Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I Didn't Know The Gun Was Loaded

That’s the name of a 1949 popular song, as well as what comes after “Uh-oh,” when the thing goes off.

I really, really don’t want to cash in my chips in some totally useless manner. A drive-by shooting would be one of them; you’re walking down the street, minding your own business, when someone pops you as part of a gang initiation. Another would be having a block of “ice” fall on you from the sky; in reality, an airplane emptying its toilet storage, which freezes on the way down. Killed by a falling bucket of frozen piss.

Oddly enough, speaking of option #1, most people who are shot get plugged by someone they know. Whether it’s a person doing it deliberately, or someone mistaking you for a burglar, both ends of the gun are not strangers.

Maybe I’ve already mentioned this, but I’d like to wrap it up here in such a manner that it would make the front page of the New York Times. Being shot by a deranged pope, for instance; picked up and carried by a couple of eagles and then released about 200 feet up just over a parking lot. Things like that. It would even make the front page of the Weekly World News, I’d bet.

What’s really going to happen? Probably something very mundane, although you never know. Friend of mine from Indiana was fatally kicked by a giraffe in Africa.

Monday, July 30, 2007

It's Mine And You Can't Have It

The other day, I was listening to someone’s recording of “Fever,” the song most associated with Peggy Lee and with good reason. This other artist did a good job, but just didn’t quite make it; she and the musicians lacked the edge that Ms. Lee and her group had.

For those who marginally remember the recording, there was only a bass and drum kit behind the vocalist. The session guitarist was dropped at the last moment and it was his fingers we heard snapping through the song.

Peggy Lee “owns” this song and the best anyone can do is to perform it in their own style, not attempting to imitate her. It’s not going to work.

Meanwhile, back in 1931, Wayne King recorded a song which Frankie Laine also sang in 1950 and Doris Day in 1957. But “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” belongs to Cass Elliot, formerly of the “Mamas & the Papas,” who sold seven million copies of it in 1968. She has delivered what many consider the definitive version as she left the group, got her life together and moved out on her own.

Anyone who sings “Some Enchanted Evening” will do so with the spirit of Ezio Pinza hovering above him. That’s another “owned” song, by the former basso of the Metropolitan Opera. He recorded it from the musical “South Pacific” in 1948, a haunting melody and one of the first I heard from the Broadway stage.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Doth Come Sleep; Cometh Valuable Rest

Not much of a problem for me, thanks to all the meds I take. Well, actually sleep *is* a problem, because it comes on and I have to stop what I’m doing or just go unconscious where I am.

Sometimes I will get into bed and, before I can turn my bedside light off, I’m gone. I wake up four hours later with the light still shining right into my face. How can I sleep like that? Easy, I told the questioner; I just did.

It’s nice to have the ability to just drop off when you feel a bit tired. Light, noise, activity; none of these bother you. When it’s time to sleep, you just do it.

I once told my neurologist that I probably could sleep in hell. She said that sounded like a good talent to have.

A friend of mine, known for having all the answers but not all the questions, told me the correct way to sleep, according to NASA. I told him to blow it out his @. “The correct way to sleep is the position I am in when I nod off,” I told him. “In bed, in a chair, wherever I am; if it’s comfortable enough, it’s the correct way for that moment.”

Girl: “I can sleep anywhere.”
Guy: “So I’ve heard.”
End of relationship.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Trains Don't Run In Gardens

The paper placemats at my favorite restaurant have ads on them and one is for a store that is “next to the tressel.”

No, it doesn’t mean a tressel that carries flowers and vines, but the trestle which gets the daily trains over Market Street. Bit of a difference there. Flowers weigh a few ounces; locomotives weigh 130 tons each, not including the hundred freight cars following them.

Nobody’s business ever suffered because someone checked the words for spelling and punctuation. It’s probably the other way around. Even our local newspaper, the Citizens’ (s-apostrophe) Voice gets it wrong and occasionally the staff will mention the Citizen’s (apostrophe-s) Voice.

What I like having around is a major dictionary, biographical and geographical dictionaries, and an atlas. Somewhere among those, you can get the right terms, the right spelling for whatever you want. The chances of making an error are small.

You will know there is a big difference between “portable” and “potable” water; the first can be moved, while the second can be consumed. “Ordinance” and “ordnance” are separate as are “material” and “materiel.”

It’s the precision that makes for good writing, for good advertising and to let people be aware that we know what we are talking about.

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Pencils Come From Pencilvania"

There’s a song I heard on “A Prairie Home Companion” some years ago. The show was being done from Rhode Island and they sang “Rhode Island Is Famous For You.” The song takes a few liberties with its facts, to make things work out, but did get one thing right: “Pencils / come from Pennsylvania.”

Lyricist Howard Dietz may have used an Eberhard Faber pencil now and then, but I doubt he knew it was made just outside Wilkes-Barre, in the mythical place called “Mountaintop,” which is actually two townships, a school district and a post office named Mountaintop. Eberhard jr., known to friends as Tim, still lives here, although the pencils are now made in Mexico.

Back down here in the Valley (Duryea, to be exact), is the Topps chewing gum factory. As in Bazooka Joe, with the patch over his eye. As in the kind of gum I never bought; didn’t like the flavor, didn’t like Bazooka Joe for some reason, did like Double Bubble and its cartoon characters. Anyway, lots of people here make Topps gum and if you are ever asked where it comes from, Duryea (“duree-ay”) is the location.

Cable tv is another local product; invented here sixty years ago and the same company is still in operation. Some 35 years ago, it carried the first HBO program to the first 365 subscribers here in the city; I understand HBO has grown a bit over the years.

Pencils do, indeed, come from Pencilvania.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

How Did We Get Along Without Whatever?

"How did our parents / our country / the world ever get along without the internet / computers / microwave ovens?" etc to infinity.

They were probably wondering how their parents ever got along without the DC-3, an airplane so advanced that there was a hit big band song about it, "Skyliner."

Our parents might have asked how their parents managed to drive long distances without the Lincoln Highway (Route 20), the fabled Route 66, or the East Coast’s Route 1 from Maine to Key West.

Each generation does quite well with what it has, wonders how those previous got along with less and never thinks of what might be coming in the future. We will look back on today’s clunky, inefficient ways and say (a) It was good enough then and it’s still good enough, or (b) keep leaping forward.

Just how did we get along without e-mail? Well, we wrote letters or called on the phone. Yes, we managed, but we do so much better today. The DC-3 was fine for our grandparents, and only took 18 hours to fly from one coast to another. They existed quite well without tv, but missed all the excellent cable programming we have now.

Anybody really want to go back? If it was good enough for Gramps, is it good enough for us? It wasn’t for mine; he was one of the first to get a tv!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Keep Your Eye On It

Our student aide that year was a student from China. She spoke three dialects and perfect English (note to Americans: There’s more to life than just one language), but we found she did not know our idioms.

When I left the office one day, I asked her to keep an eye on the place. In return, she gave me a strange look; “keep an eye on the place?” Yeah, I gotta hit the road for a while. “Hit the road? Keep an eye on the place?”

I was chatting with a friend yesterday and, thinking about what I might write about today, noticed that he used three idioms in one sentence. It’s not until we are with someone of a different linguistic background that we realize how many of these we commonly toss about. One of these days, I’ll have to keep count.

Wonder where they come from? “Just pulling your leg” has nothing I can think of to do with fooling someone; the French “Putting you in a box” is no better. We can hit the hay, hit the road, knock it off, knock her up, get forty winks, tell you a million times.

Your assignment, dear reader, is to keep in your mind for one day just how many idioms you use and how many you have heard others use. At first, you won’t notice any, because we don’t sort them internally as idiomatic phrases. Then you will start to notice just how we speak to each other. It will be clear as a bell.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Widely-Scattered Thunderstorms

Once upon a time, back in the days when dragons roamed the earth and Maidens Fair were rescued by Knights Brave, I worked at a radio station in Bridgeport CT. It had quite a range and our weather forecasts reflected this. Or so we made it sound.

In the studio, we had three large-print sheets with names of towns in CT, Suburban NY and Long Island. As we gave the weather, we would say, “Including…”and read one from each list. “Pin-Point Weather,” they’d call it today, except it was simply what the Weather Bureau sent over the AP wire, which we read straight over the air.

It was the 5-County Forecast, for our coverage area. One forecast for five counties; one size was going to fit all. Pin-Point, if your pin was a railroad spike.

Our news broadcasts were a bit more formal. We had the Area Average Temperature, which was computed by, no surprise, averaging the temps from various places in the five counties. Coincidentally, it was the same as the thermometer on the fire escape outside the newsroom, which went when its owner, the overnight dj, was fired.

For a while, we depended on a service out of Denver, which assumed if it was rainy 60% of the time on a given date, then we had a 60% chance of rain today. They didn’t last long.

In the summer, we figured someone, somewhere, could be having a thunderstorm. So every newscast ended with, “Slight chance of widely scattered thunderstorms.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mary In A Bathtub

A friend of mine recently moved into a new house. Very happy with it except for a spotlight that shines into her second-floor bedroom window.

It may not be a strictly local phenomenon, but “Mary In A Bathtub” is something I never really noticed anywhere else. Many people around here have little shrines in their side or back yards, generally statues of Mary and in enclosures that either resemble or usually are bathtubs set upright in the yard.

This particular Mary is lighted during the evening hours. But the light overshoots her rub-a-dub-tub and ends up in my friend’s bedroom. She and a person she knows tried to move the light a bit but found (a) there is an electrical ground fault and they got a bit of a shock and (b) the neighbor moved it back again.

She has now thought of lawn ornaments that would block the light. Exactly what kind of objects is under discussion: can she get away with witches on broomsticks? That might cause Our Lady Of The Bathtub to devise something worse than a little electrical shock. Large pink flamingoes? No, that’s almost as bad as witches and even more tasteless. Maybe a large bush might do the job without calling down locusts from heaven.

Around here, where people are very religious (a good thing) and build garish shrines (a bad thing), one of which is across the street from the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall (an ironic thing), it’s too bad that one person’s Blessed Bathtub Mary interferes with another person’s private life and enjoyment thereof.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Eighth Street Bridge

Up the road ten minutes, there’s a bridge (well, at least as of tonight’s news, it was still there) that will be replaced in the near future. The nearer, the better, sez I.

Most bridges get inspected every two years; this one is on a six-month cycle. Yesterday, the weight limit was just reduced again. The official reading on its condition usually includes words such as, “deteriorating.” I think of that every time I cross and I assume the other 9,600 people each day also have it in mind.

Unless they are concerned about their outside mirrors. There are times when you are sure that there will be two of them on the bridge floor when you and the wide car slightly toward the left of its lane approach each other at speed. It’s not only unsafe, but also rather (rather??) narrow and you just buzz along figuring if you make it off the bridge with your mirror intact before the thing collapses, you’ve already had a good day.

So, anyway, the people who build new bridges (“they”) are going to do just that. It will be so close that it will still be the 8th Street Bridge and I hope they don’t give it some name that we will little note nor long remember. Like the former Carey Avenue Bridge, now the 1st Battalion, 109th Field Artillery, Pennsylvania Army National Guard Bridge.

They (see above) are doing test borings in the river to see where it will support a bridge. Not as easy as you might think; this area is undercut with coal mines, including under the river, at times just a few feet under it. The only thing the old bridge hasn’t done so far is fall into a mine, but let’s not even think about that.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Color Television For Just Pennies!

Back in the days when it took tv sets a half-minute or so to warm up and show us a picture (and perhaps another half minute to make it a good picture), trying to watch daytime television was pretty much a waste.

It wasn’t because of the programming, but just the ability of the picture tubes to put out a strong enough image to overcome the sunlight. I remember times when we had to close the drapes if we wanted to make out anything. Later improvements brought better sets, but my memories of those early days are washed-out pictures that just didn’t cut it.

My father’s stepmother, a chiseled block of cold steel if ever there was one, had a somewhat larger set with a round picture tube. The bigger sets were like that; none were square or rectangular as we know them. It was, of course, black-and-white, as were all sets of the day. But, for a few cents, you could have color! And she did.

It was a film of plastic which clung easily to the charged tube. Light on the top, dark on the bottom, and people-colored in the middle. When color tvs did become available, they cost somewhere around $1,000 in the days when ordinary people might be making $3000 or so a year. Sets could not be delivered and turned on with the expectation they would run for years.

In this whole area, there are now but eight tv repair shops. I bought mine 14 years ago and it has never needed repairs; we have another that’s 24 years old, same deal. They no longer use tubes, which caused 90% of the problems.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Habla Francais, Sir?

If the truth were to be known, I really don’t give a rat’s ass if we pass a law about a national language or not. English is our language and the second generation picks it up quickly; the first generation never does, not now and not ever. The kids do and they fit right in. If anyone’s really interested, all they have to do is go downstate and look at the official record from a couple hundred years ago; they’re all in German.

What I want is to be able to converse in the languages that are present. My family is Quebecois and I try to keep up with some sort of ability in Canadian French. I visit there occasionally and want to be able to talk to shop keepers and others to the degree that I am able. Among other things, it shows respect – just what we are looking for in our country.

Maybe I will take Spanish lessons. Not classic European Spanish, but whatever the locals speak. I’d like to be able to chat with them, with the old folks who will never be able to master a word of English. Add that to my knowledge of Morse Code and Braille and you’ve got a nice library.

Maybe we can change the old, but true joke: What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Trilingual. Two languages? Bilingual. One language? American. I know people who are proud they know only English and will not learn another language, even though they travel; we are the biggest country and other people probably know English, so why learn anything?

They miss the fun of knowing at least a bit of another language.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Like Violence On Television

Well, not the type you see these days. I mean the Roadrunner and things like that. Cartoons where someone gets blown to bits only to reappear a few minutes later; animated characters who fall off cliffs, get run over by trains, are blown up and such. Farmer Brown used to blast away with his double-barreled shotgun blowing everyone else into the middle of next week. Never did us any harm and I don’t know anyone who blamed the cartoons for his life of crime.

What I really liked was the old “Untouchables” tv series. Elliot Ness and his men were battling crime in Chicago with machine guns blazing (on both sides), cars running into buildings and general mayhem. This, too, did not lead me into a life of crime and I wish the series would run again.

The Muppet Show has been described as possibly the most violent show on tv. When you look at it, you will see why. But all in fun and, again, nobody’s last words as they sat in the electric chair were, “Kermit The Frog told me to do this.”

Sometimes I wonder about all those studies that link real-life violence to that seen on tv. They are made by people who grew up watching all those coyotes slamming head-on into boulders, who watched cowboys wiping out Indians. I just think there are few things more soul-satisfying than watching a stagecoach full of bad guys, on fire, go over the edge of a two-hundred foot cliff.

Maybe my generation got our violence out watching other people portray it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Be Vewy Quiet; I'm Hunting Wabbits

There’s a robin I’ve mentioned before on this site. It often sits atop the fountain in my courtyard, letting the small spray cool it off; it just sits there on the hot days. Sometimes it uses the fountain as a birdbath, occasionally it drinks from it.

I’ve decided to catch it; should be fairly easy.

The way to catch a bird, as we all know, is to put salt on its tail. This can be done easily and with objects commonly found at home. You will need a salt shaker, possibly a ladder or step-stool if the bird is too high to reach and, of course, a bird. Also known as a Feathered Biped.

It is important to realize that birds do not look straight ahead as we do; they look off to one side or another. Therefore, if a bird seems to be looking to your left or right, it is actually staring right at you and you can’t get away with anything. It’s best to approach the bird from the back, very quietly. You do not need to grab the bird, but simply get the salt on its tail and it can’t move.

“At the age of five years old, my grandmother told me that if you sprinkle salt on a bird's tail, you could catch the bird. I spent a lot of time on ladders trying to sneak up to a bird nest to try the salt method. After thinking about it for fifty years, I am of the opinion that salt does not have any paralyzing effect on a bird. At least to the best of my abilities, it never seemed to work. No birds were captured.” (Darol Dickinson)

Darol was not successful, but it could still work. Try it for yourself and get back to me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I Was Thinking ... Just Suppose

I don’t know what brings it up; maybe seeing something, or hearing a piece of music, maybe reading an article.

Anyway, suppose I hadn’t tried out for that job at WICC when I was in high school, working in the station’s news department. Would I have become as interested in international news and affairs as I have been? I began reading the NY Times to learn more about the nation and the world, then stopped getting the Reader’s Digest when I realized their writing was as imaginative and fulfilling as a slice of Wonder Bread.

I graduated at the bottom of my class in high school, and in the top 5% of my class in college. Suppose I had been in the middle or higher in h.s.; would I have done the same in college? Or was being a complete failure the first time around make me “dig in” many years later when college finally became an option and decide a B would do only if an A were impossible?

Suppose my parents were not musically inclined? We had those big 12” albums of 78-rpm records, mostly the best violinists, along with other classical music; we also had Spike Jones and the popular music of the day. Did that feed my desire to share it with others by being a disc jockey? Or did being a dj bring me to appreciate music even more than I had? You just don’t go in and play records; your show has to be balanced and you need to speak intelligently about the music.

Suppose any of these things had not happened.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ain't Nothing Quite Like Lots Of Green Lights

When you’re heading into the city on Kingston’s Market Street, there are lights at about every other intersection. At night, you look down this long, straight road and they are all green, because they are “demand” lights and there’s usually nobody on the side streets waiting to use them.

It’s a lovely view. There are few views like it. You have at least a mile of green lights smiling upon you, bowing before you, inviting you to sail along without a red light care in the world.

Reminds me, in a way, of my parents. Their idea was always, “Why not?” instead of “Why?” when an idea came up. If I wanted to do something, we almost had to prove that it would cause a disaster before they would say “no.” I don’t remember having to convince them something was worth doing; we’d look it over and if the disaster ratio was really low, then it was ok.

I don’t remember them saying, “You can’t be too safe.” I think the people next door said that and the result was a couple of wimps. Yes, you can be too safe; there are risks in everything, including getting out of bed in the morning and there are risks in not exploring the world around you. Sticking your eight- and four-year-old kids on a train headed to Vermont isn’t that risky; there were dirty old men back then, too.

They were green lights, our parents. They encouraged, with the occasional yellow light of caution and the rarer red light of “this is too dangerous right now.” And it worked.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The One True

I have the luck to live near a Kingdom Hall, better known as where the Jehovah’s Witnesses meet. When I lived across the street, they’d come by all the time trying to save this poor, lost Roman Catholic. Some years back, I received a letter from a branch of the Orthodox Christian church and the letterhead included the statement: “Unquestioned Apostolic Succession.” Which meant, I suppose, that ours was open to doubt.

My family included several branches of Protestantism, plus a few founding Mormons in the back somewhere. Each was convinced that their brand of religion was the only true. Recently, the R.C.’s have entered the club with a formal statement that it is the only true church and everyone is sadly deficient and will they, please, stop referring to themselves as “churches,” since there is only one and they’re not it.

I think the definition of An Established Religion is: “We hold it marvelously self-evident, at least to us, that there is only One True Church and we are it; furthermore, if you abandon us for any of the others, you have forfeited eternal life.”

Sounds pretty arrogant. I guess it really is pretty arrogant. Each collection of believers enters the room, sets itself up as the ultimate authority and lays down the rules, rules which automatically cut off, cut up and toss into Eternal Garbage all the others. Each says, “We can talk about unifying, as long as it is under *our* rules.”

And God says, “Who died and left them boss?”

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Quieter It Is, The Noisier It Gets

It’s a quiet night; I have my radio off and all I can hear is my battery clock on the wall ticking off the seconds, the fridge making whatever little noise fridges make when it’s perfectly quiet, and the occasional car going by. That fridge is kinda noisy, but I guess during the day it gets drowned out by all the stuff that goes on and, as I notice now, even typing on the keyboard sort of covers it fairly well.

Several times, I lived in the sticks. One weekend, a woman and her son were directed to us and our spare apartment by a mutual friend; she just had to get out of her house for two or three days. I forget why; something about needing time and quiet. So we showed here where the room was and thought nothing of it.

The next morning, she was gone and there was only a note on the kitchen table. It seemed that the quiet she wanted was too quiet and too noisy. She could hear the trees creaking, the bats flying around, some animals in the woods – things like that. The kind of noises you don’t get in town. It pretty much freaked her out and she left sometime during the night, suitcase in hand, son in tow.

Country life can, indeed, be noisy. If you live by any water, there are several different kinds of frogs to serenade you at night and, given enough of them, they can be noisy. Many birds bed down for the night, but there are many who stay up and take care of business in the wee small hours. Lots of animals are on the prowl then, as well.

Perhaps we don’t have cars and trucks going by at night, but we do have our sounds.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Dandelion Gone To Seed

One of my favorite times was when the dandelions on our lawn went to seed and became all white and puffy. At that point, I could pick them and blow the white stuff all over the place – but not in the house. (I might add here that I am easily amused.)

Those gone-to-seed dandelions are so artistic, if you look at them closely and spend more than just a few seconds glancing at what’s left of the flower. Look all around them; see how the little branches spread out, how puffy it is, almost like a cat’s fur.

Then imagine you could keep it this way forever.

Someone did. Fellow named Rolfe found a way to capture one of these most fragile of plants and keep it in a small block of Lucite. I have had one for nearly forty years now and it amazes me still. In this square, 2 ¼” on each side, are six views of the little white puff we used to blow clean every summer.

It came from a gift shop in Rockport, Mass. The place had an odd assortment of objects, unlike what you would see in the usual tourist store. “Sophia’s Shop” was named, I think, after the ladies’ mother. When my parents saw me looking at the dandelion with more than passing interest, they gave it to me as a present. It has always been on display in my various rooms.

We can trace our life’s path by looking at the t-shirts in our drawer and the coffee mugs in the pantry. But the enigma of this fragile, puffy little flower in Lucite is endless.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Resident Is, As Resident Does

I have never, for one instant, thought of myself as a resident of Pennsylvania. Ok, PA driver’s license, voter registration, lived here 28 years, blah blah. That’s the legal stuff and it sort of nails me down.

But for me, I’ve always “lived” where my family is. Until 1997, Lordship, Conn. (I really don’t like “CT”; it’s so impersonal, when “Conn.” is much nicer, easier on the eye.) When Mom passed on, my remaining family was living outside Quebec City and I identify with them. I’m not Quebecois, altho I’d like to be and have done my best to learn their language. When asked where I’m from, I tell people that my family is Quebecois; let them draw their own conclusions.

It has occurred to me that residency may hinge on much smaller things. Knowing where to swerve in the dark of night to miss potholes, for instance. When you can go down the street chatting with someone and not bounce in a hole, that might be a sign you are a resident.

If a person mentions where something used to be, it was before you arrived here and you know what they’re talking about, that might also be a sign. Or maybe when you hear a street name and know what borough it’s in, then you can be sure you have roots here.

Perhaps the driver’s license and voting card just indicate where you sleep at night. You can have them and not give a whit about the area. Or, you can be a resident in all the real senses, yet still say, “My family is Quebecois.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dream A Little Dream With Me

So, I’m sitting here listening to some quiet music on the radio. For me, sitting still and hearing quiet music means only one thing: time to fall asleep, regardless of what time it might be.

I don’t know how quickly people go into a dream state, but with me it’s pretty fast. As I sit here, wondering what I will write about tonight, I drift off and some really neat ideas come into my mind. When I wake up, they are gone; a few of them I remember, and they are so odd I couldn’t possibly write about them. In a dream, they seemed so reasonable; in real life, just strange beyond belief.

Generally, I get about three first-run movies every night. At least, those I recall when I get up in the morning. Not too many repeats.

Some of the nicest strings are on the New York bus when I doze off and wake up several times during the trip. Then I get lots of those “short films” with quick plots. (As an aside, I was sleeping through New Jersey once and woke up to find the young lady next to me, who had also fallen asleep, ended up leaning on me. “Nice,” I thought; “you don’t get this often.” When she woke up, I pretended to be asleep so as not to embarrass her.)

Where would I like to dream? On a cruise ship, for one. I don’t know that it would change anything about my nighttime reveries, but it’s sure a nice place to have them. Other than that, it makes no difference. But let me tell you: There is nothing quite like waking up from some little adventure and seeing the ocean outside.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Head Of The Patent Office Resigns

Some time back, I read where the head of the U.S. Patent Office, when we were entering the 1900’s, resigned his post. After some thought, he concluded that everything which could be invented had already been and there would be no use for him to continue there.

Silly man. Or not?

Let’s see … hummm … Edison or Berlinger invented the basic idea of recording sound onto a disc or cylinder. All we’ve done in the century-plus since then is improve on that idea. Records came out with the same concept, then vinyl albums, compact discs and such. Edison would recognize them in an instant; we just built on what he put together.

The automobile came out around that time. An engine, four wheels, some controls. These days, a car is not complete without lots of gee-gaws for our comfort and entertainment, many safety features for the times when we just aren’t careful, as well as better engines. But the Duryea brothers would quickly pick up on what we have done with their “motorcycle,” as the car was called in those days.

Boeing introduced their newest product, the 787. Imagine the Wright Brothers checking that one out! Oddly enough, the good people up in Washington State have done little but improve on Wilbur and Orville’s studies on lift and control of motorized gliders. The boys would know little about “flaps 15” for take-off and “flaps 40” for landing, but they would recognize the principle immediately; all the instruments would come as no surprise to them and they would probably be a little jealous. “Wish we had these!”

Monday, July 09, 2007

When We All Agree On Global Warming

One of these days, the Sun is going to start expanding. Not just a few feet or a few miles, but big time. Mercury will be its appetizer; Venus will be the main course and Earth will be dessert. It won’t much matter to us what happens to Mars and the rest that lie beyond us. Toast doesn’t think, and we’ll all be toast.

“Here’s the pinpoint weather for this evening. It’s going to be a cool one; temperatures will drop into the lower 130’s and tomorrow’s high around 180 will break with severe thunderstorms and the usual F-5 tornados sweeping across the region all afternoon. We’ll probably break the 200 mark by next month. When summer comes, expect temperatures seasonally higher.”

Unless the sun blows up in a supernova, which is not possible (or so they say), we will be long gone by the time all this happens. Most likely, it won’t be for some billions of years and who knows what we will have evolved/mutated into by then? That assumes the Second Coming hasn’t occurred in the meantime.

But suppose the sun does blow up, just for discussion. There we are, sitting in the backyard, enjoying a beer, watching the kids in the pool, listening to a game on the radio, when =bang= all of a sudden the sky is filled with this enormous explosion. Two million years later, an astronomer in the Andromeda galaxy shouts across the room, “Holy S**t! Hey, guys, get a load of this! Some star in that galaxy over there just blew up! Let’s see; it’s two million light-years away from us, so if it had life on any planets, they must have had the surprise of their lives.”

Sunday, July 08, 2007

On The Way To Making Something Of Ourselves

As we try to figure out who we are growing into, we try to see what avenue takes us there.

Some of them are just fun. Friend of mine, back in the late 50’s, put a Bermuda carriage bell in his car. Bing, bong. I wished I had one; I also thought it would be great to have a car to put it in. He eventually got an appointment to West Point, but something went wrong and he found it wasn’t for him. I’d love to know what he ended up doing; he was a nice guy.

Another guy used to sit in his car at the seawall for a long time and just stare out at the water. He’s still weird.

I studied comedians; whose style of delivery seemed to work best for me, how I could best put across a joke or a comic line. I studied the best of the writers, including comic, serious and journalistic. I read everything I could get my hands on. I rewrote everything I wrote, possibly a half-dozen times, until it was just right.

My uncle George ostensibly worked for the Bridgeport Brass Co., but I never knew what he did there because he always had these things going on the side. Eventually, he took leave of absence because this day job got in the way of his true love: trying to find what he was really good at. Making and selling wreaths at Christmas, inventing a rug-braiding process that worked marvelously, selling lollycolumns (those pillars in your cellar) and, finally, learning that he could sell houses like nobody could sell houses.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

In The Beginning

In the beginning, there was the record album; CBS looked upon it and said, “This is good.” RCA looked upon it and said, “We shall invent the 45 so children can have just the song they want.”

Later came the cassette; in days to come, CBS/Sony said, “This costs us fifty cents to make and we charge the customer $9.98. This is good.”

Came the Compact Disc, which left the factory at a remarkably low cost but somehow ended up taking $17.98 from the consumers’ pockets. Manufacturer, wholesaler and dealer alike laughed.

Later, the DVD. I shall not betray any trade secrets, but let me say at $10 retail, everyone in the line would be making money. At $29.95, you can’t hear yourself think for the cash registers singing away, the people involved slapping each other on the backs.

To the question, “Do you know how much it costs us to make these??” you simply reply, “No. How much does it cost you?

Remember the hula hoops? Sure, some people came in late and went broke, but those who saw the potential early and didn’t overproduce took a few cents worth of plastic and did quite well. Pet rocks … cost of packaging and finding rocks; can’t beat that. DVDs? About $2 each out of the factory.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Grandpa Stayed Up All Night At The Radio

Well, actually Mom told me he stayed up all night until 10:00 trying to get KDKA in Pittsburgh on the radio. For him, 10pm was pretty much “all night,” as he turned in at what he considered a reasonable hour, but as I later became a night owl, I came to think of as a bit on the early side.

For instance, it’s 1:55 a.m. Saturday morning as I am writing this. (Ignore the posting time down below; I had trouble signing on and had to back-time it.) I try to get to bed by 2:00, but it’s usually a half-hour later.

When I was in my later teen years, I got involved in radio, evenings after school, and my parents sort of wanted me in bed by 11:00, if possible. Weekends, they thought 1:00 a.m. was really the outer limits, thank you. I learned to come in very quietly a bit later, you’re welcome.

There’s something magical being about in the night. We had a beach just down the street and late at night you had to know where the paths were up the steep bluffs to the street. They were “darker than dark,” and that’s the only way you could find them. You really had to know your way. But it was just you, the pounding waves and the darkness, with the occasional maritime vessel’s navigation lights out there.

I remember, as a very young person, being brought home and seeing the streetlight through our tree’s oak leaves. It was late, very late for someone my age. We had been out all night and it was, perhaps, ten p.m.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I Miss The Newspaper Fillers

In days of old, when knights were bold
And newspapers were still typeset,
Someone would write ‘em a little item,
And those tidbits you would get.

I was always a devotee of those little fillers the newspapers used to run at the bottom of the columns in the pre-computer days when they could not stretch or squeeze the type. You would get things like, “Swaziland imported 10,000 pounds of bananas in 2005,” or “Australia’s national anthem can only be changed by an act of its aboriginal congress.”

Some days, I learned more about the world around me from these little fillers than I did from the news pages. Where else would you learn, let’s say, that the U.S. South Pacific islands cover an area three times the 48 states, but together would cover only New Jersey?

Sure, Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack was news, but so was the fact that some country’s capital had moved three times between 1900 and 1910. Or that cows are still legal currency in 15 countries.

Who researched and wrote these? Was there more than one company who provided them to the newspapers? What happened to the people who did this work when computers made up the pages and these little fillers were no longer needed? Perhaps that could make up one final filler.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day

U.S. Population.: In 1776, 2.5 million. In 2007, 302 million.
Liberty, as a town name: 30 of them. Iowa has four: Libertyville, New Liberty, North Liberty, West Liberty.
Eagle: 32. Eagle Pass TX is the largest. There’s also an Eagle County in Colorado.
Independence: 11. The one in Missouri is the tops with 110,208.
Freedom: 5. Freedom CA takes it with 6,000 residents.
Patriot, Indiana, the only Patriot in the country, pop. 195.
How about America or its variants? You’re in luck; we have five and the largest is American Fork, Utah, with 21,372 residents.

Flags: While we import almost all of our flags from China, the flags we export go in large measure to Trinidad and Tobago.

Cookout Info: Chances are 1 in 4 that your dogs and sausages came from Iowa . . . 50-50 that your baked beans came from Michigan or North Dakota . . . also 50-50 that your potato salad and/or chips came from Idaho or Washington . . . 70 percent that your lettuce came from California . . . 2 in 3 that your tomatoes came from Florida or California. But it’s close to a sure thing that your ketchup came from California.

A colorful Independence Day event is the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island (Brooklyn, NY), which supposedly started on July 4, 1916, as a way to settle a dispute among four immigrants as to who was the most patriotic.

(Info with bold print is from the Census Bureau.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Dog Who Listened In Vain

One of the most famous logos, and perhaps the longest-lasting, is that of the RCA Victor Company. It’s their dog, Nipper, listening to a Victrola and it’s known as “His Master’s Voice.”

Nipper, a real dog, received his name from a nasty little habit he had of nipping at peoples’ ankles. Not a nice way of expressing your gratitude after you were found as a stray and taken in by caring people, in this case, theater stage set painter Mark Barraud. And especially not when your master passes on and his brother Francis, an artist, takes you in.

Now the stories get a big tangled. After Mark’s passing, Francis painted the famous picture, which he called, “Dog Looking At and Listening to a Phonograph.”

The emotional tale says the dog wasn’t listening to his master’s voice, but His Master’s Brother’s Voice, now stilled in death. It’s been said that if you look at the original paining closely, the version where the machine is much more primitive, you will notice that Nipper and the machine are sitting on what appears to be the lid of a coffin.

Other, less heart-wrenching, people say this business of Nipper listening to a recording of his dead master’s voice, while sitting on his coffin, is nothing more than a false rumor.

The Edison Bell Company, leading cylinder manufacturer, turned down the painting as a logo. “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs,” some company dimwit said.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Strange Businesses In The Phone Book

There are just amazing categories of jobs listed in the Yellow Pages, which nobody ever catches.

Have you ever heard of an Irrigation Janitor or Plumbing Police? How would you like to wear a pair of Steel Stockings or eat Rubbish Sandwiches? There are Golfing Grocers and Vertical Veterinarians in there, as well.

Just check the page headings in the back of the phone book. They change with every issue.

You can take a Burglar Bus with your Personal Pest and a Disabled Dog to a Waterproof Wedding.

Chiropractors Churches might have Religious Rentals. You might want to try Physicians Pies, Florists Food, Bagels Bands or a Moving Mushroom.

There are Automobile Bakers, in case you have a big pastry dish; how about Coal Computers, in just one color: black? Nobody will be able to steal your Cement Checkwriter, and the kids will love your Candy Carpet.

As for Gardeners Gas, let’s just say it’s good they’re outside.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

My Own Driving Commandments

I see where the Vatican (a) has too much time on its hands or (b) finally got practical and issued the commandments for drivers. Pretty good, actually; almost as good as mine.

One: Thou shalt not drive with a phone in one hand and gesticulating with the other. Thou shalt not steer with your knees.
Two: Thou shalt honor they who wave you across. Wave back as a silent “thank you” to those who do you a favor.
Three: Thou shalt not speed up at an old yellow light. It shall become green again; trust me. Spend not the time tapping your fingers impatiently on the steering wheel.
Four: Thou shalt keep thine eyes on the road. When speaking to others in the car, do not make eye contact. Keep the manners at home, the car on the road.
Five: You arrive at the same time keeping a safe distance as tailgating. Thou shalt not crawl up exhaust pipes.
Six: When making a right-on-red, thou shalt also look to thine right to see what thou art about to hit. Looking left is fine, but it’s not where thou art going.
Seven: Thou shalt always think: “What can I do to help other drivers today?” Saying, “They never help me,” will not take away your sins.
Eight: In traffic, look not upon thine clock or speedometer; you will get there when you get there and not a moment earlier.
Nine: Driving after drinking is an abomination to the Lord God. Killing in a DUI is murder and cries to Heaven for vengeance.
Ten: Above all, be at peace. Worry not about other drivers' habits or traffic. Listen to music, think nice thoughts, relax.