Thursday, May 31, 2007

We've Got The Measles

Everything was so clear; no marks, no red splotches. Nothing to warn us. Then, suddenly, the Doppler Radar weather map started blossoming with these little rash markings. I knew instantly that it wouldn’t be a matter of a concentrated front passing through, but thunderstorms popping up here and there, forming, moving a bit, dissolving and never to be seen again. Meanwhile, storms would be popping up elsewhere. The entire state would look as if it had the measles.

Sometimes the entire east coast, all the mid-Atlantic states, look this way on the radar map. Red, yellow and green splotches. You know the meaning of “widely scattered thunderstorms” when you see this effect.

But sometimes there is a crooked yellow line with dark green going more or less in a very general north-south direction. That’s one of those storm fronts that hits like the end of the world and lasts twenty minutes. Enough lightning and thunder to make you look up to the sky and wait for the angels to part the clouds and sound the final trumpets. But, no, it’s just a weather front and, behind it, sunny and cooler weather. The End Time will have to wait.

So, anyway, we had one of those measles days. I was watching the weather on tv tonight; the local station has people in three local cities. Here in Wilkes-Barre, nothing; up in nearby Scranton, the whole show; over in Williamsport, ok after a storm; in Stroudsburg, raining but no lightning. Take your pick, folks.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Multitasking? Every One Of Us Does It Daily

I was multi-tasking while crossing the street today, and not worrying at all about being hit by a car. Amazing what I can do when I put my mind to it.

Tasks: (1) Walking, (2) Moving my eyes to the right for traffic, (3) Also moving my head, (4) Digesting my lunch, (5) Keeping my balance. That’s not even counting things like heartbeat, respiration, eye blinks, etc.

All this and not even consciously thinking about it. We multi-task so well except when it comes to the conscious level. Then we really mess up.

A few years ago, I was coming back from the newspaper and heard a horrid crash. I turned around to see a pickup had head-butted the back end of a city bus. The pickup driver was astonished; “I’m completely at fault,” he said, “I was talking on a cell phone and never even saw the bus.”

Odd, how we can drive almost without thinking, use the fine motor skills in our right foot to make small changes in our vehicle’s speed, steer slightly or corner, enjoy the radio . . . but when something occupies our conscious mind, we can drive into a bus.

Yet our brain never messes up. It does not confuse our breathing, heart and eyeblink rates. We don’t get out of bed and start walking on our hands, don’t try to gnaw trees. Somehow, the unconscious or the automatic seems to have it all ahead of the conscious. I wonder what would happen if our kidneys or our liver could use a cellphone?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Thoughts In No Particular Order

Today is Mom’s tenth anniversary. Ten years; you wonder how it got to be that long ago when it doesn’t feel that way. Next year, it will be my father’s 25th. We are residents of this planet for a period of time, and then we move on to the ultimate stage of life.

The LifeFlight helicopter just made a pick-up. I heard it going overhead to one of the usual landing spots then, a bit later, lifting off and passing by again. A person, whose night started off pretty bad, will end up in good shape because of it.

I saw a bird on a statue, while watching a tv show. Some birds started out as cliff dwellers, at home among the rocky crags. When they moved to the cities, they didn’t just change their habits; they still go for the cliffs, but now they are tall buildings and statues.

Don’t hide your children; I just received my “never touched a kid” clearance to work in a school. They’re nice, but not really of any use: most pedophiles don’t have a previous record. But it’s the popular thing to do these days and makes people feel secure.

Really should visit a friend’s remains in a local cemetery. He’s not there, of course, as he has gone on to glory and we will meet again some day. I saw him late in the game at the nursing home and told him to head for the light. But I will drop by this week.

I’m still dreaming about being on the cruise ship Noordam. If this keeps up, there will be a lot of them, as my next planned cruise isn’t until Oct. ’08. Although, my travel agent is keeping an eye out for last-minute fire sales late this year. If the price is right – hey!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping

There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War.

Waterloo NY was declared the birthplace, but it's difficult to prove the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed in 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).

In the summer of 1865, a prominent local druggist, Henry C. Welles, mentioned to some of his friends at a social gathering that while praising the living veterans of the Civil War it would be well to remember the patriotic dead by placing flowers on their graves. General John B. Murray, a civil war hero and intensely patriotic, supported the idea wholeheartedly and plans were developed for a celebration on May 5, 1866. It has been held annually ever since. From: Waterloo NY home page.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Kite, A Key And A Lightning Bolt

We have an electrical storm heading toward us and I’ve got this great scientific experimental idea: stay inside and have a bowl of porridge. We think Ben Franklin was lucky when he was flying his kite and didn’t get blown into Kingdom Come, but I’ve of a different opinion: I posit that he could not get hit if he dared the gods of the black clouds to hit him.

Lightning is not particularly interested in anything that is not useful to it. What does it want? An easy path to ground. A kite string to some fool’s hand, through him and his shoes isn’t that exciting to Mr. Bolt. It wants trees with a good root system (stay away from trees and their equal-sized roots), church steeples with lightning rods, transformers on telephone poles, tv antennas on your roof – of which there aren’t many in this area where cable tv began.

What does it not want? AM radio towers and railroad tracks, just to mention two. Yeah, you’re probably safer on a railroad track because it’s insulated from ground by the wooden (or concrete) ties. I wouldn’t recommend it and I won’t try it, but they’re on ties, which are on crushed rock. AM radio towers are insulated from ground because that’s how they work; I was at a station where we had two 300’ towers with an insulated line between them holding up an approx 300’ wire. We got knocked off the air during a violent storm once and it was because lightning went between all this metal up there and hit a power-line transformer down on a pole.

And nary a man with a kite to be seen.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Cat Sits In The Window

It’s late at night – actually well past midnight and in the wee small hours of the day. My window, just to the right of my desk, is open and Kenai Kitty is sitting up in it. She has been surveying the outside for a while now, keeping track of the comings and goings of whatever is coming and going out there.

She has her windows. In the morning, when I get up, she is in the window right on the desk, sunning herself. She will move into my bedroom when the alarm goes off. If I’m not up fast enough for her, she meows rather quietly; if I do get up, she comes in and rubs against me, goes out, comes back in and rubs again.

She has the bedroom window, where she likes to go after breakfast or supper. There, she watches that which is known to her alone. Later, she might take the three hops up to the top of the entertainment center where there is a tipped-over box and lie either outside on a rug or inside, very much inside.

She has her own spots, aside from these; some I know and some I don’t. Not bad for two rooms and a bath. How she can hide is beyond me, but I have always said that you can put a cat into an empty room and, within two minutes, it will have disappeared. They have their spot.

She left the window for a few minutes and is back there now, looking intently at something. I have tried sneaking up behind her and looking in the same direction, but whatever it is I just can’t figure out. Now she’s going to bed and so am I.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Well, What Would Tom Do?

A friend of mine was on his way home from a store, a bit of a distance, when he noticed a red pickup was taking the same turns he did. He thought maybe he had come too close to the truck at the store exit, or cut it off and was going to pay for it. He turned this way, the pickup turned this way; he turned that way, the pickup turned that way. As he approached his house, he thought, “What would Tom do?” Tom, he decided, would keep on going and drive to a safe place, like another store.

The pickup had other plans. Maybe it was a coincidence and maybe the youngish lady behind the wheel really was angry, but got tired of following him. We will never know.

What we do know is he did the right thing: Don’t give away where you live. Keep going to another store, a gas station, the building that houses the police. Stay away from isolated areas and don’t let on you are becoming rattled. Keep your cool and don’t confront the person behind you. That’s what Tom would do. He would live to fight another day.

Everybody has a story.
Local resident Peter Podwika passed away. An Army vet, he survived three major invasions in the Pacific. He was the secretary at the surrender meetings on the Philippine Islands. He took notes and typed up the Japanese surrender documents ending World War II in the Pacific.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Help The Cows And Goats Save The Planet

We are learning that cooperation with animals is important; working hand-in-hoof with them will insure the future of our planet. When I lived on a farm, we would never throw away the cow “droppings” but spread them on the hayfields to make new hay, which the cows ate and, eventually, pooped. The endless cycle of nature.

Methane is an essential part of our atmosphere and, therefore, of life. I’m not sure of the entire list of sources, but cows and goats contribute 15 percent of the earth’s methane due to their diet of hay and other such grasses.

Yes, our ecosystem and we are kept alive by cow and goat farts. The amount added by humans is probably negligible, although if you were in an elevator when someone did their part you might think otherwise.

Since boys and many (if not most) guys think personally adding methane to the atmosphere is a neat thing to do, especially when mistaken for a locomotive at a crossing, they will be disappointed to know it does little good for the planet and neither does it impress their wives or girlfriends. But when a cow says, “Pull my hoof,” get out of the way fast.

Everybody has a story.
George Zett, a former local resident, was a highly talented musician and had been a guitar player for the band “The Teens” which appeared on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Buy Our Product, You Stupid Dumb ****

Newsweek has been my favorite, over Time, for many years. Perhaps starting when ad genius (really) Dick Orkin did a series of ads for Time magazine which showed the non-subscriber as a jerk. Then he urged us to sign up for the magazine. I thought, “Therefore, he’s calling me a jerk. I’m going to support this? Not.”

There are just *so many* ads in which the potential customer is not playing with a full deck, or less than a luminary. I’d rather be identified with someone who is reasonably intelligent and could use a little encouragement to use a product.

Clarabelle the Clown taught me how to brush my teeth on the old Howdy Doody tv show; Hugh Conover intelligently talked about the quality of Skippy peanut butter on “You Asked for It.” When they treat me with respect, I consider their product seriously.

But I won’t be talked down to. I don’t need someone to tell me that I’m the smartest consumer they’ve ever met (hide your wallet), but just try hard to avoid having stupid people in the ads. I know I won’t put up with it; I haven’t yet and I doubt I’ll change much in the future.

Everybody has a story.
Raymond Bauman passed away in a local nursing home. He was plant manager of the nearby International Color and Printing Co., which printed the comics in English and Spanish for over 300 newspapers along the Atlantic Seaboard and Midwestern states, South America and Cuba.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

His Withdrawal Slip Was A Gun

The local tv station’s web site notes: "Police in Wilkes-Barre are looking for the man who robbed a credit union Tuesday morning. Investigators said the man walked into the Wilkes-Barre Federal Credit Union on North Main Street near Public Square around 10 a.m. He showed a small gun and made off with some cash."

Friend of mind was walking over to the cleaners right next door in the same small building when he said a bunch of cop cars came screaming up to the Credit Union. He wasn’t sure what was happening but knew instinctively that, whatever, it was pretty bad. Being a bank of sorts, it probably included (a) money, (b) a perpetrator and (c) a holdup.

The good news: ”Police said the man walked away but may have gotten into a small, white pick-up truck at some point.”

The bad news: "Unfortunately we have a lot of white pick-up trucks in this area because of the construction at Kings College.”

As of this blog’s press time, local donut shops report a sudden drop in business by men in blue, while residents report the unusual sight of police cars patrolling the city.

He probably didn’t rob the joint because they were going to shut off his water, or he needed groceries for the week. Most likely it wasn’t to get medication for his grandma or dialysis for his wife. My best guess is the Rx you don’t get in a drugstore.

Monday, May 21, 2007

When I Was Commencement Speaker

Well, actually I never was, but I *did* get asked if I would allow myself to be considered for a high school graduation over on the West Side. That seemed to indicate that I was not on the “A” list and, possibly, nowhere near the “B” list, either.

I could not imagine what I would speak about. None of the students would care to hear anything I had to say; they just wanted to get out of there. Unless I was practical and a bit funny, down-to-earth and somehow relating to them. Fortunately, someone more desirable than me was chosen.

Graduation speakers are the last punishment a college can mete out to its students as they leave. If you work in education, the stories abound as new faculty join, or old faculty tell stories of events they have witnessed.

Old men with heavy Spanish accents who mutter into the microphone without ever looking up; well-known people who think you want to know nothing else than them and their exploits; others who think talking for nearly half an hour is just a wonderful speech that will never be forgotten.

Occasionally, some famous person’s graduation speech will make the rounds on the Internet. It’s really not his, it wasn’t at a graduation, but it’s good anyway. Whoever did write it should sell that sort of thing to people who do get caught being asked to talk. We would remember the occasion a lot longer, would enjoy sitting there listening to it, would have nice memories of our graduation day.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I Do Radio

Odd that I haven’t written about this before. Radio has been a part of my life since 1959; two more trips around the sun and it will be a 50-year association. Even the times I haven’t been actually in a studio, I haven’t been far from one and have been doing radio stuff. Next year will be fifty as a published writer.

Being a broadcaster and/or a writer is not a job or a career; it’s something that is part of you, found in the double helix of our DNA. Even if we stop doing radio, for instance, we still look wistfully at any 7-banded orange-and-white tower. A writer will forever cringe at the wrong use of a comma.

Others do not understand this and, what’s worse, never will. To them, writing is –at best—a chore, a painful task, too much like work. They don’t realize the joy of picking the exact right word, the precise phrasing of a sentence, the mastery of a written piece of humor. It is soul-satisfying unlike any other art.

On the air, you can’t beat the perfect network join, when everything you have to do that half hour finishes just one-half second before the top-of-hour time tone and the start of the network news. Or the network “slap,” when it’s far closer than a half-second and there is no pause at all. You have played the music, fit in the commercials, the weather, the community events and joined so naturally that your listeners haven’t the faintest idea how hard it was.

I do radio. I also write. Long may it happen.

I Didn't Ask To Be Born

This was posted very early Sunday, but was written Saturday so it counts.

I was watching something on the Animal Planet channel to do with births. One was some long-legged creature, maybe a deer that popped out and, as soon as it learned how to stand, went over to its mother and found out where the milk dispenser was located.

“Ain’t that something,” I thought. “Do you think it realizes it was just born?” And with that, I remember back to when I was five and playing with a girl up the street who was, I think, all of seven. I knew I was five and I think I had some general idea of what that meant, but I don’t recall realizing that five years earlier I did not exist. We didn’t sit around and discuss the fact that we came from nothingness. Not at five, not at seven.

Suppose we had been given the choice. I knew a disabled teen who once complained, “I didn’t ask to be born.” While I sympathized with him, I replied, “I don’t know anybody who did.” We don’t ask to exist; our Creator calls us from nothingness into life, gives us a few chances to get it right in one lifetime, and then we get the beautiful garden or the fiery pit.

So, one fine day, we come to an understanding that we have been created and are here. For some reason, that did not occur to us in the months or year after it happened. “Huh; here I am. Now what do I do?

If we were asked, we might miss up on some great opportunities.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I Am The Only Thomas Carten In The U.S.

Or so I thought. Then I went to “” for an unpleasant surprise, because I like being unique. You know, the only ambidextrous broadcast engineer who is a notary public, Braille transcriber, with the highest class of amateur radio license, in my day job. Most likely the only one of that class.

Thomas is the eleventh most popular name; only 664 Cartens are around. No, I am not alone: There are five people named Thomas Carten. I even found one with my middle initial. Tom, as a legally given name, is less popular, with no Tom Cartens among them. 173,572 people are legally named Tommy, but none in the Carten family. The vast majority of these are guys, but an occasional gal pops up in the bunch.

Despite my being a minor celebrity, due to my decades-old work in broadcasting and my inclusion in Marquis’ “Who’s Who in Entertainment,” I did not make this site’s list of famous names.

Four people in the U.S. have my maternal grandfather’s name; six have his wife’s name; but only one person has my mother’s maiden name. It would be spooky to meet her.

Everybody has a story.
Marjorie Snyder caught the eye of Albert Katinsky. While working up on a roof one afternoon, he saw her walking down the street, and scurried down the ladder just to meet her. Six months later, they began dating, and not too long later, they knew they would marry.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Two-Car MVA, No Injuries."

There I was yesterday, chatting on the phone, when I heard a thump and crunch. I could see out the window that one car kept going after the vehicles in front of it had stopped. What the cops call a two-car motor vehicle accident.

As I picked up the phone to call 911, I looked for injuries, fluids down and anything else they would like to know. Unfortunately, the 911 operator I called wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. I had to explain everything twice before he got it.

The woman who was trying out to be a crash-test dummy apparently was well-belted, as there wasn’t a mark on her windshield. Her young children were also in very good shape as she rushed them from the car to a nearby house porch. The car itself looked much like the “after” picture of a crash test. I was surprised how much energy was dissipated in the area before the passenger compartment.

A few minutes after I called 911 (and I’m willing to bet the person I contacted did not, himself, know the phone number for 911), the cops arrived, followed by a fire truck and ambulance. In time, came the tow trucks.

Now the speculation. What sort of reception would she receive when she returned home? Would it be: (a) “Honey, you’re safe, the kids are safe; we can replace the car”; (b) “I’m glad you’re safe, but I told you not to let the kids distract you. Now we’ve got this mess to deal with”; or (c) “[basically language and violence that does not belong in this blog].”

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Fire Sale

I do one cruise a year and am happy to have that much; many people can’t. Due to circumstances, my last two were six months apart and the next one is eighteen months off. When I think of the early Christian martyrs, I know enough not to complain about having to wait longer for my next trip; I won’t get much sympathy.

But my travel agent and I are trying to see what we can do to work one in at about the nine month point. Sure, we can just book one – but that would take all the fun out of it. I want something at maybe 20% off, more if possible. We might have to wait and see if there is a fire sale.

Cruise lines hope their ships sail full, as close to sticker price as possible. Cruisers hope that the ships have unsold cabins as the sailing date approaches. If so, the fire sale starts and the pitiless buyers start pushing and shoving to get what they want.

As of this writing, there’s nothing that even comes close. As we get close to the October, November and January sailings, there may be nothing. Or, I may get a call: “Hi, Tom. This is Marilyn and I’ve got good news for you.”

So we wait and look and wait and look again. When will I know? Quite possibly a week or so before the ship leaves the dock.

You just can’t beat a good travel agent. She will keep an eye on things for me every month and perhaps find a good deal. Maybe I should start packing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Honk, Whoop, Flash

While I was walking down the street, I heard an audible alarm coming from the next block. It had been going off for a while and would keep doing so until the cops called the key holder and got it turned off. So I did my civic duty and called 911.

Later this evening, someone’s car alarm went off on the street in front of my house. I closed my window so the noise would not bother me; these things happen so often that it’s not worth looking to see if someone actually is trying to steal the car. It’s the boy who cried “wolf” too often and I think these car alarms have gone off so often that they are disregarded most, if not all, of the time.

Case in point: A friend of mine was road testing a new car. She came around to my house and we were looking at it when the supposedly non-existent car alarm went off. We could not find how to turn it off, so she drove it back to the dealership, just a few minutes away across the river. The alarm was going off, her lights were flashing and not only did nobody try to stop her, but other cars even got out of her way.

I happened across a car you did not even have to get into before the alarm went off. All you had to do was get near it. Then a woman’s voice, a stern one at that, said, “You are too close to this vehicle; move away from this vehicle.” I told the mechanical stern woman’s voice to shut up and stayed where I was.

When Mom heard an emergency vehicle’s siren (cop, fire truck or ambulance), she’d say, “Someone’s day was just ruined.”

Monday, May 14, 2007

You Haven't Changed A Bit

“You mean I looked this bad when we went to school together??”

Let’s face it, honey – we all get a bit long in the tooth as time goes by and nobody looks the same as they did in school. Some people even have their “me at 30” photo in their “dead at 80” obituary. Well, yes, they never looked as good again, but that’s not how we lived with them or what they looked like.

Which reminds me of the Assistant Principal at the Jesuit high school where I went. In the yearbook, they must have printed the photo from when he was ordained. It looked nothing like him anymore and why he kept the photo when we could see, daily, he had aged is beyond me.

Oddly enough, when people visit their colleges, they fall rather firmly on one side or another of this “change” business. Some are so happy to see the changes in the school, the new buildings and changes in the campus layout. They see the upgrades and smile as a parent smiles over a child’s growth.

Others, unfortunately, are not so happy. They seem to have taken a mental photograph of the college at that very good time of their lives, and want it to remain just the same forever. When they return, they become angry over the changes. They want the same experience, without realizing they, too, have changed.

We can dislike change only if we have not changed. Check the mirror first.

Me Mudder Did It

Mother’s Day has come and went and, with all that went on in my life yesterday, I forgot to post. Pretend this was Sunday, ok? Ok.

Whatever I wrote about my mother last year probably hasn’t changed since then. I do know that she checked out at 86 wearing her tap dancing shoes and I also know that she pretty much came of age accepting a dare to go up in some barnstormer’s airplane when she was a teenager. Her mother wasn’t there to tell her not to, although I’m not so sure she would have. That’s another story.

You see, her mother came home one day and told her father, “Frank, I’ve bought a house.” And her mother bounced around from religion to religion, eventually passing on as a Baptist. I think the only one left was Catholic and she’d have disgraced herself in public before doing that – which, in itself, would have been a public disgrace.

Some of the worst, drippy slush has appeared on Mother’s Day. The guilt of a thousand generations of adult children who remember mother only in regret and tears. Bull***t. I remember mine with a photo in my radio studio of her on the back of a motorcycle at 74, or our nature walks at 37 (I was 5). I wish I had done many things differently, but I do think we pulled through some rough times pretty well.

Everybody has a story.
The big-time gangster Arnold Rothstein was asked who shot him. Keeping faithful to the gangster tradition of secrecy even as he was dying, he said, "Me mudder did it."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Primordial Sense

There seems to be little agreement on the basic, single sense that is the earliest. Someone once proposed that it is smell, because it lies lowest in the brain stem and would be the first to develop.

I’d love to find my grandfather’s pipe ashtray, the metal container with the thin upright stem for cleaning out the bowl. If I heard that sound, even all these decades later, it would bring up the image of his living room in an instant. But it might bring up, much quicker, the smell of his Brigg’s tobacco (which I find on search engines as an antique collectible).

Last night, I was outside rather late and could pretty much smell a cruise. That happens occasionally. It’s probably just the weather conditions, maybe something from a neighbor’s yard, but suddenly I’m on the top deck of the ship looking up at the stars, or I’m in the Lido buffet having a cup of tea.

Smells can take us back to our parents’ kitchen, a grammar school classroom.

Sometimes I wonder if each sense has its own memory bank: Smell, sounds, similarity of view, touch. Memory may not be stored in just one place, but may be tied in with each sense.

I can remember where I was when I hear a particular song. Sometimes right to the exact place on a road, the house I was in. Anyone do the same thing?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Things I Dream Of

Oh, just about everything. The absolute last thing I want to post on a public blog would be my dreams. Even though few people post on this site, I hear from a great many who read these ramblings. That translates to lots of amateur dream analysts.

I have rather vivid, realistic dreams; that may have more to do with some meds I take than any other reason. Generally, I get about three “first run” movies per night, all rather interesting.

Sigmund Freud was big into dream analysis, but he couldn’t keep that phallic symbol cigar out of his mouth, so I don’t pay much attention to someone analyzing my head while he’s doing symbolic oral sex. Besides, he refused to have his own dreams checked out, saying it would somehow destroy his authority. One can only wonder what sort of antics were going on inside his noggin while he was making Z’s.

Some people don’t remember their dreams; that’s unfortunate. They’ve nothing to look back on during the duller moments of the day, when you can bring up one of these night-time shows easier than going through a video library. While the endless, pointless meeting is going on, you are playing back last night’s “on a cruise ship” dream, or whatever sticks out in your mind.

What do they mean? As long as they aren’t repeating all the time, or getting in your way, it doesn’t matter a bit. Just enjoy them as a natural part of that one-third of your life when your imagination runs free, and anything can happen.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Is The Pope Infallible?

There are plenty of people who would either say “no,” or just start laughing at the idea of someone who is infallible. Especially since one of them said, basically, “I declare, infallibly, that I am infallible.” In the musical “1776,” Ben Franklin said, “I invented myself.”

In daily life, the boss isn’t always right but he’s always the boss. For Catholics, the boss is always right. Goes with the religion. At least we can go to the theater and play cards.

Someone once described alcohol as “that which makes us infallible.” One of these days, when I run into a person who has tossed back a few and is at the point where he cannot be persuaded there might be another side, I will ask him what his feelings are about papal infallibility. Hey, if you get a little drunk and are convinced you are right, to the point of starting a fight, why can’t the leader of a major religion make that claim (and, anyway, rarely use it)?

We all know people who, cold sober, hear “yes” when you say “no.” They are so sure of what they are saying that apparently they just can’t comprehend how anyone could possibly consider any other viewpoint than theirs. I know a person like that. “No” just does not make it through his personal Infallibility Blocker. Either it’s stopped cold, or it somehow changes into “yes.”

I like being right and I rather think we all do. But to hold an opinion and being incapable of changing it because we can’t be wrong . . . well, that’s something else again.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Candidates For Coroner

We have three candidates for the office of Coroner in our county. One is a physician and is letting everyone know that fact, even though he is not allowed to perform autopsies or do any forensic investigating. That part he fails to mention.

The other two are funeral directors. They, also, cannot do autopsies or do forensic stuff, but they do a lot of body prep and can be of great help to the person who does.

So all three are probably evenly matched, although I’d put my money on the undertakers. All the deputy coroners around here are morticians and there must be a reason for it.

There are jobs you take because you need the money: Stocking shelves at WalMart, bundling newspapers overnight as they are being printed, things like that. And there are jobs you take because you have a certain fascination with that field and feel you can do it well. Checking out people to find why they have checked out is one of them.

It’s a great service. So is going into a burning building to look for victims, facing bank robbers with just you and your service revolver. But there’s something about being the coroner that makes me think that being a cashier at KMart isn’t all that bad.

The position used to be “an officer of the Crown,” back in Merrie Olde England. The word is from “corone,” meaning “crown.” When I was a Notary, I found out it used to be an Ecclesiastical office (church thing). That’s sure inspiring, but definitely dull. Of the two official offices, which would you choose? Dull, or messy?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Old-Style Streetlights Are Back

Our Fair City is installing new streetlights and they are of rather ancient design, at least to those of us who were born after, say, the development of electricity. This part of the burg just received its street’s worth of lights last night and, with rather bright bulbs in them, the effect is quite good.

It’s not as if anything was really wrong with the old lights, but the poles kept snapping off at the base and they were falling over randomly at all hours of the day and night. That wasn’t good for business downtown and was especially hard on pedestrians. You just never knew when the next one was going over.

The previous lights were of a modern design and not bad looking. Rather unobtrusive, actually. You never really noticed them; the light was there and that was about it. This isn’t a case of “modern is bad; old is good.” If the poles hadn’t rotted away, we’d probably still have the drum-style fixtures lighting our way.

Of course, there will come a day when they will be put back in as “period pieces,” some time in the future, when people will say, “Let’s go back to the days when we had those drum style lights; they were efficient and you never really looked at them.” The local historical society might remind us how they kept falling over, like drunks at a party, but it will make no difference; they are from Olden Days and the old stuff is the best stuff.

Ah, yes; remember when old Uncle Joe almost got creamed by a falling light pole?

Three Months To Go

Another late column; this is Monday’s.

I was watching Ted Koppel’s excellent program about cancer on The Discovery Channel last night. The bulk of the produced part of the program, about 50 minutes, concentrated on one of his staff members who was given perhaps twelve months to live. The staffer spoke about what it was like to face that possibility.

We’ve never died before, so we probably don’t think much about the money question: What would we do if we found we had six months to live? Take that cruise we kept putting off . . . clean out the cellar before we check out . . . maybe get a little more religious . . . tie up loose ends.

So the clock ticks and the end of the road comes closer.

Odd thing about life: While we’re waiting for that to happen, we could get hit by a bus, or choke on a lettuce leaf at McDonald’s, or have a heart attack. The physician gives us six months, but life’s great plan might have only a week left for us. In other words, it’s a good idea to always be ready.

Don’t put off that cruise, that volunteer activity, the project you never got around to. Pretend you only have so many months to go, because you just never know. I am convinced that when we leave this planet, we continue on without a pause. Why continue our journey regretting the things we never did because we thought we had decades ahead of us?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bambi Goes To Church

As I was parking my car for church this morning, I saw a deer walking along the back of the lot. That sort of thing is not completely unknown around here, as all our communities back up to the hills and their wooded cover pretty quickly. We’ve had deer running through the Kingston business district, and even had a bear walking around Wilkes-Barre for an evening, until the game commission shot a tranq dart into it and hauled the sleeping bruin back to the hills.

I just never happened to see a deer pacing around the woods, and some open area, near the church before. “Maybe,” I thought, “it’s visiting from another woods and just wants to attend Mass.” And maybe not.

The deer went into the woods by the parish hall. “Uh-oh,” I said to myself. “What else goes into the woods? Bears, that’s what; we’ve all heard that. Popes are Catholic and bears go into the woods. That deer won’t make it to Mass if there is a bear in there. Luckily, there isn’t.

But either Bambi is not Catholic, or she is not a church-goer, because she never does make it inside. During the service, I wonder if she has made it over the parish fence, or possibly found a way around it.

The alternate, if course, is that Bambi was trying to find the Stella Presbyterian Church in nearby Forty Fort. She should have known she was lost; the WASPS who settled Forty Fort did not allow any of those Romans to build a Papist church in their borough.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cinco De WHAT?

It’s that time of year again when Americans celebrate a big Mexican holiday that’s not celebrated in Mexico. But you gotta admit, it was a brilliant marketing coup that we thought up, packaged and sold to a people who wanted something to celebrate their heritage. It also rings our cash registers, which was the whole idea in the first place.

No, it’s not a celebration of Mexican Independence Day. It notes a victory that was reversed a year later. It *is* celebrated where the battle was fought; ask people anywhere else in Mexico and you’re liable to get a blank stare.

We need our holidays. Those of Irish extraction need St. Patrick’s Day, so they can paint Main Street’s center line green (it’s done here), have a parade and get drunk. What that has to do with St. Patrick escapes me, but it’s how the Irish and non-Irish over here keep his memory.

We have Memorial Day, another meaningless holiday. Well, not exactly without meaning; it signifies the start of the summer vacation season. Memorial of what? Ask the first ten students you run into; ask the first ten adults, for that matter.

Everybody has a story.
Michael Stash died recently. He was on the battleship Iowa in 1989 when the Number Two 16” gun turret exploded, killing 47 crewmen. Michael was one of the rescuers and saved many lives. Accounts of this event indicate that those involved in the rescue attempts were heroes.

Forks Have Their Place

This is Friday’s post, but I was too busy and then got to hanging out with friends.

Forks came to England from France, but one of the English kings (Henry the II, or someone) thought they were typically French effeminate and did not like to use them. We have ten fingers, he reasoned, and they are good enough.

I like that line of thinking. We are entirely too rigid in our etiquette rules and far too limiting in what each utensil should, or should not, be used for.

Forks, for instance. Do you really need one kind for salad, another for the main course and another for dessert, as well as one for fish? More fundamentally, do you need one at all for pie? Almost all kinds of pie fit neatly in your hand; pumpkin, custard, apple (if it’s not too messy), etc. Why get a fork dirty when you can wipe your hands on your pants?

Knives are fine in their place, but when you are at a semi-formal affair and people might look askance as you eat pie with your hands, you can use a knife for the pie rather handily. I occasionally will wipe a little butter on my knife, just a bit, then use it to eat peas; nobody has seen me put the sticky butter on it, and are amazed that (a) someone would even try it, (b) and make it work.

Speaking of which, Joe the Fork and Bob the Spoon could never understand why Mac made it big in the entertainment field.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Look, Really Look; Listen, Really Listen

When I taught reviewing (called “Critical Writing For the Mass Media,” or something like that), I had two lectures. One was called, “Look; Really Look.” The second was, “Listen; Really Listen.”

Ah, the art of listening. If you watch the Tonight Show, notice how Jay Leno begins jokes two or three times. The audience is not listening, either in the studio or at home, and it helps to repeat the opening so they will know what is going on.

How often do you have to repeat something to a person who said, “Oh, sorry; I wasn’t listening,” or whose thoughts go astray in the very middle of your sentence? The person you are speaking with who, when someone else enters the room, excuses himself to speak to the new one, then turns back and says, “Now what were you saying?”

The art of paying attention is also the art of respecting the person who is speaking to you. Unless your companion is a complete bore (and I have known such), those who are offering their ideas deserve a hearing. I exempt bores from this only after knowing someone who could, and did, talk for two hours non-stop one morning on a trip, and the same that afternoon on the return. I was not there, fortunately, or my honesty might have taken over.

When my mother realized people were not listening to her, she started speaking gibberish. As she was discovered, she would sweetly reply, “I’ve been doing this for a few minutes now.”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Greece And The Speed Of Light

Once upon a time, long long ago, it was common knowledge that the stars, planets, sun and moon revolved around the earth. The smart money knew that Greece was the center of the universe and all radiated out from there. We didn’t know about all the hundreds of billions of galaxies back then, and their hundreds of billions of stars. Making the reasonable assumption that there are huge numbers of civilizations all through the universe, we can pretty much bet that they don’t give a rat’s ass about Greece.

Albert Einstein, regarded by all as a real smart fellow, told us a lot about light, its various properties and how impossible it would be for us to reach its speed. It’s a barrier we can’t reach, much less cross. And the creatures on the other side don’t give a rat’s ass.

Huh? Creatures on the other side of the speed of light?

Since you can’t prove me wrong, I will state here that I think there is a civilization on the other side of the speed of light. When you break through the light barrier (in some way similar to breaking the sound barrier), you will see stuff that exists in a different kind of light. Maybe it’s old light, and we see things that happened some time in the past. As we wander around in this “beyond the speed of light” world, we can examine our grandparents when they were kids, we can see the Mayflower crossing the ocean, or be present as the Titanic goes down. Even back further.

It’s The History Channel without commercials.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sure, An' It Was A Great Affair

Went to a wake today, a big one. A very big one. Possibly the wake of the year, but there are still eight months to go, so I’ll hedge my bets.

Big enough to be held in the parish church, itself a sizeable structure, because no funeral home would be able to handle the crowds. Even so, the line went from the front pew, down and out the door, across the large porch, down the stairs, around the corner and down the block. It was that way when we got there and, after a long while when we finally left, it was still that way.

The person in question was the Register of Wills, for 33 years a trusted, discreet and friendly person. She knew where the bodies were buried and kept it pretty much to herself. While the courthouse might be a hothouse for scandal, she remained untouched.

Back to the wake. It was quite the joyous event; people chatted, met each other, told stories and generally acted as the Irish do when one of their kind is called yonder. It’s too bad there wasn’t an ad-hoc bar set up along the other side of the church. Someone should have thought of that.

Mother of 10, grandmother of 43, great-grandmother of 30. “And every one of them has a job at the courthouse,” a writer to the newspaper once said. Well, she did use her influence, but the kids flew on their own quickly. With her husband long deceased, she had to be the mother hen. When asked what she died of, I replied, “She was 95.”

The Blog Called "Monday"

Well, it’s like this.

I set up a blog page, called it “Monday,” mostly because it was Monday’s planned blog entry and I wanted to hold the space for it. I often do that: title a page, then go back and edit it, inserting the actual title and text.

This time, when I tried to get in, all that came up was the Google home page. I haven’t the faintest idea why. Blogspot is associated with Google, owned by them or something, but I hit the “take me to my control panel” button and instead got a “take me to my master” reply.

And it’s not even the Full Moon yet, not that it means anything. The Full Moon lore has more baloney than a deli sandwich, but we like to blame things on it. Things like Blogspot edit problems, for instance.

So, faithful readers, please accept this as the Monday entry it was meant to be and just whistle your way past the “Monday” entry that has nothing in it. Think of it as an unaddressed envelope you found on the street which contained nothing and, as you looked at it, had not even been sealed.

What could have been in that entry? I don’t know; I hadn’t gotten around to writing it and I’m often surprised at what ends up on these pages. The best conversations are seldom, if ever, planned.