Sunday, December 31, 2006

Taking It Out, Bringing It In

I’ve been around radio for a good many years (actually, a good many decades), including times when it was a rather tenuous connection and a definite eyebrow-raiser. Too long a story for here. I know I’ve worked Christmas Eve and Christmas at one place or another; you don’t forget that. I’m sure I’ve worked New Year’s Eve, but I just can’t remember it. If I worked Christmas Eve at this one station, I should have worked New Year’s Eve as well; they’re a week apart.

Unless I’m one of the few radio newsmen and/or disc jockeys who never had the experience of taking out the old year and bringing in the new year. It’s the kind of thing you don’t forget: “And now, we leave Nineteen (old year) and enter into Nineteen (new year).” Nope; never said it. Either I was watching Guy Lombardo or Dick Clark.

I’ve worked in a time zone “corner,” where we were in EST, a few miles west was CDT and a few miles north was EDT. Try announcing upcoming program times juggling all that around in your head!

I’ve taken out Beethoven and brought in Pink Floyd. It was at a station which was classical until midnight, then classic rock in the wee small hours. I’d finish the classical music, then chat with the overnighter as he, off-mic, started moving into the announce chair and I would begin moving off-mic. It was an announcer switch you could see over the radio.

May you take time in 2007 to ponder the mysteries of the universe.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

An Old-Fashioned Necktie Party

Saddam Hussein has gone off into eternity. Having caused many people to meet their fate in rather gruesome ways, he now meets his. What happened the instant after he left this world for the next is a mystery to us, but I think we can surmise that there weren’t choirs of angels, a smiling Jesus and a radiant Trinity escorting him to a heavenly mansion.

We all mess up along the way and I think that’s to be expected. I don’t think it will make any difference in what happens to us after we cross the bridge. It may well be true that what goes around comes around: what we have tried to be in this life will be magnified millions of times in the next.

Those who brought joy to others will receive it themselves; the caring will be cared for, etc. Your virtues will bring your happiness. Your faults are swept away.

Those who were responsible for putting others into “people grinders” – slow tree mulchers – feet first while still alive, may find themselves being the victims of that and the other atrocities they committed … for all eternity.

Perhaps the Nazis will experience all the fear and pain they engendered in their victims, and the victims’ families, each one of the twelve million, sequentially, until they get to the end … then have it start over in a continuous cycle that never ends.

What goes around may well come around.

Friday, December 29, 2006

13 Years Of Garbage

George Rattiger and Debra Schaefer, local residents, were married the other day, about half an hour after they called the local District Judge to set a date. "We could do it today," the judge said. "When?" Debra asked. The judge replied, "Right now."

Her 12-year-old son was the photographer and her two grandchildren were ring bearer and flower girl. She told her mother later in the day.

They'd been engaged for 13 years but it just never happened. They lived together ever since and, as Debra said, “I just thought it would always be that way.” The newspaper article noted that several times they spoke about planning the wedding, but something always came up to stall their efforts.

Both had been married before and have children – yours, mine and ours. They met at work; both drive garbage trucks for a local sanitation company.

When the judge said they could come over right away, Debra said, “I look at George and we figured it was now or never.”

“It was like teenagers eloping,” Debra said. “I didn’t even tell my mom.”

Thursday, December 28, 2006

If You Can't Say It, Abbreviate It

There are just so many times when we want to say something, but it’s just not the time, nor the place (much less the audience) for the words to come out raw and unedited. So we abbreviate. If I can remember, I’ll try to see just how often we do it in regular use; it’s probably more than we think.

I saw a photo of a sign near a dock. Can’t remember the exact wording, but it was about seagulls and ended with the warning that they would “S.O.Y.” If you can’t figure that one out, think of what it’s like to walk under a flock of seagulls and think of what will inevitably happen. Yes, one or more of them will S.O.Y. I’ve seen it happen. Mom always used the name of a popular shampoo, “White Rain,” when she saw it happening, followed by “It’s a good thing cows don’t fly.”

Ambulance attendants have their own language. “LOL in NAD” is one set of letters they use to indicate “Little Old Lady in No Apparent Distress.” Sometimes you just need a little reassurance.

My favorite is “BFD,” for “Big Deal.” While you can’t use it in church, the kids don’t get it, the old folks won’t catch on and be offended and it accurately reflects a certain degree of disdain.

“SOL” is another of those, used to indicate that you just don’t have any options left. Well, it’s more than just “no options”; it’s “up the creek and no options.” It’s how we all are at one time or another. Just SOL when people SOY.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On The Skids

Friend of mine bought a new (for her) house, complete with running water … in the cellar. That’s not at all unusual around here and her problem is not serious; just a bit of a pain. She has a wet vac and a dehumidifier to take care of it and they should handle it.

Even if the water is all down at one end, there’s always the chance that the floor might be damp elsewhere. And “elsewhere” is where you store things, most made out of cardboard. Not many things soak up dampness quite like cardboard and that’s what we want to avoid. We need something to support them.

Sooooo, in the early afternoon when nobody is around the back end of the newspaper building where I am a columnist, I put together a posse: A mutual friend of ours, her husband and his pickup. Mission: To swipe eight skids (also known as pallets) and get them over to the house.

Let it be known that we’re not exactly stealing them. We’re just taking them without asking and trying not to get caught. They’re going to the dump anyway, and it’s probably better manners to ask. But then you have to go through channels and people have to ask people. It’s better just to show up with a truck when no one’s around, grab what you need and get out of there.

All I need to find are 32 bricks to put under the corners of the skids to keep them dry.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Whatever Happened To What's-His-Name?

Dagnabit. Had it on the tip of my tongue. We were talking about it for so long and, all of a sudden, I forgot his name and all the folderol that went along with him.

Oh, yeah – Santa Claus. That’s it; fat guy, red suit, sleigh, reindeer. Christmas music, special programs on tv, decorations all over the place.

The say there’s nothing that’s over as much as Christmas. Starts sometime in October, gets up a head of steam in November, overpowers us in December and, POOF, just like the old guy himself, it’s gone as soon as December 25 turns into December 26. Even the Christmas morning newspapers have ads for after-Christmas sales. When it’s over, it’s over. O-V-E-R. Over. Next?

One thing the Catholics got right is the practice of starting the Christmas season on the day itself and continuing it for eight days. Ok, it’s not original with them; they stole it from the Jews. But it’s the idea that you start the celebration when the day arrives and keep it going; you don’t start ahead of time and then forget all about it at the traditional time when carriages turn into pumpkins.

Commercially, the Christmas season is over and it’s time to look forward to Valentine’s Day. Religiously, this holy season has just started (remember the Twelve Days of Christmas song?) and will continue on for a while yet.

The fat man is gone, but the Little Child remains.

Monday's Blog

It's still Christmas around here. Went to Mass this morning, then went to Christmas brunch at Wildflowers Restaurant with a close family friend. We got around to opening gifts in the afternoon sometime, then I prepped and recorded my radio show. Had supper around 9:00, knocked around for a while, fell asleep, woke up. Wrote this blog.

Going to get the morning newspaper new (12:33am Tuesday) and then put one sheet under me, one sheet over me.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Sunday's Blog

Oh, yeah ... t'was the Night Before Christmas and allllll through the house, I was doing everything except thinking of Sunday's blog.

You'll have this.

Stay tuned for Monday's Christmas blog.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Ugly Church

Priests and ministers appear willing to sell their souls if they can be appointed to the better parishes and the finer church buildings. In the process, they get an attitude and you know they have arrived. Beautiful church, well-coiffed priest, fine homes.

I grew up in an ugly church. It was built from bricks that came from a demolished housing project. They never were lined up perfectly, there were major cement runs from between the bricks. As far as being painted went, the people who did it seemed to think that one swish with the brush was fine, so you’d see white and some brick red when they were done.

It was a Normandy-style church, rough-hewn and windblown out on the edge of civilization, surrounded by water. A fancy, well designed building just would not match the location. This place, complete with its peasant-village bell tower, was the exact right building in the exact right place. A cold, stark building in what can quite easily be a cold, stark village.

The pastors were equally unpretentious; no matter who we had, they fit the church and they fit the parish. When one of them could not light the New Fire at Holy Saturday night, someone in the pews tossed a pack of matches onto his table by the altar; he picked it up, and went right on. No big deal. Our dog trotting down the aisle when we were serving Mass? We’d lead it out; another no big deal.

A ugly church? Certainly not in our eyes; it fit us and our windswept village.

Friday, December 22, 2006

No, That's Gotta Be A Mistake

We and our fathers drooled over some of the beauties that we haven’t seen lately. But we sure do remember them. Not only that, but we keep their memories as they were. Let’s bring you up to date.

94: Deborah Kerr. (Yeah, that’s 94 years old.)
88: Lena Horne. At 88, she’s still a looker.
84: Jane Russell
83: Kay Starr
82: Esther Williams
81: Doris Day
78: Gina Lollobrigida and Patti Page
77: Shirley Temple
74: Mamie Van Doren
73: Debbie Reynolds and Liz Taylor
71: Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren
70: Julie Andrews

Ms.’ Bardot and Loren are 71? I have photos of my grandmother at 71, but she did not have the (a) basic beauty or (b) whatever surgery has been necessary. Did she, we might be looking at her picture on Cosmo. Or the centerfold of the AARP magazine.

But Shirley Temple at 77 … that’s a mind-blower. She wasn’t supposed to grow up.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

There Was No Peacock

I took the NBC studio tour once in New York City. For someone quite young, who was even then very interested in broadcasting, it was quite a thrill. I never asked my parents what they thought of the whole deal, but they seemed to be interested enough.

The ‘50s were called The Golden Age of Television, and may still be. It was a time when you could watch dramas every night; variety shows several times a week. Not all the shows were top-drawer, but they tried. And they were all “live.” Not “live on tape,” or “recorded live in front of an audience.” They were happening in a New York studio at the same time as we were watching them.

I saw three or four in the process of development. One, as I recall, went on the air that night. The others followed later in the week. Each was spread out beneath us, as we looked down from the visitors’ loft.

It was amazing how the crew made do with so little equipment. Milton Berle’s big-time variety show started out with only two cameras and later added a third. The drama shows had three. You can’t do anything these days without four or five; even CNN Headline News has 17 in the studio for one thing or another.

But it happened. We didn’t seem to notice the mistakes, if there were any (and there most likely were – well covered by these professionals). Somehow, it all came together in 60 minutes of glorious black & white, long before NBC got its peacock.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

450,000 Wasn't Enough For Me

There's always someone who needs just one more. 450,000 isn’t enough; 450,001 is.

One day, a few years back, I was curious about a common slang word that appears only in print. It’s the lighthearted reference to the mayor’s title, “His Honor,” often spelled “Hizzoner.” I wondered when it came into the language and so I checked the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. The editors indicate the date each word joined the language.

Alas, this word was missing. Their unabridged dictionary has 450,000 entries and I wanted to know about the one word they did not list. “So,” you might ask, “who cares?” Well, “Me,” I might respond, “I care.”

The MW dictionary people get about 2,000 requests each year for word inclusions. Few people follow up with any kind of research; fewer yet keep at it to completion. You are reading the writing of one who did. Once. Never again.

I had people looking at newspapers all over the country, magazines of all types. I went through reference books that covered any topic, including children’s in-school movies. Nothing was safe. After collecting about a hundred citations, I had shown the word was used over a long period of time, in various media, spread around the country.

450,001 is the number I needed and now the dictionary is complete. I rest contented.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Favorite Is...

I just received another “Getting to know your friends” lists yesterday. Some of them ask for information I don’t care to pass on, even to friends; this one was user-friendly.

1. What is your occupation? “Oh, golly, gee willikers,” as the former Donald Rumsfeld would say. I’m a broadcaster, newspaper columnist, very active in my church and semi-retired.

2. What color are the socks you are wearing? Mixed, as usual.

3. Can you drive a stick shift? Yes, and can double-clutch as well.

4. What is on the floor of your closet? You don’t want to know. I mean, if I don’t want to know, then you sure don’t.

5. Cherry or Blueberry? Pumpkin.

6. What are you afraid of? Going to Hell. More immediately, having a useless death as the result of a drive-by shooting.

7. Favorite smells? Mothballs, low tide in a swamp during July or August, flowers.

8. Favorite saying? (a) Don’t do anything that will scandalize the children or stampede the cattle. (b) There’s always one more imbecile than you expected. (c) Christ is coming; look busy. (d) One never knows, do one?

Monday, December 18, 2006

54 / 12

It’s been a fairly lovely spring day here and everybody has been talking about the fair weather for this time of the year – midway through December. We’d like a little snow for Christmas, but nobody is placing any bets on it.

There is, of course, always a chance that some white stuff will fall from the sky, but either it’s going to melt on the way down, or as soon as it hits the ground. Let’s face it, you don’t normally shovel snow when it’s 54 degrees Fahrenheit / 12 degrees Celsius.

My brother says he’s glad it doesn’t snow in July and August because, “It’s too hot to shovel.” I’ll buy that. When you are expending that much exertion, you will heat up fast and you need to do it on a cold day. God was wise to make it snow only during the cold season of the year.

But temperatures are so relative. 54 degrees in the cold months is pretty much a heat wave, while the same temp in the middle of summer will bring astonishment from the tv weatherfolks. Actually, the weatherguy this evening spent too much time pointing out the temperatures which were plainly visible on the screen. “Look At That!!” he shouts. “Just tell me if it’s going to rain tomorrow!!” I shout back. Some people like history, others just want to know if they should close their windows before they go to work in the morning.

I’d like to know if Santa’s sleigh will need runners or wheels.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Trains, Trains and Planes

My brother wrote: “Then I heard it just as I passed the bathroom door early this morning, a low almost hidden sound of thunder in the distance. Without having to look out the window or at the barometer, I knew there was low pressure. The cloud cover was not too high, but the clouds were heavy and thick and there was no wind at all. It will rain!

“There are no railroad tracks near here; however a main line crosses town a mile away as the crows fly and when I hear the wheels, steel on steel, I do not need the weatherman. You can trust the trains.

“As I managed to open my reluctant left eye and looked out the window, I put my thumbs in my pyjama suspenders and congratulated myself on the great call... it was low clouds, no wind…and I had heard the train.”

When I lived in Gloucester, Mass., we knew which way the wind was blowing, based on how loud the train whistle sounded as it made the crossing downtown. Very loud = southwest. Faint = northeast and watch out for weather.

In South Bend, we were on the approach to the airport. If the planes were loud, it meant we had a good cloud cover and they were under it. If they were landing fairly softly, we knew the sky was clear and it would be a good day.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Popcorn And Cocoa

What we really need right now is a snowy evening. Not a lot of it; just enough so we can’t see across the Valley and we get, maybe, two or three inches. The kind of evening when you bundle up in a blanket and have cocoa with popcorn. You are alone, you have a friend, or you have several people with you; however the population is, it’s fueled by this wintertime combination.

Does it work without snow? Yes, but not quite as well. What you have then are a few friends sitting around chatting, sipping hot steaming cocoa and chomping on popcorn.

But with snow you have people bundled up against the weather, continuing the ancient survival technique that doesn’t go away just because we now live in houses instead of caves, have indoor heat instead of cave fires. Times change, but DNA imprints don’t.

So why fight it? Why go around this evening as if the snow’s out there, we’re in here and there is no change in our daily activities? Go with the genetic imprint, wrap yourself up in the bearskins of the day (fluffy bathrobes though they may be), roast some food on the fire (pop pop pop) and wait out the storm (such as it may be).

We have all these genetic imprints and there are times we should listen to our ancestors and forget that it’s 2006 or 2007. They didn’t leave us these markers for no reason at all. It’s so we can participate in their life to some extent, although much more comfortably and with far less danger. We have prime rib, instead of mastodon steak.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Procession Of Lights

Twice each year we have the procession of lights, a ceremony the students traditionally partake of as they have since the first year the college held classes. Unlike many rituals, this has not ebbed over the years and is picked up easily by the first-year students.

It starts about the third day of exams, as students finish and quickly pack. Into the cars their stuff goes and, one after another, they drive out and down the street. We see the procession of tail lights heading off into the distance and we think to ourselves, “That much less noise at night.”

They, on their part, think there is no better view than seeing the Admin Building in the rear-view mirror.

Oddly enough, our delight at the silence and peace only lasts about two weeks and then we complain that it’s too quiet. All too soon we’re hoping that someone will toss an M-80 out a dorm window, or that a party will spill out onto the lane between the dorms.

And, odder still, the students will get very tired of being home after about January 2. They will be looking forward to being back at school, because they’ve become used to the freedom they don’t get at home (despite their insistence that the school ties them down), they can have girls in their room with the door shut, they can go out to bars until all hours.

But for now, line up because the Procession of Lights is forming.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A CLUe That It's Christmas

It may be the Christmas season everywhere else, but it’s orgasm time on the 18th floor of 125 Broad Street in New York City. There, the organization which does such a good, if quiet, job of protecting our civil liberties the rest of the year, starts acting like a guy with a credit card in a whorehouse.

It’s Christmas, with all its decorations and finery; it’s a season both religious and secular. Or, a season, first religious, which has become secular with religious symbols all over the place.

For the ACLU, it’s like those drawings we’ve seen of the old West, where guys with rifles stood atop railcars and shot at herds of buffalo. There were so many targets it was almost too easy. Oddly enough, the buffalo survived but the guys shooting them were eventually banished by public outcry. The new riflemen have their hundreds of mangers in the crosshairs.

Sooner or later, a majority of people will start asking if having a manger scene on public property is really the same as congress passing a law establishing a national religion. Or if having the Ten Commandments in a courthouse will hurt those who don’t happen to follow that set of rules.

There’s a big difference between a national religion and a seasonal religious symbol on a piece of public property.

But, as I said, when your group orgasms only once a year, you take what you can get.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wednesday? You've Gotta Be Crazy

It’s Wednesday, Woden’s Day in Old English. He was the chief Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic god and leader of the Wild Hunt. Name comes from “wod” (“violently insane”) and “en” (“headship”).

He’s the Norse god of magic, battle fury, protection, inspiration, shaman ecstacy, consciousness and communication. Woden is also revered as the father and ruler of the gods and mortals, the god of war, of learning and poetry, of the dead.

Another explanation tells us this story: Woden was the god that controlled all the other gods. His number one mission was to gain all knowledge and wisdom. He visited all four corners of the world to gather information. Nothing could be hidden from him. In fact, he even wore out one of his eyes by seeing so much wisdom. To cover the rather messy dead eye, he wore a large floppy hat. To compensate for his missing eye, he carried a blackbird on each shoulder. These birds were his extra eyes and could fly off to spy on people, and then report back to Woden. In this way, Woden knew everything that was going on and people had to be very careful how they behaved in case Woden was watching. After all, as king of all gods, he could wreak havoc on dissenters in any way he chose.

Don’t worry about people who mis-spell it. Wodnesdaeg is related to Wonsdei or Wensdei. There are more than thirty spelling variations in the evolution of the term. Some include the “d” from Woden's name (Weodnesdei) and some do not (Wennessday). What happened to the sound of the first “d” in “Wednesday”? It’s called d-dropping and it’s quite alright.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I Want To Be Famous

Seems as if no one person ever invents something; the idea for the new device apparently is floating around in the general consciousness. Someone gets the credit, but many people are plugged into it; the thought is out there and you don’t realize you may be the first … or second.

When I was really young, I once thought how good it would be to have an automobile transmission that would be automatic and not have to manually shift; darned if they didn’t beat me to it. I also thought it would be good to have a music system in your car that would not depend on a needle and turntable; well, along came the cassette tape and player. Then I thought of a braking system for locomotives that would use downhill pull to create a current; drat … some guy made Dynamic Braking before me.

I suggested the wide-mouth jar to Kraft Foods when I was 11 or 12, not knowing they were also trying to work out a new design for it (and thanked me for the idea). Around the same time, we were flipping pie tins from the nearby Frisbie Pie Company, now wondering if we were the original Frisbee tossers.

Do you remember a song, “The Big Hurt,” and its “swooshing” sound from the high to low audio frequencies? While I was experimenting with that effect, I heard the same thing on the radio from this song. I thought, “I feel like the guy who invented 6-Up.”

Monday, December 11, 2006

Some Patents Issued This Year

The New York Times compiled a list of some patents issued this year. The proprietors of “Things At King’s” present a few as a public service:

-A miniature, and safe, ear vacuum.
-Beard trimmer with internal vacuum
-Sleep-inducing toothpaste.
-A ropeless jump rope (and a flameless candle)
-Umbrella having sprinkler device

You wonder how we ever got along without things like these. You may even wonder who thought them up and why. Some make sense; others are questionable.

-Covered bicycle with door
-Urinating animated toy
-Eye massaging device
-Flossing kit for pierced body parts
-Pet-operated ball-tossing device

What did the editor of the feature think was brilliant? A head-nodding alarm to avert sleep while driving. What got a “yuck”? An expandable vomit container.

What we need is a device to herd cats or get teens to clean their rooms.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Restoring The Strippins

The area in which I live was heavy into deep-mine anthracite coal. Under an apartment building I lived in was a very large mine, part of a complex which went under pretty much the entire Valley. The top vein of the mine is five hundred feet below our place, so the miners went down in an elevator. What’s holding the whole area up now? Probably a bunch of poles, some coal pillars and a lot of nothing. We’re lucky the mines, which flooded in 1959, may provide some extra strength. At least, I hope so.

There are loads of strip mines in this area, as well. Surface mines which have little overburden, as the dirt and rocks are called. Scrape that off and the coal is lying there for the taking. A strip mine can be fairly shallow, as those things go, or it can go down a hundred feet or more. One such mine a few miles away has three huge steam shovels working it, each one at least as large as a six-story building.

The beautification “fix it up” laws require that the strippins (as they are called locally) be restored to something that looks fairly nice. When the surface mining is done and all the equipment is removed, the companies then have to make the land look good.

“…and all the equipment is removed.” Uh-oh. You mean that’s why you will see a raw strip mine with one old broken-down useless piece of junk sitting there? That’s why it’s not been removed?

I hate to be cynical and say the mine owners wrote the law…

Saturday, December 09, 2006

They Lie, But They Lie Nicely

I’ve been taping some PBS programs for a friend who is a member, but does not have access to a vcr this weekend. Nor does she have my availability to hang out for the entire program and eliminate the begging parts.

“This is what PBS can do for you … these are the types of programs we can bring you.” It’s all claptrap, of course; we’re going to get the same stuff, week after week, that we always see. The exceptional offerings will show up during pledge months, with an occasional bone thrown in at other times. Yeah, they’re not being honest, but we know it and they know it; it’s the network’s version of pro wrestling.

So it’s a good time to get a lot of nice programming on tape. All you have to do is be around for the pledge breaks to stop the machine and get it going when the show starts again. Miss it today? It’ll be on later in the week, or the next week, or overnight. If it sells, it shows; if it shows, you can hardly miss recording it. Then, when you look at the tv schedule and “there’s nothing on,” you pull a tape and watch one of these programs over again.

Now, if we can only convince PBS to:
a) Stop telling us these are the kinds of programs you will only see on PBS when the right wording is, “The programs we only run during pledge months.”
b) Start running programs like this at random through the year.
c) Underwriting announcements are nearly commercials, so just charge more.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Cat's Cradle

I’ve got a small apartment: 2 rooms, a bath and a small kitchenette. I also have shared custody of a cat.

At her main house, one floor, she has her perches, her routine and her Main Gal. They have their ways and the cat has her spots. Over here, it’s pretty much the same way. There are three main windows for hanging out: The morning window, to lay and get the sun; the afternoon window on the other side, which also doubles as an evening window and sometimes a “time for you to get to bed” window; as well as another front window for just sitting and looking.

Then there’s the second desk and the entertainment center. The center is The Main Sleeping Place. Jump to the desk, jump to a shelf top, jump to the entertainment top. That is the living room and, with a padded box on its side at the end, the cat’s cradle.

She also likes the back of my desk chair, either sitting up, or lying down; you can move the chair and she stays right where she is. She does much the same on its arms. She likes to lie down on the back of my recliner, quite possibly because it’s under a lamp, the kind you twist around to point in the right direction.

When it’s time for her mid-day or late evening snack, she wanders around the kitchenette (next to my desk) or sits next to me, looking up. A little bit of fish, chicken or turkey and she’s happy. Who wouldn’t be?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Couple Of Attempts To Sneeze

We’ve all had those times when we feel a perfectly good sneeze coming on and, when we’re about to let it rip, it just isn’t there. Misfire. Bad start. A bit later, the Big One hits and blows every paper off the desk.

Our area has had three of those misfires this week of the snow type. First and second times, just a very little bit early in the morning. Third time, a little better: visible snow gathering on the tops of cars and the tree lawns. But still not a windpipe-cleaning, nose-emptying snowstorm. One of these days, the sky will go, “Ah – ah – ah – fooooosh 10 inches!”

A real good snowy sneeze.

We feel better when we’ve had one of our own. Our nose tickles just a bit, our head feels clear and there is a satisfied feeling about it all. When the atmosphere sneezes, it looks nice for a short time, but then we start to feel bad as we realize we have to shovel the stuff, it’s going to get colder after the storm passes and driving is going to be a pain.

One of these days, I will put the shovel into the car trunk and wait for that heavy, dark blue splotch to show up on the Doppler weather map at’s radar tab. Blue is snow and, as I write this, the state has quite a bit of it, but not the kind that drops a lot on us.

But one of these days, it’s going to sneeze a good one.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Frank, I've Bought A House

My grandmother, apparently, was the force they say is to be reckoned with. Even though I lived with her for quite a few years, I was not quite sure where the power lay in the family of two. Perhaps it was shared so equally that it never mattered who did what, or how decisions came about. Nellie Vail and F. Everett Vail had their ways and, however quietly they did things, it all happened.

Example: the house. As I heard it from Mom, one day in 1913, Nellie came home and said, “Frank, I’ve bought a house.” I don’t know if she had been sent looking, if they were planning to buy one, or if she just thought it was time. A builder put up two houses of the same type in town and Grandma signed on one of them. They moved in during a blizzard with my 3-year-old mother in tow.

A close family friend called early this afternoon and said, “Frank, I’ve bought a house.” She has been looking for some time now, has found several dream houses, but none were quite right and, even though you never find the perfect house, she kept moving on. Until six weeks ago, when the best bet came on the market and she had a feeling this was it.

Closings are somewhat similar to the guy on the Ed Sullivan Show who spun six or seven plates on long sticks. He’d get to the last one and the first was very wobbly; then there were two others that were about to fall. It seemed as if there was always one plate too many. At closing time, there’s just one more thing to do than you think you can handle, but you do and, finally, it’s, “Frank, I’ve bought a house.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Wheels On The Bus

"The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town." Well, the song is a lot longer than that and, really, a lot more interesting even at my age. How I missed it in the nuns' school is beyond me, but maybe it was because I was in the rhythm band in, I think, second grade, to the great amusement of Sister Mary Something. I could never hold on to the cymbals (the straps were too big for my hands), so I was relegated to the sticks.

When I see the percussion act called “Blue Man Group,” I sit transfixed with envy. It’s my second-grade rhythm band on caffeine and steroids; it’s my imagination on meth; it’s heaven with sticks. Funny thing is, they are quite normal in real life; that’s the difference between them and me.

The wheels on the bus go round and round; the horn on the bus goes “beep beep beep.” The drummer on the bus goes “bingetty bonk bink bink bong bong.” The people on the bus go “shush shush shush.” The drummer on the bus goes, “you ain’t got rhythm.”

The nuns in heaven go, “You were cute in second grade; you aren’t cute now.”

Eventually, I became a self-taught pianist and, even later, took trumpet lessons. The experimentation was still there, as I tried playing the trumpet with a trombone mouthpiece to see what areas of the musical scale we (the trumpet and I) could explore.

My thanks to

Monday, December 04, 2006

A New Orleans Entertainer

I received a call today from my friend Banu Gibson, an entertainer down in New Orleans. She has a new CD out, a project that has been in the works for about six years. It's something she's done on and off, when various musicians were available. "Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers" is the theme, some songs known and some forgotten or barely remembered. It's a great disc.

As we chatted, she talked about a cruise she was on with her band (along with a lot of other jazz and Dixieland groups); she just returned and wanted to get back to me. She’s booked for the same type of cruise next October, but I’m not able to make it, nor could I make this one. It would be nice to see her in person.

She and most of her band survived the damages from the hurricane and flood in New Orleans. Most, but not all. How a musician survives a total loss of sheet music and instruments is beyond me, but I hope it’s not beyond them. People are opting out of life at a horrendous rate down there; they have lost hope. Banu and her family were ok, living just high enough above the flooding.

She put together a band a whole bunch of years ago for a one-night engagement. The New Orleans Hot Jazz has been together since then, through thick and thin – not to mention a hefty handful of compact discs. Her own spot in New Orleans has yet to come about, but that might happen some time in the future. What to name it? Maybe something like “Banu’s” would be good enough.

“Hi, y’all. The New Orleans Hot Jazz and I welcome you…”

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Neither Here Nor There

That supermarket I mentioned yesterday was blown into the middle of tomorrow. It's structurally sound, but got pretty beat up when the tornado hit it. Only one fatality, which is ok unless you are the one; a lady walking her dog when someone's roof took off and landed on her.

The new casino is letting everyone know that it took in maybe $9 million and paid out maybe $7 million; I forget the exact figures. Pretty impressive payouts for the bettors and I wondered how the casino could afford it. Then someone told me how casinos cook the publicity. Payouts aren't what you take home; they are what the machines pay out with each twirl of the wheel. If you go in with $100 and go out broke, but during that time you win a bit, lose a bit, win a bit and so on, all the money the machine gives you ($5 here, $20 there, $10, $50) are listed as payouts, even if you lose everything.

Apparently, it doesn’t pay to rob a bank. I notice, reading the newspapers, that people who rob banks are caught in a relatively short period of time. One way or another, they're gonna get you. It sounds like an easy way to pick up some cash, but somehow it just doesn't work.

And that’s the news for Sunday.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Yup, it was a tornado (see the entry just below this one). With 120mph winds, it rates as an F2 and was 150 yards wide -- although the weather guy on tv accidentally said "150 miles wide." It's also the first time a tornado has been known to have touched down in Pennsylvania in December.

A Locomotive Passed Overhead

Yesterday afternoon, it was 72 degrees and heavily overcast; this morning, it was 45 degrees and perfectly clear. Between those times, approximately 4:15 to 5:30, we had low-road flooding everywhere, continuous lightning and high winds. The weather service sent predictions as to the time a possible tornado would arrive at different places, including an area called Mountain Top.

On that evening’s news, two people along that line, including one in a supermarket that got a little beat up, said they heard the sound of a locomotive passing overhead. That’s the typical noise of a tornado, a train the PUC cannot regulate.

We’re still waiting for the Powers That Be to determine if it has been a true tornado or just some real damaging winds and loud noise. Nobody was able to see a funnel cloud in the darkness, which would have made for a dandy photo in the newspaper.

In this area, where tornados or their junior partners are fairly rare, there isn’t any warning for us to take cover. We don’t have the siren mentality that permeates the Midwest, the southwest-facing spotters during “that type” of weather so well known in the flatlands. It’s more like, “What the ****! was that?”

Everybody Has A Story
Frank Kozden died, a local resident who moved to New Jersey some years ago and cooked in various restaurants and diners. “Among the many customers he served were Howard Cosell, Larry Holmes, June Lockhart and Ed Sullivan.”

Friday, December 01, 2006

You Don't Say!

“The Quote Verifier” is a book I just bought; you want to know who really said what, it’s right there.

“Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” A quote from Ginger herself, as most claim? She says she first saw it in a comic strip, Bob Thaves’ “Frank and Ernest.” Bob agrees that he made it up.

Books such as this are favorites of mine, if only because they cut through the dirt and grime of the decades, the rumors and false identifications and let us know exactly what was said and exactly who said it.

Example: “Nice guys finish last.” Red Barber, the Dodgers’ radio announcer, asked Leo Durocher why he couldn’t be a nice guy for a change. Leo, manager of the first-place Dodgers, waved toward the seventh-place Giants’ dugout. “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.”

As the over-misquoted Yogi Berra so well put it, “I didn’t say everything I said.”

Everybody Has A Story
Kathleen Scherer passed away this week; she used to live up the road in Moosic, near Scranton. Her obituary notes that, “At one time, she was considered to be the prettiest girl in Moosic by all her peers.”