Saturday, June 30, 2007

Anybody Want 6 Boxes Of AP Paper?

Before the Associated Press sent out its news service to radio and tv stations via computer terminals, it used a box of 8 ½ x 11 paper with drive holes on the edge for the printer and scored marks so you could tear off the sheets. Even before then, it was a much larger box of “angel fold” paper: 8 ½ x 14 folded back and forth which you fed into a large, noisy, mechanical teletype machine. There were no score marks; you ripped it off via the edge on the plastic front or used the newsroom ruler to cut the articles.

I just found six boxes of these. Six boxes of memories. Generally, the radio station would have a news person and a dj on during the day; evenings and weekends it was just the dj running everything.

So there you are: The AP machine is running out of paper, you are in the middle of your shift and have enough to do without taking time to change the paper (stop the machine, pull out the emptying box underneath, with the paper in the machine, open and push in the new box, then feed the paper in correctly, start the machine and rush back to the studio).

So you pull your “jon record,” that faithful friend that runs long enough for a good poop, and get to work. As you are working, you hope the AP didn't send a bulletin. There’s nothing worse than missing a major disaster because you were trying to line up the paper correctly in the feed roll.

Changing a saturated-ink ribbon? Don’t even think of that.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Calendar Page Changes

It’s time for me to change the calendar pages in my studio. I have to keep them a day ahead, for production purposes, so I turned them after I finished my show today. One has twelve pages of radio antennas from various stations. Ok; you’d have to be deep into radio to look at that every day for a month, but we broadcast types get off looking at these towers and, amazingly, can often identify a station just by looking at its transmitter antenna site.

The other is more of a favorite: it shows photos of the universe. This month’s was of a galaxy, a side view, one much like ours. As I turned the page, I saw the coming photo of a star that had blown up who knows how long ago. It takes light a long time to travel through the universe. This star went ka-boom a long time ago and we are just seeing it now.

One calendar page was of a section of the sky where you could see nothing but galaxies. Dozens of them, each composed of perhaps 300 billion stars and their planets. Maybe some with life that moves around, thinks and gets along with each other.

Or doesn’t get along with each other. Same as us. I look at those photos and wish I could show them to people who want to set off nail bombs in London, or suicide bombs in the Middle East, or any group that dislikes any other group. It’s a huge universe that we are a part of and, given our short life span in a 13.6 billion-year-old place, getting our own way at the expense of others’ lives is an extraordinarily petty way of living. We are but the tiniest of bugs fighting to be kings in a drop of water.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cat, Meet The New House; House, Meet The Cat

I have shared custody of a cat, a Maine Coon. From some time Sunday until Wednesday evening, it’s at my place; otherwise, it’s at its owner’s home. Earlier this week, that changed, as she moved about a mile from a mobile home to a two-story house. The question was: how would Kenai Kitty adapt to the new digs after some ten or so years in the only home she has known (aside from her weekly time with me in three different apartments over the years).

Turned out to be a successful transition. Kitty seems to have a lot of confidence in us and whatever we do, so when I brought her over and opened her carrier, she sort of looked around and started sniffing out the place. We had the opinion that she picked up on the move quickly and found her new places in no time.

There is the extended kitchen window, originally constructed to hold flowers out in the sunlight; now home to a little cat bed. My little dresser from home, back from when I was little myself, next to a window; she lies there and watches the world go by. There are a few other places, as well.

She has identical dry food bowl and poop boxes upstairs and down. Having said that, she eats the dry food only upstairs and uses only the downstairs poop box. We all have our customs, I suppose, and the cat is no exception.

There has been no “I want to go home to the old place” meowing. The old furniture is here, the people she knows are here, she has comfortable places to nap. All is well.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Daddy, What Is The Yellow Light For?"

Red lights, yellow lights, green lights … we sure have them here. On the bridge, there were 74 traffic light sets. We didn’t need them, but someone sure could sell them.

A yellow traffic light? Clear the intersection because you’re about to get a red light. Unless, that is, you lived in Wilkes-Barre maybe 30 years ago; then the yellow could mean several things:

One: If you had a green light and it went yellow, you were about to get a red light. No big deal. But if you had a red, it went yellow just before you got the green. (This led to many cars meeting in the intersection during the yellow – one squeezing it and one jumping it, both claiming the green but neither actually having it.)

Two: Flashing four-way yellows indicated that emergency vehicles were on the road in your part of the city. In case you couldn’t see the Big Red Fire Truck, or weren’t able to figure out what that noisy siren was for, the blinking yellow lights would tip you off that a fire engine or ambulance was racing around somewhere. With no green or red lights to control traffic, you can be sure that they will be needed after they have finished their initial job.

Three: Flashing two-way yellow, with flashing two-way red, was an after-11:00pm feature of Our Fair City. Somebody has to stop and somebody has to proceed with caution. What actually happens is the red goes with caution and the yellow continues to exceed the speed limit. If a crash, neither one can claim the green.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What Happened To Your Spouse?

I just heard an ad on the radio for a mattress, one of the main brands. It’s big feature is separate springs so when your partner moves around, you won’t feel it.

Your partner? What happened to your spouse? Or is the company facing the reality that the person next to you might not be wearing a wedding ring?

I’m waiting for the day when we see a commercial when two women or two men get out of bed in the morning and declare it’s been the best sleep they’ve had in years. Maybe there is a gay network where ads like that are already running; never underestimate the willingness of a business to turn a buck any way they can.

We have a weatherman here on tv who speaks about his partner in ways that makes it obvious they’re not in separate rooms and both pee standing up. He really should realize this is Northeast Pennsylvania, not New York City or San Francisco. They still hang people here for stuff like that. At least they can avoid waking each other up if they’re using the right mattress.

Everybody has a story.
Anna Vissotski Giambini turned 104 recently. She and her husband eloped; they had to, as her Polish parents didn’t approve of her marrying an Italian – and didn’t speak to her for three years. While she was eight months pregnant, she swam across the Susquehanna River. “Friends dared me to swim across the river. When you’re young, you do crazy things.”

Monday, June 25, 2007

I'm The Guy Who Invented 6-Up

I had the radio on last night and one of my favorite songs popped up: “The Big Hurt,” with Toni Fisher, recorded in 1959. It’s a good song as written (by Toni’s husband), has a good driving sound and was, as far as I know, the first to use phasing effects. That’s when you cancel out certain audio frequencies in a sweep, from top to bottom, from bottom to top. This gave the record a slightly hollow, strange sound. A Buffalo NY disc jockey called it “Toni Fisher’s weird one.”

Let’s go back to 1959, WICC and my production studio. I had a disc of our jingle package and had recorded it onto tape. With nothing better to do, I was playing both the disc and the tape at the same time and noticed that, quite naturally, they were running at slightly different speeds. As they ran, there was a phasing effect, a sweep. I did this a couple more times and thought, “I’ve just found something neat.” At that moment, over the monitor speaker, I heard this new record, “The Big Hurt.” I thought again, “I am the guy who invented 6-Up. Had I thought of this a few months earlier, I’d be the biggest thing in the recording industry. Or at least, not the smallest thing.”

* * *

A few years earlier, my brother and I used to fling the heavy tins that came (with a deposit charge) from the area pie company. They were hard to control, but once you got it down, it was fun. We weren’t the only people doing this, but we were among the many who never thought to get a photo of us flinging the tins from the Frisbie Pie Company of New Haven CT. Did we invent 6-Up? We’ll never know.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

On Having Malaria For Many Years

It all began at WICC, the largest station in the market, where I began in the news department. But I could spin discs with the best of them and splice tape better than the best of them. That was 48 years ago; I was 17 and hungrier for radio than food.

We were on 24 hours/day, which was somewhat unusual at the time. We also had an FM side, which was definitely new and, like all stations at that time, mono; stereo FM had not been invented yet.

Part of my job involved monitoring shortwave radio stations from a handful of countries, tape recording their news broadcasts and, if there was anything of interest for us, editing the specific item down to 30-45 seconds for air.

FM was all-jazz: records, tapes, in-studio interviews, live shows from Bridgeport night spots. All this from a studio which was probably far less than 10 feet by 10 feet.

Later, I cultivated my older, “classical music” voice at another small outlet which broadcast to a rather sophisticated location. Years afterward, I told my students, “The only thing that matters is what comes out of the speaker.” Here, and another one or two places, were the embodiment of that teaching; horrible dumps, but I treated each and its programming with dignity. The cockroaches and rats never cared.

From day one, I had caught “Radio Malaria”; it would never be out of my blood. Some people get over it, others are lucky and die with a microphone in their hands.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

AM740, A Canadian Flame Thrower

The local “standards” radio station decided to go down a generation and pick up some younger listeners, so they added music outside what was their trademark for many years. I listen occasionally in the car, but it’s not my favorite anymore.

What I discovered was CHWO in Toronto, what we radio people call a “flame thrower”: a 50,000-watt fulltimer. During the day it’s hard to pick up here in Northeast PA, but at night it comes in quite well to the northeastern quadrant of the U.S. And then some.

Generally, I listen to it via the cheesy speaker in my computer ( but today I decided I’d actually get around to connecting it to my receiver amp. I have a collection of audio cables and, fortunately, with the right ends and such to make it work. Now, instead of lousy audio, it comes out of my receiver’s speakers sounding the same as any other station.

Fortunately, I’m on a dedicated connection, so I’m online 24/7 and have the advantage of keeping AM740 going all the time while I do other things online or around my apartment. But even if I weren’t, at least I could have the station going in the background while I worked online. Supposedly, if you had a set of earphones, you could do this in your office as it does not interfere with the rest of the computer.

My readers might know how to do this. But they may be surprised to know that there is a standards station that streams over the Internet. The kind of stuff I used to play when I was a disc jockey, which could be the subject of another blog entry.

Friday, June 22, 2007

It Was Funnier Than Hell

Most things are; actually, everything is funnier than Hell. That’s the whole idea: the worst thing ever created is a horrible eternal punishment reserved for people who have died unrepentant of actions which cut them off from the rest of humanity. There can be no fun in Hell.

Depending on which visionary or theologian you listen to (and it’s always best not to listen to any of them, as they haven’t been there), you’ve got your choice on the menu. It’s a pit of flames, a spark of which would immediately vaporize a large frozen lake; it’s people stacked like cordwood with every cell of their bodies on fire; it’s an extreme loneliness in the dark with no past or future, no identity and barely any existence; it’s a horrible madhouse; it’s a ripping, tearing longing for God which we fully realize we will never have.

Who’s there? Oh, take your pick. The Roman Catholic Church says that all those who are not Christians are burning away like hot coals at a fish fry. A lot of people feel strongly that Bill and Hillary Clinton have direct tickets to the place. Maybe all the Nazis, the suicide bombers, the terrorists, the drug dealers, anybody we don’t like.

We like to populate Hell with our enemies, with people who do not belong to our church (or who leave it), with our political enemies and, especially, with people who do anything connected with sex.

I’m kinda not worried about them. I’m just kinda worried about me, thank you.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Down & Dirty In The Courtyard

The ball on top of our fountain was getting greener than the grass. Also, fairly slippery; enough so that it was hard holding it when I had to pick it up. Not only that, but the pump’s input was getting clogged with green things.

So I cleaned off the ball while I let the pump sit on the bottom of the water reservoir, sucking in one end and pushing out the other. I just wanted to run as much of it through the pump as possible and have the algae stick to the input. As to the ball, the best cleaner, I found, was a regular paper towel; the stiff brush I brought out didn’t do much of anything. After I turned four or five towels green, the ball looked good and felt good.

While I was doing this, I occasionally pulled out the pump and cleaned the gunk from its input, then tossed it back in to continue sucking the bottom water. Spent the better part of twenty minutes on this, but when I was finished, the ball had very little green on it (I’ll finish it some day) and the pump was pulling up considerably less junk.

It’s called “maintenance,” and we haven’t done it in, oh, two seasons of operation or, roughly, since we bought it. Well, mild day-to-day stuff on an occasional basis. Actually, I put it off until the ball was so disgusting it looked like seaweed-covered rocks down at the beach at low tide. For us from the water, that’s not disgusting; it’s actually downright pretty. I’m the only one here who lived near the water, so I got outvoted.

I just sort of hope the Dominant Robin appreciates what I’ve done. I also hope it continues to bring its business here, but does its business elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

An Odd Reply To An Unwritten Blog

I set up today’s blog earlier in the day, just in case I didn’t get to it before midnight. Sure enough, that happened and I retained the Wednesday date even thought I’m writing this at noneofyourbusiness in the morning.

If you came by earlier, you would have seen something like “In progress,” or “Not written yet” where there would have been an entry. You might have also seen a reply by some person in another language; at least until I dumped it. Apparently he makes t-shirts and advertised on my site. His blog looks good and I don’t blame him for at least trying.

A month ago, I received notice that two people had been active on a post I wrote last August. I went there and, sure enough, two people with coded e-mail addresses (just numbers) had left messages, apparently for each other, in some sort of code. Possibly they thought I wouldn’t see something that far back, but this blog site alerts me to any action. Their posts, too, went down the old brown repository.

All others are welcome here; if you wish to leave a comment, please do. Just click on “comments”; for identity you can click on “other” and leave your name, or click on “anonymous.” In either case, click on “publish your comment” and there it is, for all the world to see.

I’ve nothing new on the dominant robin who thinks the fountain in our yard belongs only to it. Nor anything on my friend’s move a mile away from her old place. Not a thing to report on the Muslims, the Hispanics or anyone else who makes this place so special.

We Had Thunderstorms Today

As usual, this is Tuesday’s blog. I was helping someone move.

Item: A bunch of us were at supper some time back when I mentioned that we would have a thunderstorm very soon. One of the people looked out toward the East and said it was clear with blue skies and didn’t look like rain. I said the rain comes from the southwest. He pooh-poohed it until the sky opened up a few minutes later.

Item: You count to five between the lightning and thunder to judge how far away the storm is. Unless it’s right on top of you. I was walking past our radio station’s tower when I heard this loud spitting noise and no thunder. “Uh-oh, close one,” I thought. “Time to get inside.” It was close, indeed; possibly no more than twenty feet lateral and two hundred feet vertical.

Item: The song, “Pennies From Heaven,” has it right: “So when it starts to thunder / don’t run under / a tree…” Trees are great lightning rods and their roots spread the electricity out in a path roughly the same as their branches. When it starts to thunder, just get wet and live to get wet another day. If you hair stands up on end (and you are not Bello Nock the circus clown), fall down on the ground; if you don’t know how to pray, learn fast.

Item: Lightning will not hit cell phones, pagers, portable radios, cordless phones or anything else not plugged in. Forget the stories; just because they are made of metal or you can talk over them does not make them targets.

Monday, June 18, 2007

My Bro' Used To Be Four Years Older Than Me

Actually, when I was real young, my brother was about ten years older than I was. Much bigger (taller), much wiser, could do more and was in charge of me when we were alone.

Later on, he was maybe six years older, then it leveled out to four years older – the time span on our birth certificates. It stayed that way for quite some time, until I noticed one day that we were only about a year or two separate in age. Huh.

Then one day I realized that we were the same age. I don’t know exactly when that happened, but it did. Sure, he was born in 1938 and I in 1942, do the math, but suddenly there was no difference. Funny how that happens.

He was always walking ahead of me, clearing the path, telling me what was about to come in life. I could watch him and see what the future held. Now, no more; we tread the paths side by side, discovering life together. We may shop in different “stores,” as our life experiences tend to be different, but as we come out of those stores, we compare our finds and continue along with our conversation.

Age is so relative. When I hung out with Dinah Kelly, it was a mis-match because I was 7 and she was only 6. They nearly considered me a cradle-robber. Also, I was Catholic and she was Protestant –another difficulty—but that’s beside the point.

Age spans are important for a while, like training wheels on a bike, but after a while we disregard the numbers, as they are no longer important.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

They're Here, They're Near, Get Used To Them

This is the real Sunday posting.

A young lady, perhaps still a teen, just walked by; the usual uniform: jeans and a print shirt not tucked in. And what’s that? A black head covering with just her face showing? I think I’ve seen the young Muslim American woman of 2007 wearing the religious version of the beachside bikini: just enough to cover what has to be covered to satisfy the law. And she’s alone, as well.

We have the world’s biggest to-do around these parts about Hispanics moving in. The “here now” people are starting to get violent against the “coming now” folks. The “here nows” say, “Our grandparents came over and learned English; these people should, too.” They carefully forget that their grandparents never learned a word; it was their children who picked up the new language, same as is happening now. The next generation, as is happening with the Muslim girl, becomes Americanized rather quickly.

We have this tendency to dislike the new. “This is the way we are,” self-appointed spokesfolks say. “We have our ways.” So the new arena almost wasn’t built. “Arena No” bumper stickers proliferated on cars and, although it did get built, it was built smaller than planned because the bond issue ended up missing its mark. It turned out to be immensely popular and people like me want to bar entrance to anyone who had an “Arena No” sticker on their car.

The Muslims are here, the Hispanics are here, the Arena is here. Get used to it.

We Need More Ex-Lax

Saturday’s offering is a bit late and here is the reason why.

I’ve been helping a friend move. She isn’t going far – less than a mile – but whether it’s a mile or across the continent, the job is the same. Pack it up, get it moved, open it up and put it where it belongs.

We’re in the “pack it or toss it” stage right now and the movers are in the “Got a job on Tuesday morning” stage. There isn’t much for them to do; perhaps a dozen pieces of furniture and, of those, only five are of any size at all. The rest will go over in friends’ car trunks or pickups. She’s leaving a mobile home and going to a real house.

But it’s now Crunch Time. And that’s why this blog is late; I’ve been over there tonight, not meaning to miss the deadline for this to be posted before midnight. But it’s about 1:17 in the morning and nothing less than devastating illness will keep me from posting on a daily, nonstop basis.

“Nothing” includes Crunch Time at a friend’s moving weekend. I try to convince her that all will go well but, being as how this is her first move, she hasn’t had the experience yet. My practiced eye says, “Piece of cake.” Her unpracticed eye says, “More Tums!” I assure her that, one day, she will laugh about this. She does not believe me.

It’s too bad you can’t just stick some Ex-Lax in each box to help it move easier. Wouldn’t that be a good way to do it? I’ll have to propose that idea some time.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Cleaning The Fountain At 1:30 a.m.

I was out working on the fountain around 1:30 in the morning. Yeah, you heard it right; 1:30 in the ayem. Happened to be out there with a friend and, as we were chatting, I said that the ball top of the thing seemed to be gummed up somewhat. Earlier in the evening, I had been using a toothpick I keep out there to clear the pump of whatever leaves and gunk get in and used it to poke through the holes in the ball.

We both agreed it would probably be best to wait until the sun was up. Be a lot easier to see what I was doing that way, rather than thrashing around in the dark.

I’m never sure how this stuff gets in there. Maybe leaves, or junk that’s blowing around the courtyard, somehow manages to slide under the ball and into the reservoir. I really should give it a good looking over one of these days, and also check for leaks; the thing seems to use more water than I can account for by evaporation and bird drinking.

There’s a major robin and a minor robin at the fountain. When I come out of my apartment, the minor robin takes off. The major robin just looks at me and keeps on doing what he’s doing. If it’s a hot day, he might just be sitting there getting wet. Eventually, the minor robin will catch on that I’m harmless and will stick around.

Everybody has a story.
Robert Bach, a former local resident, passed away in January (with his obituary just in today). “His great interest was traveling and he took great pride in the fact that he had visited over 75 countries.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Letter From Linda

My friend Linda wrote. “I just buried my 92 year old, Aunt Iris. I put together two display boards of old photos of her life, for each side of the casket. She was a beauty up until her death but she had knock-out looks and movie star quality as a young girl! She was a dance instructor for many, many years and owned her own studio. She taught me from the age of 2 ½; alongside me she taught Sharon Tate, who went on to be famous before she was killed by Manson and his group.

“One word to describe my Aunt: Class! You can't buy that and she had it all. Looks, talent and class.

“On one of the boards in the center was a picture of Aunt Iris with our old family friend Harry James and several of my other aunts and my cousin Jimmy and his wife. As I was showing all the family members who was who in some of the pictures, my oldest cousin Jimmy leaned in and whispered in my ear, 'You do know that Harry James was madly in love with our Aunt all of his life, don't you?' I answered, 'No!' But I wasn't surprised.

“I was telling the younger ones that Harry was married to Betty Grable, a movie star and pin-up girl during the war. Of course they didn't know who Betty or Harry were! But the rest of us oldies did!

"We sent my Aunt Iris, the dancer, off right. Her dream was to dance with Fred Astaire, as was mine. I am sure she got her wish now and she danced her way into the gates of heaven as Jesus clapped!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Death Comes To The Wrestling Impressario

Or did it? Yes, fans of World Wrestling Entertainment saw a live match from our local arena on the USA Network, on “Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night.” He owns the WWE and, after all was over, fans in the arena as well as on tv saw him leave the arena, step into his car and then it blew up.

That’s not how the Wilkes-Barre Township Fire and Police Departments, Zenith Pyrotechnology and the arena owners remember it. They recall that part as having been taped two nights earlier, around three in the morning, with a township permit.

The tv crew at the arena recall it as having been a bit of “smoke and mirrors,” where the 3:00 a.m. business was inserted into the live show at the right moment.

WWE recalls it as a moment when media from all over the country dropped their usual cynicism faster than someone dropping their pants during an attack of diarrhea. Warner Bros. asked if the body was at the coroner’s yet, but the Chief Deputy Coroner said, “I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about.”

The police chief issued a statement saying, “Vince lives on. I wish him a speedy recovery. I’m sure he’s sitting in a nice hotel room in Trump Plaza laughing like a bastard.”

One of the local newspapers went along with the gag the next day, making up their front page like a supermarket tabloid report of the event. Nothing like pro wrestling, folks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Running Boards

Miss them. Of course, cars are much lower to the ground now, so we really don’t need the boards that ran the length of the passenger compartment, but at least you could stand on them if there were no cops around. Now that roads are available everywhere, and paved at that, you don’t need cars high enough to clear rocks and high mud ridges.

Rumble seats. Never been in one, and not likely now what with all the safety features designed to keep you safe and alive. Seen photos and drawings of them and they looked fun. I think of them now and they seem dangerous.

Windshield wipers that stopped when you went uphill. Anybody reading this remember them? When you accelerated, especially on hills, the wipers would stop. To get a clear view, you’d let off on the gas for a moment to get a single swipe across the glass, then you’d hit it again so you wouldn’t stop. When it got to the point where you couldn’t see again, you’d do the same routine.

Starting a pickup. Right toe on the starter button, right heel on the gas pedal; left toe on the clutch, left heel on the brake. Kick the starter, pump the gas, let go of the clutch and brake, in that order if you are on a hill, and start moving. It was an art, the real test of a new driver. Do that and you should automatically get a license.

Everybody has a story.
Edward Urbanski died. He was an avid traveler who visited all 50 states and recently achieved his goal of standing atop the highest point of 25 of them.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Are You Ready To Order?

When I go out to eat, it’s almost always to Ollie’s. You will find many of these around the country, but they have no connection at all with each other; they are just restaurants with the same name and probably the same signs. More on that later.

Ollie’s is a nice family restaurant; the food is good and the prices are reasonable. It’s also clean and in compliance with the health inspector’s demands. The bathrooms are clean, too; always a sign of a well-run place.

“What,” you might ask, “is the difference between a small restaurant and a diner?” In a diner, the waitresses call you “honey” or “hon” and they usually keep a pencil in their hair. In a restaurant, they are more obviously reserved and it’s not quite the family atmosphere you find in the local corner diner.

These are also good places to order the bigger dishes that aren’t that expensive. You can’t finish them at the table, but you can get a container to take them home for another meal (or two, or a second meal and a later snack).

So why all the Ollie’s around the country with, possibly, the same signs but otherwise completely unrelated? Perkins Family Restaurants had a line of Ollie’s Restaurants (which I think may have been a spin-off of their “Ollie’s Trolley” sites). When they sold the business to whoever wanted to buy the units, I suspect that the Moms & Pops found they could (a) save money on signs and (b) keep the known business name. Just a guess on my part, but the local owner says he is completely independent of the others.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

They Are *All Over* The Place

Went to church today, as usual (it being Sunday, and all).

The priest and the reader both used to be disc jockeys; another reader had been with ABC radio. A member of the choir is also a dj/announcer at the local Public Radio station; the song leader that day acts and sings with one of the area’s amateur theater groups. One of the collectors just retired as publisher of the local newspaper, for which the priest also writes a music column.

So you have this tight little community of entertainers and media people right there in the front of the church.

Is this just a coincidence? Or are there “clumps” of related people all over the place?

For instance, back home we had Katherine Hepburn, Jack Palance, Nancy Marchand and her husband Paul Sparer, plus a number of well-known classical Shakespearean actors. We lived in the suburban New York City area and I, still a teen, might not have even mentioned to my parents that I drove a famous musician’s son home when he needed a ride.

It would be interesting to find out what clumps exist where. Or, to find out what the clumps are in your town. If I’m part of two, then it can’t be that uncommon; it’s just a matter of finding out what sort we are a part of. Maybe you are actually a part of this conglomeration, or you are just a bystander.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

"The Water Is Not Your Friend"

We grew up on Long Island Sound and its waves breaking on the shore were the soundtrack of our lives. On tranquil days, it was as smooth as a piece of glass; with some wind, there was a bit of chop; in a storm, you would not want to be out there in anything less than a large boat with someone experienced at the wheel. Hurricanes, and we had them, were a whole different matter.

As our father taught us about being out there, one of the first things we learned were, “The water is not your friend.” If he was ever right about anything, he was right about that. Should your boat sink, you can’t walk ashore; if a wave breaks behind you, the resulting white foam won’t support the boat, but will sink it, stern first; you need to know how to read the sea and sky, because a sudden squall might well capsize you.

Rivers have their own dangers, as one teen found out last night; what was a rescue mission has turned into a recovery, with no results so far (although there is hope he might have made it to some little river island).

The Susquehanna River floats along lazily, often only a deceptive two or four feet deep, with what can be a ten-foot V-shaped ravine in that area where the real channel is. Fishermen have been known to be walking along and drop right off the edge. In their surprise and confusion, the don’t react quickly enough to save themselves. That could be the case here.

It’s illegal to swim in the river around there for just that reason; it’s not your friend and it can get you.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Fountain Robin

We have a small fountain in our courtyard. It has a squared pedestal and a ball on the top, from which flows up a few inches of water, like a school bubbler. I noticed last year that a robin had taken it over during a hot spell. Specifically, the robin was sitting right on top of the bubbling water. “A good way to keep cool,” I thought, “like sitting on a warm radiator in the winter.”

We noticed it’s back this summer. Back sitting on the fountain, drinking from it, and bathing on it. As well as disregarding us when we walk across the courtyard. It might stop and give us a look, but that’s about all. That fountain belongs to the bird and on a hot day, it will take more than people walking by to make it move.

There are a few other, smaller birds which also drop by for something to drink, a little conversation, the news of the day, and then it’s back to work. I notice they do not come when the robin is around; this may be somewhat out of fear that the large bird might rearrange their beaks, or it might be no more than their respective break times are staggered. I understand robins have two feeding times during the day and are meat eaters (worms, etc.), while other birds forage for seeds and such at other times.

No squirrels yet; I’m not sure if they hang out around fountains, but when word gets around, we should find out. It could be they tank up in the morning, or only go for standing water (assuming they can find that around here).

So the bird sits on the fountain, lord and master of all it surveys.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Come Here Often, Little Girl?

For the last 33 years, I’ve been running a program on the college’s FM station for the visually impaired and homebound. We read pertinent parts of the newspaper every day, so people can keep in touch with the local community and hear what’s going on that they would not get on tv. It’s real popular.

For 29 of those years, it’s also been a spot where high school students could work off community service credits for religious programs, graduation requirements, or just because they thought it was a good thing to do.

Then someone decided people who worked with children or teens were probably pervs; if not probably, then possibly; if not that, then there existed the chance. In any event, we were worthy of suspicion; earlier, we were trusted helpers.

That sure puts a damper on your relationships with the help. With all the emphasis on what could possibly happen, the adult is now a person to be watched carefully; the volunteer, on the other hand, is a lawsuit waiting to happen should there be any sort of misunderstanding. What used to be fun now becomes slightly tense, as you spend half your brain making sure you are safe, the other half doing your work.

Are we safer than before? Probably not. I just got my “not a pervert” papers from the Commonwealth, showing I have no record in Pennsylvania. They didn’t check elsewhere. It doesn’t say I’m ok, just that I don’t have a record. The vast majority of pervs don’t; but, as I mentioned back on May 29, the inspection makes people feel good.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Found When Looking For Something Else - 1

I read dictionaries, whether I want to or not. You know how it is: you set out to find the definition of one word and, as you page through the book, you see some other interesting word and stop to see what it means. Back to the hunt, you find another and another before you locate the word you actually were looking for.

Happens with search engines, as well. I ran into this the other day while looking for something else.

There are 557 citizens of Vatican City as of December 31, 2005. Of these, 58 are cardinals, 293 are clergy with status as members of pontifical representations (whatever that means, but it sounds important), 62 are other members of the clergy, 101 are members of the Swiss Guard and the remaining 43 are other lay persons.

Vatican citizenship is not inherited nor can it be acquired by being born in the city. It can only be acquired based on service to the Holy See and is revoked upon termination of employment by the Vatican. The 1929 Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy says that if a person ceases to be a citizen of the Holy See, and does not have citizenship elsewhere, Italian citizenship is granted.

There were 111 marriages recorded in Vatican City for 2005. However, the stats do not record if these people were allowed to consummate their marriages within the walls, or if any births resulted from such acts of carnal pleasure. I would assume the Vatican drugstore does not stock any of the more common birth control devices.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Why I Like Cats

(1) They ignore you. Cats don’t jump up on you when you come in the door and cause you to drop stuff on the floor.

(2) They’re small and easy to handle. There is no breed of cat, aside from the kind that inhabit jungles and such, which normally weigh more than 15 pounds or so.

(3) Cats don’t greedily lap out of toilets and then lick your face.

(4) Speaking of being greedy, dogs eat each meal as if it’s their last. Cats eat what they need and save the rest.

(5) When cats poop, they cover it up completely. Dogs take a couple of swipes and then move on.

(6) Cats don’t bark all night. Or anytime. When the doorbell rings, they might raise their heads from slumber, then go back to sleep.

(7) They don’t get lost easily. If you can’t find kitty, just look at the highest reachable point in the room or house, and there you will find the cat.

(8) Until cats learn how to use can openers, they will be loyal to you for life. If they do learn, of course, all bets are off.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Heat Lightning

We’ve a fair amount of heat lightning tonight. Somebody’s getting the real thing, but it’s not us. Who might it be? Well, it could be a long way off – it could be as far as 100 miles away from us, if conditions are right for reflection off the cloud layer. Thunder, however, only makes it about 15 miles at most.

So any electrical storm more than 15 miles away that can reflect the sight of a lightning bolt off a layer of clouds will show up as heat lightning (or, depending on where you live, “sheet lightning”).

We used to sit on the beach at night, watching the heat lightning over Long Island. Or somewhere south of us, as maybe people on the south shore of Long Island were also sitting on the beach watching the same heat lightning south of them.

Now that I think of it, I’ve never seen a thunderstorm while at sea. When I’m on a cruise, I’ve spent enough time out on deck at night and would certainly see anything happening, as the decks are fairly dark and you have great viewing conditions. Perhaps next time.

When I was really young, heat lightning was the most mysterious thing. That lasted about five minutes until someone explained what it was. Then it became one of the most interesting things. You sit there and wonder where the real storm is, what kind of show it’s putting on and if it might come your way. But it’s neat to watch.

And, of course, nobody ever died of being hit by heat lightning.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Reunion Weekend At The College

What a weekend; Sunday’s blog is being written at 11:15pm Monday. And I haven’t even thought of Monday’s blog yet. A writer’s life is never easy.

This year, we invited the five- and ten-year classes whose years ended in “2” and “7.” Those from the class of 1957 received the Golden Monarch award for, among other things, still being on their feet, breathing and able to take nutrition.

One person had not been back since he graduated 25 years ago. The place has undergone many changes, some of them major, since that time yet he looks pretty much the same. Some people have all the luck.

One of our grads became a clown for a day when the circus came to town. She is a reporter and feature writer for the other newspaper here in Wilkes-Barre and did a piece on them. “Grampa” made her up rather nicely, and she appeared in the pre-show segment. I didn’t think to ask her if she was tempted to leave her day job and run off with the circus; as “Bubbles the Clown,” she seemed to have fun. It sure beats running it to the newsroom shouting, “Stop the press!”

Other alums have not had such colorful experiences, at least recently. Although, one did talk about having gone to Boy Scout camp when he was 14. On his way there, he stopped in Chicago and somehow managed to accidentally knock Mayor Daley off his feet and onto his backside. A bit later, someone took him to a courtroom and he found himself sitting behind Jimmy Hoffa at one of his trials.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Enlightened Self-Interest

The house was repossessed and two neighbors had ideas to make it look better. One, who lived next door, put an elbow and extension on the drain pipe so it fed into the house’s back yard. Much better than before. Another thought it would be good to cut the grass, so the house would look better for potential buyers. Another helped level a spotlight at a neighbor’s backyard shrine.

Nice people; good to have near you.

The drainpipe originally just emptied into a driveway and fed water into the basement next door until, when the house was vacated, the neighbor bought the extension and changed the water flow. The new owners will never know.

The fellow who will cut the grass –once—will follow that with an evening with his metal detector and is pretty sure he will find a few old coins down in the dirt somewhere.

The spotlight in the shrine was also shining up into the bedroom window of the person who helped level it, conveniently aiming it a bit lower.

“Enlightened Self Interest” is what’s at play here. I’m happy to do this for you (because I have something I want to get out of it for me). Both sides make out in the deal, although side #2 may not be fully aware that side #1 stands to make out somewhat better.

“Hey … I’d like to do you a favor …”

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sing A Song Of Sales

Life’s contradictions always intrigue me, especially when they come from people who staunchly maintain both sides of them. Advertising agencies, as just one example. They claim old people are resistant to change and will not react to ads for a competitor’s product; yet, look at the music they use in their commercials.

The Gap clothing stores, certainly not a “yesterday” place to shop, is currently hawking its wares with “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” That’s from a 1946 musical. 1946, as in 61 years ago. Grandma’s music for the grandkids’ clothes.

Going on vacation with Carnival Cruise Line? You may have been entranced by the music they’re currently using: “Ain’t We Got Fun.” We’ve been having fun since this was written in 1921. Yeah, the 1921 that happened 86 years ago.

The CR-V Honda aspires to be the latest and best thing for the younger crowd. Listen to the “Java Jive” as it plays in the background, a fine piece 67 years old from 1940. It’s a great song; has nothing to do with cars, but it’s catchy.

Chevrolet would like to brighten your day with “You Are My Sunshine,” in the hopes you would brighten their day by running down to the nearest dealer and picking up their product. Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis wrote this in the late 1930s or 1940.

So, it appears the products are for the young, and they will be captured by music loved by the elderly. Maybe it’s because the older music has more to say.