Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dressing Like The Holy Ones?

It is All Hallow's Eve, the evening of all the hallowed, or holy, ones. Hallow Evening or, as spelled these days, Hallowe'en. A night when we remember those who have gone before us and are freed from bodies no longer able to support them, freed from a planet they no longer need, temporarily separated from family and friends who will join them a little later on. Their day, All Saints, comes tomorrow and this is the eve of that feast.

We recall their memory on this night by dressing up like our favorite holy, or sainted, one. Pretty much the same word; they are those who lived pretty good lives and wait for us. So we remember them this way.

Somehow, I just don't see today's costumes as resembling anyone I've heard of who has passed on. I've seen pirates (hmmmm ... not much hope for them, I'm afraid), cartoon characters (maybe nice folks, but imaginary) and movie characters (just as imaginary). Nobody going around like St. Patrick, Joan of Arc or even their holy deceased grandparents.

So it's the October 31 Costume Party and Candy Beg. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose; look what we've done with Christmas. Not many newcomers to this planet realize that New Year's Day, in the church ritual, used to be a solemn holy day to commemorate a surgical procedure commonly done on male babies. The holy day's name and emphasis was changed a couple times and we no longer attend Mass where little children say, "Mommy, what's circumcision?"

I never had a favorite costume, but the best year ever was the time my mother dressed up as a witch when the neighborhood kids came to the door for treats. Somewhat before then, on the preceding evening's Doorbell Night, I put an old broken speaker on the front porch and hid inside with my finger on the button of an electrical cord connected to an outlet. When kids came to ring the bell, I'd hit the button and the resulting "braaccck" blast probably caused more than a few to wet their pants.

I have dressed up as a burned-out jazz trumpeter, as well as Raggedy Ann. No, they aren't saints, and neither am I. It was fun and I'm sure the real saints don't mind; maybe they dress up as us for the occasion.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Some Village Is Missing Its Idiot

I pulled up to a red light this morning and a car with a couple of teens was behind me. A biker pulled up and, for some reason, moved alongside the car. I don't know why; he just did it. Maybe the kid made a gesture while the biker was behind him. So the little teen rolls down his window and starts screaming at this big hairy biker, who just looks down at him with some bemusement, mixed with disgust. Kid's screaming away, cursing the guy. I was waiting for the biker to pick the kid up by something tender and toss him over to the curb.

The light changed and I decided I'd rather read about it in tomorrow's newspaper, so I continued straight ahead. The biker went to the right and the teen tailgated me until I pulled over and let him pass. I should have stopped in the middle of the road, blocked him, and gone over to say, "You are the luckiest dumb little turd in the world right now, and I hope you realize it."

But we don't listen to the wisdom of others. My take on Original Sin, a concept we invented, is not that we have some sin on our souls from conception, but simply that we cannot, will not, learn from others. We have to learn from our own mistakes and that way only. Everybody has to re-invent the wheel as if nobody had invented it before them; each person has to learn for themselves not to sass a big hairy biker.

The teen has several choices. Learn from his close call and find better social skills; not learn and get his face re-arranged next time; pick on people smaller than him. He can, of course, grow up.

But, for the time being, some village is missing its idiot.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Yeah, It'll Get Done One Of These Days

I only brought what would fit in two carry-ons when I took my cruise Oct. 14. That's all; if it didn't fit, it didn't go. Normally, it would be just one bag, but since this ship did not have a self-serve laundry, I had to carry enough clothes for the entire cruise. They charge $25/bag for onboard cleaning and everything I wear isn't worth that much together.

So far, I've unpacked half of what I brought... 50%... One bag out of two. Been home four days, so at that rate, it will be Thursday before I get everything back where it belongs. Actually, I plan to do the other bag tonight; bite the bullet, forget everything else and unpack that second, and last, bag. Screw up the courage, remember that wars are won by heroes and not wusses.

But first, maybe a mug of tea.

You have to be careful of people who rush into these things, wild-eyed and not completely in control of themselves. They get home, they unpack, they do the laundry, put the bags away and everything's back to normal. I prefer the quieter, gentler, less spastic way ... it gets done when it gets done; it's my house, not yours, so don't worry about it. If the bags are in the way, just kick them aside; they don't feel pain.

I'll make some tea and then think about getting to that second bag. Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

What Happened To The Waiters?

(I missed yesterday's posting; you have to get used to being back home and I wasn't. There is a certain rhythm to life and, once disturbed, poorly resumed.)

There's no white tablecloths, there are no legions of waiters (each one indicated by a number) at breakfast:
1. Assigns table
2. Takes you to table and arranges napkin
3. Brings coffee
4. Asks about juice
5. Brings menu
6. Asks about muffins, etc.
7. Fills water glass
5. Takes order
3. Checks for coffee refill
5. Brings meal
7. Tops off water glass
3. Refills coffee
6. Checks if you want muffin
5. Asks if meal is fine
3. Comes around occasionally and checks coffee without asking
7. Ditto #3 about water
1. Wishes you a good day as you leave

It doesn't get much better than that. Until lunch and supper.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Temperature Dropped Drastically

I can't believe it. I woke up one morning and it was 90 degrees; two mornings later I woke up and it was 45 degrees. Why couldn't the cruise ship just stay in the Caribbean, rather than returning to New York City?

Well, it couldn't, so I'm back here unpacking and doing laundry. I'm also dreaming of days and nights on the high seas, of daytimes in different islands and docking in what I think are calderas -- the very middle of volcanoes that have not done anything in ages (but may still be geologically active).

If you're interested, click on this URL and look for the thread titled:
"Live From The Noordam - Carib."

We'll have more, I'm sure.

Friday, October 13, 2006

This Blog Is On Vacation

After 199 consecutive posts, which began April 4, I’m taking time off for my summer vacation. Yeah, "summer vacation." With me, that’s a concept and not a specific time.

"Vacation" means something like "vacate," which is exactly what I will do. When the bus door closes, I put everything local out of my mind. There is nothing I can do about anything, so why bother thinking about it?

The radio program is in the expert hands of broadcast pro Sue Henry; she’s done this before and knows how to read the newspaper for the blind and homebound. My day job will be there and what I did not get done will be waiting for me. Maybe I’ll write my weekly newspaper column from the island of Domenica and e-mail it in; that would be neat. We’re doing a competitive miles-walked thing here and the weekly reporting day will be when I am at St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; I'll send in my miles from there.

If you wish to follow my adventures, my online diary (not terribly serious and not always meant to be taken literally) is at:


Click on "Live from the Noordam – Carib." Alternate sub-title will be "The Po' Sidin’ Adventure," in case someone else snags my first choice.

We’ll see you here around Oct. 25 or 26.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Down And Dirty

I was watching “The Daily Show” tonight and Jon Stewart’s guest was talking about negative political ads – something which goes back to the start of our country. If you read any of them, or read about them, they were pretty vicious for the longest time. It seemed as if anything went and there were no limits as to what you could say, as long as it helped you win the election.

There’s still a lot of this now; ads that are misleading, some that are flat-out wrong and others that make you wonder if the person running them has any stand other than cutting down the opponent.

You also wonder if you can feel safe with someone like that. I don’t. I can’t trust someone who would rip apart another person, bring up dirt that might be half-truths, mis-quotes, irrelevant mistakes from way in the past.

Do you want someone like that to represent you?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Exactly What Is A Weed?

"Junk" is the most variable word I know. "Weed" is another; I've heard it described as "a plant for which we have not yet found a use." As soon as we know what to do with it, as soon as it becomes useful to us, it is no longer a weed.

Junk ... I dunno ... do you mean a burned out glass fuse? They're great for putting into lamps when you don't have a bulb in them so nobody will accidentally put a finger in there. Broken rubber band? Good for tying things back, because of the built-in tension. They don't really count as junk, at least for me, because there is a way I can make them work for me.

Post-It Notes came from a failed glue mixture that someone looked at and said, "I bet there's a use for this." Probably many things came by way of people who thought, "Wonder how I can get this to be of value?" It takes some imagination, plus a lot of pondering, to move an item from one category to another.

A weed, by the way, is defined as a plant that is not valued where it is growing. Does not say "useless," just says, "where it is growing." Good plant, wrong place.

God's Gift To Poland (tuesday's post)

It's been remarkably nice here the last two or three days. Temps in the 70's, blue skies, light breeze. This may be what we call Indian Summer; I'm not sure. Why it's called "Indian Summer" is anybody's guess and there are all sorts of stories running around explaining that. It's not unique to us, as England has the same phenomenon and calls it "St. Martin's Summer." Other countries, as well, have their own names and you can guess which calls it "God's Gift to Poland."

It does not bear examination, nor should we look into the history of the name. It is a time to enjoy, to be lazy for a few days, to store up the sun's energy and warmth against the coming cold and dreary days.

This is officially Tuesday's post, which is when I started it. Other things happened and the bewitching hour struck before I could post.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Girl Saw A Dinosaur

All I originally wanted was a watchband; the one I was using was falling apart in the good places and the worst spot had duct tape holding it together. I had also been thinking of a new watch, some easy-to-read inexpensive Timex.

The conversation went something like this, between me and a Cute Young Salesgirl:

Me: "I think a Timex watch might be good."
CYS: "We have a few here."
Me: "This one is nice; is it a wind-up?"
CYS: "Sir?"
Me: "Do you wind this watch?"
CYS: "I don’t understand what you mean."
Me: "Like this:" (I demonstrate on my watch.)
CYS: "What are you doing?"
Me: "You are watching a dinosaur winding his watch."
CYS: "I’ve never seen that before."
Me: "When you get home, tell your grandfather about this."
CYS: "All our watches use batteries."
Me: "We used to wind them once a day. Long time ago."
CYS: "…oh…"

I bought the watch, then left the store and looked to see if any pterodactyls happened to be flying by.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Life On North Franklin

Franklin Street, North and South, runs the entire length of the city. I think only Main Street can make the same statement, but the two are radically different: Main goes from Hanover Township to Plains in one fell swoop, while Franklin is divided into at least five sections. One of them ends up in a half-block segment; another, right outside my window, is but a block long and ends in a cliff dotted with gravestones; it picks up a few blocks later, only to end (final destination, as they say) in a stream. For all I know, there may be another cut up there, as well, making it a six-section street.

The "Unite or Die" colonial flag snake got off better.

Franklin Street is also one-way, except the sections where it is two-way; in one area, it is one-way, changes to two-way, then back again.

Up this way, there was a speakeasy which moved across the street, as well as a man who decided there were too many people in the world and so he never had children as his part of keeping the population down. At one time, there were three radio stations on the street. One was presided over by an owner who was a dead ringer for Col. Sanders; the other two had remarkably similar-sounding call signs and frequencies. A fourth station had been bought out earlier.

Franklin Street also has four banks, three churches, two colleges and one VD clinic.

With all this, it's not even a main road. Just a northbound sliced-up street that takes you nowhere in five or six pieces. You just can't get there from here; try the less-exciting Main Street.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Let's See... Socks (check), Unders (check) ...

It's just one week before I leave for my cruise and I'm doing a test pack to see how things will work. Looks pretty good for two carry-on bags (there would be just one if the ship had a self-serve laundry) and the longest walk will be from here three blocks to the bus terminal. Although I'd really rather be going north, at least I don't have to carry heavier clothes for what I know happens up there. But, south it is for two cruises; we'll see about the rest when the time comes. (Actually, the 2008 schedule is coming out now.)

There are checklists: Things I want to bring, things I really need to bring, things I must absolutely bring. Then there are things I don't want to know: My radio show; don't tell me how it's going, because there is nothing I can do about it and I really don't care.

I'll be in pirate territory, but just two or three hundred years too late. No Blackbeard, no swords in teeth, guns in hand, big earrings, no "Arrrrr, matey, get ready to meet your Maker."

My ancestors, coming over from England, never had it so good. It's far less exciting these days, but we're far too spoiled to put up with what was normal in the 1500-1600's.

"Arrrr, matey."

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Two Best Books In The House

My grandfather was a great person for having the right books. Specifically, having the two most important books in his life: the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, and the Rand-McNally Atlas. They were tops in their line; with these, we could understand the world around us. People might have had that atlas in their homes, but I doubt very many would have that very large and equally expensive dictionary hanging around.

It taught me not to scrimp on the necessary reference works. While I still have that dictionary, I also have its child, the Third Edition. The atlas, woefully out of date by now, rests in my bookshelf; its successors have also been well-used. Successors? Yes, because an atlas slowly becomes outdated and after about ten years, it's time to look for a replacement. What you finally buy should be thick, with an index that's about 1/3 the size of the book; an atlas has much information, but is of little use if you can't access it. You give the previous edition to friends who can use it and aren't quite as fastidious.

We aren't very good with our basic geography -- where places are, what's east of us, south of us, how big are other countries compared to some of our states.

We aren't even very good with our basic words -- where they came from, what they originally meant, how they are related to other words.

My grandfather, with his diploma from International Correspondence School, knew what were the two best books in the house.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ducks United

21 miles a week, one foot after another. Or, maybe that should be "one foot ahead of another," because I'm walking forward. The pedometers we are wearing tell me I average 3 miles a day. I'd have thought I walked only one; this is quite a surprise for such a non-athletic person.

We have this "encourage walking" thing going on at work and quite a few of us are wearing yellow pedometers on our belts (or wherever the ladies keep theirs). There are a bunch of groups here competing: "Film @ 11," for one; "River Street Rollers" for another. "Ducks United" does its part, limited tho it might be -- we had only one member for a while, until someone else asked to join and our board of directors voted 1-0 to admit her. So our group mileage doubled overnight! I don't think any other group could claim a percentage increase like that, either in members or miles walked.

It runs for several more weeks; my vacation occurs during this time. On the 18th, I'll be reporting from St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. My next week's miles will finish while I am steaming along in the Atlantic Ocean.

Now to post this before Thursday runs out.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Organ Music And Flowers

I went to the wake of a funeral director today and there were a few of her compatriots standing around; the others were planning to gather that evening. It was tastefully done, as these things go; in this area (perhaps elsewhere ... who knows?), wakes can be events you approach with some trepidation.

We often have the easels with photos from infancy through grandparently days, occasionally appearing to include every photo the family could dig up from World War II back to baby clothes. One such included a photo of the dear departed mooning the camera.

The contents of the casket always contain the deceased; whatever else might be there can vary considerably. Toys, little gifts from the pets, bottles of whiskey, even the Departed laid out in a baseball uniform. Some caskets are so filled with trinkets that it looks like a tag sale and you can hardly see the Guest of Honor.

One time, a woman was sitting halfway down the room chatting with friends while another, dressed in black, was weeping at the head of the casket. The Weeper in Black was the mistress; the wife was there more out of form than any other reason.

When my father passed on, our closest family friend was sitting in the crowd, a dead ringer for Dr. Kevorkian. Some people I knew came in and expressed their condolences; I pointed to the friend and said, "I'd like you to meet his physician."

Another person said, "He looks so good." I said, "Yeah; any better and he wouldn't be here."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I Think It Would Be A Great Idea

I think it would be a great idea if...

...when towns had "junk pick-up" days, people were allowed to drive around and see if there was anything they liked before the trucks rolled. It might save 50% of the amount to be hauled, people would find things they want and it would be fun to meet people. It's the same as scavenging at the town dump, but with a little more dignity.

...instead of calling it a "break," at work, we called it for what it is: "Recess." It worked in grammar school; it can work in the office. We would go outside together, chat, have something to drink or a little snack. Then the bell would ring and we'd go back inside again.

...everybody in the same generation were on a first-name basis. I see no reason to tack on a job title (Senator, Attorney, Reverend, Doctor) when the name your parents gave you was important to them and important enough to be baptized, christened or dedicated with. It's gotten so that everybody has a title now.

...people realized that a yellow traffic light means "clear the intersection." It does not mean "go faster"; sometimes it means "better stop, 'cause you're not going to make it before I turn red and someone t-bones you." I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that there will be another green light coming along within a minute or so.

...people realized (speaking of driving) that the right-of-way is something the other person gives you. If he doesn't give it to you, you don't have it. Likewise, never argue the right-of-way with a vehicle that has more wheels than yours.

...we realized we are not the most important person in the world. Or, at least, in the neighborhood, on the road or in a store. There are plenty others with the same needs, in the same hurry, just as tired, worried, got the same aches and pains. If they are slower, having a problem thinking, maybe a bit forgetful, we should adapt that tombstone engraving: "As you are, so was I; as I am, so shall you be."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Some Idle Thoughts On A Busy Day

Vacation's not close until you turn the calendar over to a new month and there it is: at the end of the second week, you're going away. Have to do a test pack to make sure I have the necessary stuff and how it will fit. Call the pharmacist (usually referred to as my drug dealer) and get all my meds filled, as they run out during the cruise. Make a short list of what I absolutely must have when I leave the room and post it by the door, so I can check as I leave.

There have been a bunch of school shootings recently, in retaliation for events that happened to the shooters. "A new phenomenon," some people are saying. I just saw the tv schedule for tomorrow night and, on Turner Classic Movies, "Thirteen Women" (1932) is playing at 6:45pm. "Remembering the slights she suffered at the hands of her classmates, a young woman plans an unusual form of vengeance." There's nothing new.

I'm thinking up ideas for my post on the Cruise Critic message board thread while I am away. Tentative working title is: "Live From the Noordam - Carib." I was going to subtitle it, "The Po' Sidin' Adventure," but I might just use that inside somewhere. This blog, by the way, will also be on vacation during that time (Oct 14-25), so don't look for any updates here. All posts will be on the Cruise Critic site, Holland America Line board. Here's the general URL: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/forumdisplay.php?f=171 You can bookmark my thread when you get there if you want to keep up with the cruise. It's updated once or twice a day and you can add your own thoughts if you'd like; just register to post.

Someone watched our students walking by with cellphones welded to their ears. "How did we get along without them?" he asked, sarcastically. I wanted to reply, "How did we get along without our cars?" Yeah; what was wrong with Route 1? It took you from Maine to Florida; did we really need I-95? It's called innovation, advancement and realizing how to fulfill the needs you see that others don't. We got along without things, but we get along a lot better with them; we'll figure out which work (tv, phones) and which don't (8-track tapes, 3-wheeled cars).

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My Brother Writes About Mom

Today is Mom's birthday and this is a piece my brother wrote a while back, then revised. It has been edited to fit this space.

Before my Mom left, way before actually, she taught me something -- even better than that, I learned from her.

One time she was bitten by a huge German Shepherd on the right cheek of her fanny. Funny thing here, she had a photo party as she needed vivid and explicit proof of the dog’s misdoings. I mean, here is an 80 year old lady mooning a camera in her living room in front of her best friends and neighbours. Well, the dog and the settlement enabled her to buy a top-shelf lawnmower with two-wheel drive and speeds which would leave her breathless because she did not know about throttle control.

The problem was that she was not strong enough to fire it up, so the grumpy old guy across the street would come over. He was the cheek party photographer’s husband. She later found the photographer’s grandson to cut the lawn while she figured in her Yankee mind that the few bucks paid to the kid was well spent, and on top of that she got rid of a grumpy old dude with a heart the size of a pumpkin.

Come winter, in the northeast, snow fell. She farmed that out to the kid who did the grass, but he never charged her anything. Many other sundry tasks were absorbed by neighbours and she enjoyed the attention and care. Folks were taking care of my Mom.

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

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

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

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

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

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