house until someone shipped a small Vermont church down, in pieces, and put it together. When it finally needed steeple repair work, the usher at the Catholic church ran the fundraiser.

We have a long, narrow road leading toward Bridgeport, with water on both sides. Toward the sea is a large swampy natural water system called “The Gut.” As we approach it, we can tell we’re close to home; outsiders generally get sick at the smell during low tide, while we think of it as the perfume of nature. I miss it greatly.

Yeah, we grew up in a picture postcard.

Friday, September 22, 2006

All In All, Things Could Be Worse

I've got a bowl of hot porridge laced with raisins, walnuts and craisins (dried cranberries that look like red raisins). I've a couple of windows open and it's cool outside, so I know that when I lay down in my bed, I'm going to be "O.U.T. out" (as Mom used to put it) in a matter of a minute or two.

There's a commercial on the tv right now, for Carnival Cruise Line, with someone singing Bobby Darin's hit song, "Beyond The Sea." It's really nice, but it ends with, "...and never again I'll go sailing." Wonder if anyone realizes that?

The show I'm watching is about sports disasters. Probably like most people, I don't want disasters to happen, but if they do, I'd like to see them. A sort of voyeurism, I suppose, with the excuse that "it already happened and someone taped it, so I might as well watch it." Works for me.

I've turned the tv off now; the program is over and I have to get the morning edition from the newspaper where I am a columnist. I usually go over while the press is running, pick them up at that time, then sign off for the night.

We had beef stew and baking powder biscuits for supper tonight. Goes well with a cool day, with the onset of autumn on Saturday. Beef stew for supper, hot porridge for a midnight snack; all in all, things could be worse.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Yeah, I've Got Better Things To Do

-- On the national Doppler radar map (, click on "US Radar") the rain pattern at 4:00pm looks like a bucking bronco with a cowboy holding on tightly. Last night, there was a system that could have been a large fish about to swallow something much smaller (another fish?).

-- We're on a planet that spins very fast and is also moving very quickly in a forward direction. Yet, we can stack a large pile of quarters without it being shaken to pieces. I find that quite amazing. I just hope we don't run into anything, although I remain convinced that there's a big rock out there with our name on it. One of them is due to pass close to us in a few years, and then very close a relatively few years later.

-- A large online pet supply store, located a couple miles away, has in stock a pet stroller. "Most ferrets get tired walking long distances, but with the Pet Stroller they can go almost anywhere you go! Top shade shelter, zip-down front shade and wind cover, comfortable ventilated cabin. Designed for non-aggressive small dogs and pets under 20 pounds." I can imagine a kindly old lady looking at the stroller and saying, "You have a, uh, cute young set of triplets. But I guess I must be going now."

-- At 11:00pm, the Doppler weather map (it's taken me a while to get back to writing this) looks like a giant woodpecker bending over a tiny newborn buffalo. Perhaps it's time to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report instead of looking at weather patterns as if they were Rorschach tests.

-- The radio show went very well today. People don't realize how much is pure luck and how little is timing when it comes to things working out on the button with each segment. Maybe experience makes luck happen; I don't know. It just seems that experienced, motivated people have more luck than others.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

It Helps To Know What You're Talking About

I got into an argument with a Pro-Lifer last night. I'm Pro-Life, too; very much so. The difference between us is I knew what I was talking about and the other person who wanted to lecture me was going on incorrect information, rumors, and was unaware of rather cogent facts.

There's nothing quite like a good, friendly argument. Each side knows their facts and, with any luck, also knows the other side's as well. You hash out your good points, demonstrate your opponent's weaknesses and if you happen to come to a conclusion, all the better.

But to be in a serious discussion and suddenly say, "Oh, I didn't know that," is not the way to go into something. "I assumed that was the way ... somebody said that was true," and so on, are not the marks of an inquiring mind.

"I understand this to be true; is that so?" is much better. We all hear rumors and we all have the ability to prove them true or spike them, at least for ourselves. A quick explanation, along with, "Where did you hear that?" should work. I say "should" because a friend of mine has twelve children; he met someone who asked how his six children were doing. He replied, "I have twelve now." The person said, "Oh, no; I have it on very good authority that you have six." My friend said, "What better authority could there be than me? I'm the father and I have twelve." The person remained unconvinced.

When someone blasts a film, book or such that I know they haven't seen, I nicely ask, "When you saw/read it, which part did you not like?" That usually does it. Know what you are talking about and I'll listen all afternoon; disparage without knowledge and I'll politely, kindly, nicely lop your head off before you realize it's missing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Things That Come To Mind

My pharmacist is very thoughtful; he makes sure he has one refill on the shelf of each med I take. I almost always give him a week's notice, but for the rare times I forget, it's right there. His wife works in the office next to mine; I tell people she sleeps with my drug dealer.

There's a Grand Central Terminal, as well as a Grand Central Station. They aren't the same thing. GCS is a post office, located deep down inside GCT. The railroad building is called a "Terminal" because trains finish their runs there; at the end of the track is a bumper and a huge cement wall. Penn Station, on the other hand, is a run-through; trains stop, pick up passengers, and keep going.

Almost everybody you know, perhaps everybody, has an even number in the fifth position of their Social Security number. Ask around. The odds are something like 10-1, maybe higher, that you will not run into an odd number in the fifth position. The first three numbers indicate in what state the number was issued.

Our "ok" signal, thumb and index finger together, means "worthless" in France (you are making a zero) and "asshole" in Brazil (self-explanatory). I wonder how many international incidents have been started when you have signaled what you thought was a positive comment, only to cause a fight?

The 78 and 33 1/3 rpm records' speeds were chosen because the worm gear that drove the motor on the turntables was tied in with the house 60-cycle current and was the easiest way to make record players work. The 45 rpm speed was chosen for convenience of disc size for length of music that would fit on the record.

There never was a law that radio and tv stations could not advertise hard liquor; it was just an agreed-upon practice that most stations adhered to. Stations that broadcast to more mature audiences did carry discreet ads for them.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Autumn Blues

I'm not referring to feelings, but to the colors on the Doppler radar map available at when you click on "US Radar." Green is rain, blue is snow. About this time of year, the mountain states start showing bits of blue here and there. You know it's not something passing, a little weather phenomenon that will go away and leave us in peace. It's the start of the winter season and those blue splotches will only get bigger and start moving our way. Maybe not for a while, but move they will in their own good time.

It's nicer in the Spring when they begin to peter out and pull back, when the sun shines here, the birds sing and once again the only blue on the map is over the mountain states. But that's not for now; we have to endure another winter before we get to that point.

I dunno; we do pretty well. One of my friends has a seat warmer in her car, a "must" she would not do without; we have winter clothing that is more efficient than years past; even going to the bathroom is no longer a trek out to the far reaches of the backyard.

The Blue States ... not limited to political parties and their supporters, but a good indicator these days of what's to come.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I'm Sorry, But You Can't Sue Mother Nature

I was just watching "Supervolcano" on The Discovery Channel last night. Basic plot of the movie: Yellowstone Park has a huge volcano under it, volcano blows up, weather on the earth is affected for years. Bring out the popcorn because it's a good movie; the only problem is that it's also real. Just hasn't happened yet, but it will. Eventually, inevitably, Yellowstone will blow up and when it does, a lot of what we previously thought was important in our lives will suddenly drop into obscurity. It will be, as it has been three times in the past, the biggest bang on earth.

Mother Nature has a way of disordering our well-ordered lives and there's no appeal. She is the Supreme Court of Nature and when she speaks, we better listen.

Occasionally she reminds us that we should not have built houses on the edges of cliffs or hills. Around here, she probably shakes her head in wonderment as we continue to build houses in the flood plain of our major river.

Mother Nature will allow people to go out in boats when the weather is about to kick up; freedom is what she is about. They will find, in a few minutes, that the ballgame is over and they've lost. We can do a lot of things that are wrong, or just plain stupid, and find you can't sue Mother Nature when you messed up big time.

Better to work with her than to fight her. Life's a lot more fun that way.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

College Town

The local newspaper had an article headlined, "Is Wilkes-Barre Becoming A College Town?" Well, we've had two of them here since 1946; one, a block north of Public Square; the other, a block south. So, yes, I think when you have several thousand college students pretty much around the downtown area for the past sixty years, the chances are that Wilkes-Barre just might be headed that way. Or we could wait another twenty-five years just to make sure.

There's been a history of anti-college sentiment around here. One newspaper, fortunately out of business now, referred to the students as "little darlings," and felt the professors should be paid for the actual number of minutes they were in the classroom and no more. If a prof wanted to prepare a class or correct papers and tests, that should be done "off the clock" and not on company time.

The former mayor could not have done more to alienate the students. Well, perhaps he could have turned on fire sirens outside the dorm windows every morning and then given the finger to the students; short of that, he really went out of his way to anger them.

The current mayor has worked hard to bring the colleges and the city together. He has not given the store away, but recognizes that the schools bring in a lot of money to the city each year, one way or another, and the future is better when all work together.

All? Yup; find another college bookstore that's run cooperatively for the two schools, is located downtown, run by a major chain (B&N) with a coffee lounge (Starbucks) inside, and open to the general public as well.

The dead or dying downtown between the schools is being refitted in a way that will appeal to entertainment-minded students. We haven't had much of that in this city, for them or adults. Watch what happens when people notice that the students' currency has the same pictures of dead presidents as does theirs. Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson ... welcome to downtown.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Lookit Them Funny Trucks!

Yesterday's blog was about waiting for my vacation to arrive. I didn't have the space to mention a practice Mom and I had when we traveled from the East coast to Vancouver in Canada, where we would meet our cruise ship.

We never thought of the destination; we enjoyed where we were at each part of the trip.

Waiting in LaGuardia? We'd go into the coffee shop with our cache of Granola bars, get our choice of hot drink and look out over the runways. I used to marvel at all the specialized vehicles that ran here and there, each tending to the specific task for which it was designed. Mom might people-watch, a fascinating pastime in itself.

I don't know if it made the trip seem any shorter, but it did make it a lot more interesting. We saw more this way than we would have if all we were concentrating on was when the plane was leaving. There are many interesting things around us if we can stop looking too far ahead and just see --really see-- all that is waiting for us to look at.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Only A Month (Did He Say "Only"?)

My vacation time varies from year to year. Next year, it's in late April with the remote (and getting remoter) possibility of another week in September. This year, it's October 14-25. Today being September 14, that means I have but a month to wait; the longest month of the year, although I've found that the days do pass quickly.

I'm not one of those who like to clean my place before I leave. It's my firm conviction that dust and dirt are faithful friends; they will be there waiting for me when I return. Likewise, whatever work I don't get done by October 14 will still be there eleven days later, as it probably would be even if I were still at my desk.

The place will get along without me; I can't imagine it folding just because I take off for a few days. When the bus driver closes the door, puts the gearshift into reverse, beeps twice as a signal and backs up, I put my day job out of my mind. Whenever it pops up, I banish it. I am not here; there is nothing I can do about anything. I do not own a cell phone, I have told people who e-mail me on the ship not to talk about work. Actually, I don't care; for eleven days, I don't give a rat's ass.

This blog, too, will be on vacation during that time. For those who wish to follow my adventures, I will post daily on the Cruise Critic website. The thread will be filled with the usual information, humor and stories that have become my hallmark during cruises.

It's "only" a month away.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Go Back Where You Belong ... Oh, You Do?

We've got this big to-do about people moving in who have not bothered to do things like become citizens. Depending on your choice of language, they are either "illegals" or "undocumented." Whatever. It's a big problem in the next closest city, where the well-meaning mayor has written up an ordinance which does everything but have them scourged on Public Square. I think this previous "Catholic Of The Year," who has a baby by a Latino without benefit of marriage, treats his pets better.

So, the pot has been stirred up and it's come to the point where if you look Latino, then you must be illegal. One loyal American wrote a letter to the newspaper saying these Puerto Ricans should go back home until they become American citizens. "Go back where you belong" is the idea ... but it sounds as if our America-First person skipped her history class that day and has no idea that Puerto Rico actually is part of the U.S.

One of my friends in that city was marching in a parade next to a float; behind his was one of some Latino girls, dancing. From a booth on the side came some angry local women screaming, "If youse can't speak proper English, youse should go back to where youse came from!"

What can you say to logic like that?

Everybody has a story, but not everybody has the money.
Robert Thomas died locally. His obituary notes: "Robert retired at the young age of 44 to devote his time to the management of his investment portfolio."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"It's 10:32, 68 Degrees And Sunny"

Can't tell you how many "time and temp" drop-ins I've done over the years that I've been in radio. In my current studio, for the program I'm doing, I have a clock just a bit above me, and two timers directly in front of me. It's vital that I keep the program, and its segments, going at the right time; if any of the timepieces fails, I have others to keep me on track. All my "spontaneous" remarks are done with one eye on the clock; if I'm filling time, I know exactly when to stop and begin the next segment.

Not so when driving, oddly enough. If I have to be somewhere, I don't look at the clock or the speedometer, especially when traffic is heavy. I won't get there any faster by getting impatient with the drivers in front of me, nor will it help if I keep looking at the clock. I'm going to arrive at exactly the same time, laid-back or tensed up. It's best not to know some things.

You change what you can (as I do on my radio show), accept what you can't (traffic), and be smart enough to know which is which. I think it's good for your liver, or something.

Monday, September 11, 2006

They Have Passed This Way Before Us

I just realized the tremendous amount of directions we run into each day:
-Pull to open
-Wilkes-Barre next exit
-Continued on page 10
-Do not attempt at home

We trust the people who have gone before us, those who make road signs, who put the newspapers together, or let us know that what they do on tv is dangerous.

Well, most of us do. Some people don't listen, those whose last words are, "Hey, watch this!" Or who say, "They can't tell me not to do this." But, generally, we tend to believe those who put up the signs, post the directions, based on their having been that way before.

My take on Original Sin is not what the churches preach (making me a closet heretic). I think it's our reluctance to learn from those who have gone before us. The strides we could have made as the human race if we didn't have to "invent the wheel" with every generation. But we don't listen to the people who have gone before us and give us directions; we have to start from zero and learn that "don't attempt this at home" means we should not attempt this at home. "Not for children under ten" means it's really for children above eleven.

They have passed this way before us. We should learn from their experience. "Bridge Out" is not something we should ignore.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Eat Hearty, My Friend; Eat Hearty

I just saw a commercial for what appeared to be a fancy restaurant, preparing a rather nice dish for its patrons. It looks like a great meal in a great place. Turns out it's how well, and with what care, Fancy Feast cat food thinks of your precious kitty.

The music underneath all this? "It had to be you, it had to be you. I wandered around, and finally found - the somebody who / Could make me be true, and could make me be blue / And even be glad, just to be sad - thinking of you." It ends with a happy kitty being stroked by its surrogate mother.

We take good care of our pets. They are fed only the best of food, whispered to, met with smiles at the end of the work day. Unlike our children, in many ways, who we fill with junk food, yell at, often hit, and make fearful when we walk through the door at 5:00pm.

Yes, there is a big difference between pets and children; I know that. We don't hit pets.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Things That Aren't Anymore

I saw some footage of a supermarket cashier doing her little "blind" finger-dance on the keys of the register as she checked out a customer's canned goods. These girls were fast and accurate. The only sound was her chewing gum popping; now it's beep-beep-beep. I wonder when these keyed registers went out of style? How old can a person be who has never seen one of them? Are any still in use?

Seems to me that gas pumps had a handle on them a long time ago. I remember the attendant (usually the owner), cranking the meter back to zero before starting to fill our tank. I definitely remember being the gas jockey who, when asked for "$2 worth," would lock the nozzle and (a) clean the windshield, (b) clean the rear window, (c) check the oil level and, on a good day, (d) check the battery acid level. All this before the pump hit $2.00.

I've seen only one real phone booth lately in a drug store, that in Bar Harbor. Last one I used, with the folding door, had an earpiece separate from the mouthpiece. The latter was attached to the rest of the phone, while the former was on a wire. There was a little fan up in the corner. Now they're just a couple pieces of aluminum with a regular handset. Not even a little seat.

There are so many things that aren't anymore.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Forest Primeval

It's hard walking up (or down) the street these days without having an acorn landing on your head or the roof of your car. Even the squirrels must get an occasional bump on the noggin.

Mother Nature is making sure that her trees will increase, multiply and fill the earth. Problem is, there isn't much earth around here for the acorns to do anything in. They sure aren't going to take root in your car's roof, much less on a cement sidewalk or the street. Year after year, her acorns rain down and, year after year, it's a complete waste (except for the squirrels mentioned above).

Somebody ought to tell Mother she's popping her kids out onto a sidewalk. They're not going to grow when they're in the gutter. There won't be any little trees pushing up here and there, filling the lawn and making it like the forest primeval, before the settlers came in and chopped them all down.

My theory: If you want to see what used to be where a development is, check the names of the roads. Oak Grove Drive, Bunny Hollow Road, and so on. We took them down, chased them out, but kept their names.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

For Sale By Owner

It's not every day of the week when you go past a church and there's a sign out on the front lawn: "For Sale By Owner" with a phone number inked in. You expect it with a house, a small business or some sort of building. But a church? Specifically, a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses?

They may have outgrown the place, for all I know, or there may be two Halls underused that could be combined into one. This one is in a good spot with use of another parking lot in addition to their own. Ironically, there is a rather garish shrine across the street, run by a lay Catholic organization.

I don't know how you would market the place.

FOR SALE: Former JW Kingdom Hall, good starter church for new sect. Comes plain, as is. Shrine with many statues across street. River view. Parking lot with shared use of larger lot on weekends. No RC inquiries please. Best offer.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

For $13 Million, I'd...

Katie Couric is making $13 million/year on a 3-year contract. Not bad for being able to read intelligently into a camera; can I get 1/13th of that for reading intelligently into a microphone?

One person on an early morning tv show was complaining about how hard it was to get up at 2:00am or 3:00am for the program. She was making somewhere in the vicinity of maybe $10m, perhaps less. Anyway, lots and lots of dough.

Hmmmmm... For $13m/year, I'd get up anytime they wanted me. I'd get a regular haircut for even less than that and not complain. I'd sell out in so many ways for that kind of money.

I just don't know what I'd spend it on. I don't watch tv all that much and my audio system, basic as it is, fills my needs. Maybe, instead of booking a cheap inside "share with a stranger" cabin on my yearly cruise, I'd get an outside suite for me alone. That still leaves a lot leftover, perhaps to be spread around to charitable groups in need that I know are low overhead.

That's not a pressing problem at the moment; the checks are not piling up on my desk, nor are they likely to. But, as Hamlet said, "To sleep, perchance to dream," and perchance I will dream of millions piled up in my bank accounts and investments. I will dream of wisely donating, and watching the sunset from my upper-deck verandah suite on Holland America Line's flagship.

In the midst of it, Shakespeare's MacDuff doth spake: "Awake! Awake! Ring the alarum bell! Shake off this downy sleep!" I come to, realizing that the millions aren't there, the outside suite isn't there. I'm booked for my usual steerage share, an inside cabin from which no sunset-watching will take place.

The places I'd go with 13 mil...
I'd circle the world, yeah, but still,
You can't take a checkbook out for a show,
And the "friends" you make will soon enough go.

As my grandmother used to say, "More wants more and blessed be nothing."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

One Never Knows, Do One?

If we were to know at age ten what would happen to us later in life, would we believe it? In some cases, yes; life can be very predictable for many of us. For others, no; fate takes us on journeys we never expect.

For instance, my mother was probably looking forward to life as a nurse, something she wanted to do, or perhaps working in an office. She never expected she would be visiting an Eskimo village north of the Arctic Circle at age 82, or with a bush pilot landing on the water after flying over a glacier the size of Rhode Island.

Friend of mine was born and raised in Indiana. He never believed in fortune tellers and especially if one told him a giraffe in Africa would kick him into Kingdom Come. It's a long way from farmland to veldt, one which he had, at ten, no plans to make. Those plans changed, as did how he cashed in his chips.

I don't know what my brother's plans were at ten, but I'm fairly sure they did not include marrying a girl from some one-cheval town outside Quebec City, learning French and building Great Lakes ships.

A very nice, gentle person decided to become a priest and was probably tossing the idea around when he was ten, no doubt an altar boy at the time. In his retirement years, he filled in during the summer at a parish about twenty miles from here. Couple of years ago, the pastor told me the priest told the parishioners in 2001 it had been revealed to him he would have a violent death in September. He was on United 175, the second plane into the WTC.

A quiet teen was cutting the grass at a local radio station, not sure what he wanted to do. The owner asked if he'd like to try doing a show. "I guess so." He started taking classes at our college, got excited and is now the top newsradio anchor in the country.

As the great Fats Waller used to say: "One never knows, do one?"

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Weekend To The Holidays

It's Labor Day Weekend and Summer is officially over; we now return you to your regularly-scheduled work week, school sessions and forget the boat, cabin and vacation.

Did someone say, "Labor Day"? Oh, yeah; the creation of the labor movement, dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. [US Dept. of Labor] Not a word in there about end of summer, but much to remind us of the dignity of work. Gimme another dog and a beer; we'll talk about the workers later.

Memorial Day, a/k/a/ Decoration Day a/k/a the start of the early Summer season. T'wasn't always this way. Decoration Day, when women's groups in the south were decorating graves of deceased servicemen. Later, it became Memorial Day to honor all the war dead, not just those of the Civil War. "Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected." []

Veterans' Day, known to older folks as Armistice Day, comes and goes as a holiday that we little notice nor long remember. After a while, the new veterans had no association with that World War 1 observance, so it was changed in 1954 to Veterans' Day. People should not take the day off unless they can pass a simple quiz about its origins.

The Holidays. As in, "I'll see you over the holidays," or, "I'll get to that after the holidays." The holidays? Oh, just things like the yearly remembrance of Thanksgiving for all we have, the ritual observance of the birth of the Son of God on earth, the new calendar year. "The holidays," we call these three major events in our lives; just the holidays.

I think those who become citizens take tests that native-borns like us could never pass if they were set before us as a pop quiz. As a college student -- a college student -- said one day about Martin Luther King, who has a holiday, "He was a black guy; he did something." Yes, kid, he showed the dignity that belonged to his race ... the human race.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Thoughts On A Sunday Evening

Not the Three Tenors. Someone told me about four priests he knew. Fr. Stout was slim; Fr. Young was old; Fr. Long was short; Fr. Cohen was Catholic. He also said there is a Cardinal Sin in the Philippines.

Truthiness. I saw an ad in a professional tv publication for a broadcast engineer. "Pocono Mountain area, not far from the shore." Huh, I thought, that's a stretch. Turned out to be the tv station literally down the street from us. Well, if you're in Nebraska, I guess a 2 1/2 hour ride to the shore would be "not far." ["Truthiness" is a word made up by Stephen Colbert on his first "Colbert Report" show on Comedy Central -- something you would like to be true even though you know it's not.]

"Dirty Jobs." There's this marvelous series on Discovery, starring Mike Rowe. He shows us the jobs that keep our society going which are, well, kinda dirty and disgusting. But someone has to do them. I used to shovel cow manure after lunch every day and didn't think too much of it, one way or the other; now I find someone doing it on tv. Small world.

Check with us in four days. Been a lot of rain in upstate Central New York. Lot of rain, courtesy of tropical whatever Ernesto. Far as I can tell, the only way to the ocean for that combination of hydrogen and oxygen is the Susquehanna River. You know, the one that runs right next to (and occasionally through) Wilkes-Barre and environs. It takes a while for it to get here. We went from one foot to nearly twelve, then down to five and (as I write this) up to ten. My money says it goes over the banks in another day or so, but we'll be saved by the dikes.

Discovery Channel. Specifically, "Inside The Twin Towers," on tv right now. I lost a friend of 40 years on United 175 and am still looking for closure, or at least to be able to watch a program about it. Not easy.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Sept. 2, 1974

I really did want to do a public service, and that's how it all started, but partway through I realized that I could milk this for nine credit hours and three "A"s on my college report card. Proves once again that nobody is truly altruistic; there is always a little bit of "what's in it for me" somewhere in there.

Anyway, my radio program for the visually impaired, homebound and elderly is celebrating its 32nd birthday and/or anniversary today. That means we are starting our 33rd year of daily, non-stop service, 365 days per year. A handful of services that require a special receiver have been on a few years longer than us, but when it comes to broadcasting every day to anyone with an FM radio, we're the first. Present at the creation, as I like to say. And 11,680 broadcasts later, the Radio Home Visitor is still here.

How long can it last? Beats me; I voiced the tape version of a magazine for 35 years, giving it up last year only because I ran out of gas. Because of grad school, I've only done 28 out of these 32 years ("only"?) and still chug along rather handily every day. So the question is an open one and I'll get to it when the time comes.

I've been part of the media (print and broadcast) for 48 years now and this blog is my newest effort, barely five months old. I'm still amazed that I've been 28/32nds of what has been a very popular program for people who have difficulty reading, or are alone.

So let's celebrate; there's lemonade in the lobby and booze in the basement.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Clouds On The Storm Go Round And Round

We're waiting for Hurricane / Tropical Storm / Tropical Depression Ernesto to arrive. It's been hanging to our south, with increasing cloudiness all day. You can see it coming, you can feel it coming, but it just hangs there like a bully down the street you know will get you.

We're supposed to get about 3.89" of rain when the Hispanic Hurricane gets done with us. That, in itself, will cause problems with some nearby people who fear the influx of Hispanics. They'd just as soon run the whole bunch, legals and illegals, out of town on a donkey. Now comes a tropical storm with its 4" of rain, and it's got a Hispanic name. You can't win...

Anyway, in case I never mentioned this before, my brother and I went through the eye of a hurricane on our beach, unprotected. It was an experience I've never forgotten, and I was only ten at the time. Our parents just said, "Don't step on any wires and get back when the southwest wall gets close."

Everybody has a story.
Helen Zurawski Sodd, 94, passed away in Texas the other day. She was born here in Wilkes-Barre and "because she was an avid baseball fan, Helen married former Cleveland baseball player Bill Sodd."