Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Contrivance For Reckoning Days & Months

Calendar: A table showing the division of a given year into its months and days, and referring the days of each month to the days of the week. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Calendariographer: A calendar-maker (OED, same as blog title)

It’s the end of September and back in the Olde Days, basically when I was in grammar school, I’d look for calendars around the middle of December. Life then didn’t extend more than a day or two in the future and I never needed to know, much less schedule, when anything was going to happen.

Now I’m doing radio, working part-time in a college and booking cruises a year in advance. Suddenly, having next year’s calendar by the end of September is actually running late. I’ll have to check out the Barnes & Noble college bookstore downtown on Monday, see what they’ve got.

We are arranging meetings for a time to come, some spin of the planet and, by using this device, have a mutual agreement as to when it will be. Perhaps it’s ten years in the future, yet we will both be there. I have arranged a cruise for thirteen months from now and the calendar is our agreed-upon way of measuring how many times the earth will spin between then and now; we don’t even have to count … it’s all done for us.

Short of the Second Coming, it’s the unstoppable calendar going well into the future.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Right This Way, Thief

Someone’s car alarm just went off. Ho-hum; big deal. I hope they get out and turn it off pretty soon because it’s going to annoy people (not me, because it’s too far down the street).

The chances that it’s being robbed? Remote to zero. The chances that the alarm sounded for some silly reason? High to absolute. There it goes again; once more and it might affect the amount of air in the car’s tires, if you know what I mean.

Does anyone pay attention to these? Yes, indeed. Let me tell you a brief story.

Friend of mine was trying out a new car from the dealer and brought it around to my house about half a mile from the showroom. In the process of looking it over, we set off the car alarm she didn’t know was there, nor had any idea how to stop. So she drove back to the dealer with the horn blaring, whistles screaming, headlights flashing.

And the other drivers pulled over for her. Everybody was so courteous to who they assumed was a person in distress. Even with the usual sights and sounds of a car alarm, they just gave her a clear path. She’s 4' 11" tall, hardly what you’d think of a car thief, sailing along in what appeared to be a stolen vehicle.

She made it to the dealer’s with no problem, nobody calling the cops on their cell phones. Problem fixed; suspicions as to value of car alarms verified.

Friday, September 28, 2007

When One Door Closes, Another Opens

I had a car like that once.

Here’s what happened: I was going to take a cruise next October to the Caribbean. Not my favorite spot, but it’s a cruise, it’s easy to catch from here, and it’s on Holland America Line. I sail on no other, having mated for life.

I’d much rather take their New England / Canada cruise, but it’s more difficult to reach the port of departure and somewhat pricey. None the less, my favorite and I miss it, having booked the Caribbean three times. Of course, going south in the open ocean is a lot rougher and I like that.

Anyway, back to what happened: The ship has been re-deployed to the Caribbean starting with the very cruise upon which I was booked. It was coming back from Europe and, instead of heading for NYC, it’s going to Fort Lauderdale.

Me? Instead of heading for NYC, I’m going to Boston.

The advantage is that it’s not only three days longer, but it’s also a back-to-back (b2b, in cruise talk) and in Montreal, I watch 99% of the passengers head for the buses while I get ready for another leisurely week at sea.

When one porthole closes, another opens.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Class Act

Tony Bennett was on tv last night. Barry Manilow was also on tv last year, same show. The program was “The Colbert Report,” presided over by Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central.

Yeah, so?

So they both beat him at the Emmy awards each year. When Barry was Stephen’s guest, they spoke about his career, then did a bit in which they agreed to share the Emmy statue with it written down, signed and (supposedly) witnessed by a Notary. At the show’s end, Barry and Stephen sang a duet.

Tony was the Emmy-winning guest who, Stephen pointed out, not only had a room full of awards, but also marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and also is an excellent painter. They also did a duet, with Tony’s quartet, at the show’s end.

I sat there, wondering how many other entertainers would invite their competition, people who had won the award you were drooling for, to be on your program as honored guests. It’s the sort of behaviour I’d refer to as a class act.

Maybe others do it; I just haven’t seen any evidence of it. Usually there’s too much ego involved, too much jealousy, for the loser to invite the winner and be complimentary. We have much to learn from this program and its host.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dewey Defeats Truman

So, we’ve got a real front-runner in one party and a bunch of people trying to slug it out in the other party. But my theory is that the front-runner will be the person who gets the most votes, and you’re not going to know that until late in the evening of election day.

Example: That famous photo of Harry Truman holding the early edition of the Chicago Tribune.

“Things aren’t the same anymore,” people tell me. “Polling methods are so much better now.” Lots of things are better now, but they still mess up.

We had the first Surgeon General’s “cigarettes = cancer” report in 1953, followed by the next, and more famous, one in 1964, followed by warnings on packs and in advertisements. Try telling anyone who lights up, especially the younger crowd. No matter how much we try to extinguish it, the cigarette companies come up with new ways of introducing it to teens. If we can’t stop a thousand people per day from smoking themselves to death, we aren’t going to get them to be honest on an election poll.

Do the right people get asked? Voting increases with age; those of us who qualify for the Senior discounts also determine who gets into office, because we somehow manage to make our way to the polls, with cane, walker or wheelchair. Maybe the pollsters don’t care to ask the geezers what they think of the candidates; we’ll let them know next year on November 9, same as they found out the day after Dewey Defeats Truman.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I Really Want To Get To Bed

. . .but I have to write this blog first. I don’t want to break the unbroken chain, to pause while crossing the traffic of life. Doing so might bring me bad luck; I have already not forwarded a chain letter this afternoon and I shudder to think of what might happen when I go out for the newspapers before turning in.

Actually, I saw yet another scientific article today backing up a previous study which, itself, confirmed someone’s work about why we sleep. Basically, to condense it for our readers here, the answer is: “We don’t know.” Or: “We haven’t the faintest idea.”

My shared-custody cat has, over the period of a day, 14 hours with its eyes closed (and, I insist, sometimes snoring). I’ve been told that if it doesn’t get that much sleep regularly, it can die from lack of. We are the minimums in the animal world, with our eight hours, seven hours, whatever. But that still means we sleep away a third of our lives when, the efficiency expert would note, we could be doing something far more practical.

Stay up as long as we wish, yet our brain starts shutting down. We don’t respond as quickly as we should, we start to see and hear things, or don’t see and hear them. We get that “tired” feeling and start going unconscious. Our head nods, we slump and eventually someone comes in to check on us or, worse, wake us up.

Some people need to be in their own bed. I’m lucky there; any place is just fine for me and neither noise nor light makes a bit of difference. Wake me when it’s time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Eustace Tilley

A friend and I were talking about the concept of a dandy. That is, a person who is excessively concerned with his appearance. You don't see them around much anymore, which is why I've had a hard time today finding anyone who knows what the term means. The only one who had a ready answer is a professor of English whose Ph.D. is in Victorian literature; they had dandies all over the place in those days.

Today? Once a year, on the cover of The New Yorker, you can catch Eustace Tilley:

We had one locally, a congressman named Dan Flood. I’m not sure if he qualified as a dandy, but he wore a cape and a top hat, which set off his Salvador Dali mustache rather well. The waxed ‘stache was so pointed you could have used it as a cake tester. He was also somewhat of a character and the story exists that he was giving a talk somewhere locally when an audience member called him a fairy. Dan, his cape and mustache, leapt down off the stage, decked the heckler, and continued where he left off.

We had an elderly gent on a cruise and, on formal night, he was dressed (as I recall) in a somewhat pink suit with a short pink top hat. You know, it worked for him. He was a bit on the short side himself and the outfit was ok.

Locally, all we have is a fellow who is the very antithesis of dandyism. And cleanliness. He's the local anti-dandy character.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Happy, Happy, Oh So Happy

Ever see those signs that inform you if the clerks are busy, stick around and they will be more than happy to help you when they are free. “More than happy.” I sometimes wonder just how much that can be: you are happy, happier and happiest. Beyond that lies … ecstasy? I should ask. “Sir, Ma’am, are you more than happy at this moment? Are you experiencing an indescribable form of bliss? Or am I just another customer to take care of?”

The Travel Channel has some sort of vacation house-hunting program and I happened to catch it the other day. This little chalet, which comes in at $799,995, has (so the agent pointed out) a very unique fireplace. It better be very unique for a fiver less than $800k.

Unique: One of a kind. Very Unique: Really one of a kind. The former: You aren’t going to find this anywhere else. The latter: You really aren’t going to find this anywhere else. I’m surprised I haven’t heard “Extremely Unique” yet, but I’m sure it’s out there somewhere. “This one-of-a-kind object is merely unique; this other one is very unique, while that one over there is extremely unique. Let's not even talk about the next room.”

Are there any models left? All we hear about are supermodels, but I never know exactly what they model. There used to be stars of the Broadway stage, the Hollywood screen; now all you hear about are superstars. Mary Martin was a star, but I haven’t seen any superstars match her. How many films can be “the movie of the year … perhaps of your life”? I am the movie of my life and the script hasn’t been finished yet.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Time I Was A Jew

It was somewhere around 1959-61, as close as I can figure it; back in the years when I worked at WICC in Bridgeport CT. We were a family-oriented station, in those Top-40 days, and played a couple of album cuts every half hour. One evening, the dj played “Easter Parade,” the one with “In your Easter bonnet.”

The newsroom phone rang. I don’t remember which one of us picked it up, but the fellow on the other end had chugged down a few beers too many. “I’m with the Knights of Columbus,” he managed to get out, “and you’re playing ‘Easter Parade’ in the summer. You Jews…” We hung up on him.

I am proud that the founder of my religion was Jewish and that many of our practices can be traced back to the rituals of that era. But I don’t see how playing “Easter Parade” at any other time than, well, Easter makes me Jewish and, what’s worse, an evil anti-Christian defiler of the season.

After all, the song has nothing to do with anything faintly resembling religion. It’s about a bunch of dandies dressing up and walking along Fifth Avenue looking at each other and hoping they are the best-dressed people who will end up in the rotogravure.

The what? It’s the colored section of the Sunday newspapers, named for the process that produces it. In New York City, it’s to this day still called the “Roto” section. I don’t know if the newspapers still cover the Easter Parade, or if there is one. But if there is, you may end up in the rotogravure.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Joe The Barber, Spike Jones And Me

Don’t know if I ever mentioned this in the past 522 posts, but I was heavily influenced in my early years by Joe the Barber and Spike Jones. I was never aware until I was a lot older and wise enough to realize it and thank at least one of them, in a way.

Spike Jones first. For those who tuned in late, he was a musical satirist in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He led one of the finest big bands in the country at that time, so considered by the other leaders because he could imitate any band on the road and could present a technically difficult show night after night. Spike was also a first-class percussionist.

When I was about six, he showed up in nearby Bridgeport and my parents took me to see the act. We had some of his records and this was great. I remember at the end that the bows were not in the usual manner: least first, building up to the big star. Instead, the entire cast, including Spike, lined up across the stage, joined hands and bowed as one. The ensemble was the star and I never forgot that. Nothing can run without the assistance of many people, be it a college, a show or a city.

Joe the Barber took care of our small village and I never realized it at the time, but he treated kids and adults the same. He never talked down to me, never pushed me to the back of the line. He taught me respect for all people, regardless of rank, age or ability. When I saw he had passed, I wrote to his widow and told her how much he had influenced me. She never realized that plain old Joe did anything else than cut hair. But he’s with me every day as I deal with people, especially the “small” and less significant.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Watching The Changeover

At one point, the covering on cars’ parking lights was white. Then I noticed the new models were yellow. I watched over the next few years as the number of yellow increased and it became harder to find a white parking light cover. I don’t think I’ve seen one in ages and maybe a car with Antique plates on it might be the only place to go.

Then came the separate brake lights. Before, especially at night, the rear lights were normally red, and redder when the brakes were on. Someone got the bright idea to have a separate light just for the brakes so it was obvious the vehicle was at least slowing. I don’t know when they started coming into use, but I haven’t seen a car without one in quite a while.

I watched the 10” pop music 78 record give way to the 45. It took a while, but eventually the thick acetates disappeared. I also saw the 12” multi-disc classical music 78 album go to music heaven and be replaced by the vinyl disc which was, in turn, sent its way by the compact disc. Mention 78rpm records to college students today and you will get the standard blank stare; bring up a 45rpm record and it doesn’t get much better. If you are dealing with a high school student (or even college folks), forget about even mentioning the 33 1/3 rpm albums that we thought were the greatest thing since, well, since 78’s.

I watched electric typewriters come into common use for families and students. I saw them go out of common use. Smith-Corona, which started making the family-size machines, gave up on them a few years ago. They seemed so new, so great.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Somebody At The Phone Company Was Clever

When I was a kid, I often wondered who invented the telephone busy signal. Did anyone think we needed to know the person on the other end was using the phone? Some genius must have thought, “You know, it would be a great convenience to our customers if we could find some sort of signal that would indicate the phone on the other end was in use.” So we ended up with the interrupted tone. Baap baap baap.

Maybe the same genius came up with the idea to have a simulated ringing tone so we would know the phone on the other end was jingling away. What we hear is not in our friend’s house, but some audio gadget at the central office. If the place we are calling has had its phone physically disconnected by some clumsy idiot tripping over the wire, we will still hear the ringing sound.

Then I got to wondering who came up with the idea of a dial tone. We could just as easy pick up the handset and start dialing, I suppose. So after a storm and it’s been out for a while, we pick up the phone, hear the rough note of the dial tone and are happy because we are connected again.

At one point, during the rotary-dial days, someone discovered that if they put a dot in the center of a dialing hole, people would call fewer wrong numbers. So simple: give them a target and they would hit the right hole for the number next to it. They also discovered that four digits were about the most people could deal with. So instead of 3757898, we got 375-7898. Easier to see, dial and remember.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Some friends and I were at our favorite pizza place (Sizzle Pi, over in Kingston, for you locals) and when we looked out the window, all we could see was the front grille and windshield of a big SUV. Or a tank; it was hard to tell the difference. Anyway, it was one of those “8 mpg and you got a problem with that?” vehicles that runs on testosterone.

It brought me back to my early days when I lived a block away from an Air Traffic Controller who worked at a very nearby airport. He had what has evolved into a moped, but this Present At The Creation model had bicycle pedals along with a motor. He explained that he had to pedal up to ten or fifteen miles per hour and then the motor would kick in. After that, he would go putting along at hardly any mpg; the gas tank probably held a gallon and he may have filled it once a month.

To this day, I wonder if he could have expressed it in “miles per pint.” It sure would impress people. “My Chevy gets 25 miles per gallon.” “My moped gets 25 miles per pint; it costs me (going rate for a gallon) to fill ‘er up.”

I had another friend who lived behind us and worked near the same airport. He had a Crossley automobile. In case you have forgotten, or are too young to know, think of the new car, the Element, that’s running around these days. Then reduce it by ¾ or less and make it less stylish, increase the mpg and you’ve got one of the most practical cars made.

What we drive now are monsters compared to the Crossley. Too bad it’s gone.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Sun's In The Sky, The Cat's In The Window

We’ve a little snap in the air, the sure sign telling us summer’s over and we’re on Mother Nature’s “warning track,” about to hit the wall of winter. It’s called Autumn.

There seem to be more leaves on the sidewalk than I remember seeing even last week; I’ve worn a jacket a couple of times on my trips to the newspaper after the press starts running at 12:30 a.m. The car windows are fogged up then.

Up until a few nights ago, I left the cat’s two perch-windows open all the time so she could keep an eye on events whenever she wished. Sure, she could do it through a closed window, but you lose some of the immediacy that way – the smells, the subtle sounds, the more distinct sights. Well, she can use her imagination now; just because she has a fur coat and doesn’t mind the cold doesn’t mean I’m going to put up with it.

During the daytime, as I mentioned, there’s this cool snap, but when the sun is out, it’s not that bad and both windows are open so Herself can bask in the rays and, as is happening right now, do a little cleaning. I don’t know if she’s licking her paw to wash her face, or washing her paw and wiping it on her face; it’s hard to tell with a cat. But there she sits, in her glory, enjoying the sun and the sounds of North Franklin Street.

She has changed her position, from the open window to her blanket perch at the window in front of me. One is for observing, the other is for sleeping. After a few licks of her tail, it’s going to be nap time in the sun’s warmth.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

No Wonder

According to the expansion theory of the universe (a.k.a.: the Big Bang), every bit of it began as an infinitely dense thing the size of an atom. Similar to the entire output of every loaf of Wonder Bread ever made. As we all know, any three-year-old can squish a loaf down to the size of a marble with no trouble at all; imagine what a garbage compactor could do.

Why did I choose Wonder Bread over, say, Silvercup? For one thing, I always thought of Silvercup as a New York City bread, big city stuff. But Howdy Doody told us about how good Wonder Bread was on his tv show and that’s all I needed.

Then, when I started working in the general store, I realized there was more to life. There was Pepperidge Farm Bread, thick and heavy, as was Arnold’s Bread. A little expensive, as well, but heavier and, apparently, better than plain white bread.

Since those days, I have turned away from white bread and rolls to the extent possible. Wheat, multi-grains, anything but plain white that’s had all the good stuff taken out of it (but later “enriched” to put some of it back in). Apparently, lots others have done the same, especially in Southern California, because there is a brand you can’t get there anymore.

Wonder Bread is no longer sold in SoCal; the market just isn’t there anymore; the company decided to pull the balloon-ended product from the shelves. I’ve heard that trends start in California and move east; remember you heard it here first.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Here You Are, Honey

The best places to eat, in my humble opinion, are those where the waitresses call you “honey” or “hon.” It’s symbolic of good food at reasonable prices, and in the evening when things slow down, you can stay as long as you like without being bothered.

Not many places have good conversations like you find here. Not ours, but those we overhear.

“So on my way to work, I drop off [my dog] at the day-care center.”

The day-care center? For her dog? From what she says, it has some sort of separation anxiety and can’t stand being left alone while Mama Dog (or whatever pooch sees her owner as) is away at work, earning the money that buys dog food.

That’s what I like about cats; they don’t know from beans about separation anxiety. When you’re not around, they sleep and/or have a few bites from the dry food bowl. Now that I think of it, that’s pretty much the same as what they do when you *are* around.

Isn’t there something better I can do, rather than listen in on others’ conversations? Not really; not in a family restaurant where people tend to talk a little louder than they should. You hear all these great clips from situations you never really run into and might never. It’s all out there in public and more fun than walking behind someone on a cell phone, trying to re-create a conversation from what you can hear on the one end.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The North Pole

Odd . . . you can travel north until you bump your nose on the North Pole. You can do the same with the South Pole. Our planet has a definite top and bottom, marked by barber poles (if you look at cartoons) or 55-gallon drums (if you look at photos).

But there is no East Pole or West Pole. You can go so far North than you are now going South; ditto the opposite. Yet, you cannot go so far East that you are now heading West, nor West to East. You can keep going East until the cows come home, taxes are lowered, or the Second Coming happens. If you want to go West for the rest of your life, that option is open to you, as well.

“Unfair!” say the representatives from East and West. “We want a terminus same as North and South. If one can turn into the other in a footstep, we want to learn the quick-change act, too.”

“Ah,” say Mother and Father Nature, “but you have different roles. N & S are death and rebirth; you get to that mythical barber pole and your journey ends, but suddenly it begins anew in another direction and life goes on.

“E & W are eternity and never end. Not only that, but they exist together and their travelers can go forever in both directions and never run into a border. Time and eternity are forever symbolically intertwined on this planet.”

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Wash When Dirty"

I was behind a person whose t-shirt label, as seems to be the fashion these days, was on the outside. Curious as I always am, I started reading it. “Made in China,” and so on, “Wash When Dirty.”

Well, that must have been thought up by Mr. Obvious.

Possibilities for this instruction:

(a) “Don’t keep wearing it for so long a time that you notice people are standing further and further away when they speak with you.”

(b) “Clothes need to be washed. This is a piece of clothing. It gets dirty. When that happens, toss it in the wash. ‘K?

(c) “If this item was light blue when you bought it and it’s gray now, you might think about introducing it to water and detergent. Regularly.

Mr. Obvious also made up a flood evacuation sign back where I used to live. Our village was right on the water and, at the water’s edge, there was a sign pointing to higher land and instructing us to head that way. The only other choice was into the ocean. Our suspicion was they had an extra sign and orders to put it somewhere. What better place than at the beach, telling the residents not to evacuate into the thundering waves?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

September In The Rain

"The leaves of brown come tumbling down, Remember? In September, in the rain..."

It’s not raining today; it’s actually quite nice, but I did see the leaves of brown coming tumbling down and it reminded me of that song. So much for accuracy. But there are times when accuracy takes second place to seasonal feelings, and this is one.

Some of the leaves are dropping; not many, but a few. Across the street from a friend’s house is a large maple, a tree of no mean dimensions. Its leaves will come down on Friday, every single one of them, as the tree itself has become a bother to the wires going through it (telephone, cable and electric in that order, bottom to top). So far, all the leaves are still green, changing the sun’s fire into whatever it is trees eat. Photosynthesis is the process, as I recall from some class I had.

When Mother Nature decides it’s time to brown and fall, it happens. She also has a hand in where those leaves end up – that is, your yard or a neighbor’s. We’ve someone nearby whose leaves tend to go straight down; they just don’t have any aerodynamic quality to them, so she has to pick them up, bag after bag, week after week.

To paraphrase the CapitalOne commercials: “What’s in your compost heap?” If she kept one, it would be a lot easier and nobody’s going to be checking that corner of her backyard to see what’s in the pile. You just stomp it down once in a while and it never grows any higher; year after year it stays the same or even becomes smaller.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

They Never Had A Birthday Party

I happened to see a piece tonight, probably on, about a set of twin girls who are now six years old and have not yet had a party on their actual birthday, which is today.

They also have a feeling they are somehow responsible for the attacks, having been born on the very day it happened, in the same city (or nearby).

If I have it right, their birthday party is held on the nearest Sunday, which seems to reinforce the idea that “their” day is bad and, perhaps, so are they. That’s not good; they barely understand at age six what the phrase nine-eleven means, but do realize their birth date somehow is so bad they can’t celebrate it the same way as all their friends.

Yes, medically speaking, we do control the date of our birth. When we are ready to face the world, we start the process which brings us to the point of being cuddled by another man’s wife. But we don’t choose the event-day of our birth and by the time we are old enough to understand that something went terribly wrong that day, we shouldn’t also learn that our parents have been hiding our day of birth celebration because of it.

I was just five months into my development when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. There was scant television in those days and none in Hawaii. It was a military outpost and not to be a state for almost twenty years. It was a Day of Infamy (and a day of screw-ups, as well), but we don’t talk about 12/7 as we do 9/11. Had I popped out on that day, I’m sure we would have held my birthday parties on schedule. At least, I hope so.

Monday, September 10, 2007

They Raced In Open Cars

Every so often, you will see clips from the days when racing cars went round and round with driver and mechanic sitting there in an open vehicle. If it went into a roll and/or flew off the track, they’d be lucky to survive; if they did, they probably never walked another step again. Exactly why they’d put themselves into this situation is beyond me and I can’t even guess what was in their heads, aside from rocks.

There’s a tv show called “Maximum Exposure,” MaxEx for short, which has video clips of people doing all sorts of mind-numbing stupid things. Some of them are crooks, others are daredevils, while the rest are just “watch this!” people. Once in a while, you will see someone who is doing extreme skiing, going down a pretty near vertical slope. They started on their skis, standing up, but something catches them and they spend the rest of the trip rolling through the snow, bouncing off cliff faces and generally getting pretty banged up before they come to a stop.

Unfortunately, earlier this week, Buffalo Bills football player Kevin Everett sustained a life-threatening injury which, at best, will leave him fairly crippled. From what little I know about football, it appears to have been a freak accident, a wrong move at the wrong moment. It might never happen again in this exact way.

We’ve made auto racing amazingly safe; skiing is still up to the individual, and some of them seem to ask for what they get. But two people colliding, a vulnerable head and neck hitting another large object, is still so potentially life-changing.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Cross-Fade Camera One And Camera Three"

I don’t follow sports, for no good reason; they just never excited me, so each season’s games go their way and I go mine. Except, of course, when I did news, sports and weather on the radio and had to sound excited over every team that used a ball in its plays.

(“You know, it’s funny,” a night-school classmate once said. “I heard you doing the sports on the way in to school and you are so enthusiastic. But you never talk about it any other time.” There’s a reason, honey; I don’t give a, well, anything.)

I do know that a baseball book referred to “The Boys of Summer,” so I assume football would be the boys of fall. But it dawned on me that I have been announcing NFL pre-season football for several weeks now. The Boys of Summer have to move over for the Boys of Pre-Fall.

In television, we can cut from one camera to another, quite cleanly. You go from camera one to camera three. Camera 1's red light goes off and camera 3's light goes on, so the talent knows where to look or, at least, from angle they are being looked at.

We can also cross-fade. You keep camera 1 on the air and slowly bring in camera 2 while taking out 1. Both red lights are on and the talent knows it’s a slow crossover. Same as sports: Baseball is still going on, but the playoffs are in sight, while football slowly comes into the picture. Just remember which one has a home run and which has a touchdown.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Party Was At 8:37pm

Friend of mind occasionally holds quiet little parties for this occasion or that. Not many people; maybe a dozen or so come and go through the evening to enjoy the small deli platter, a little wine, soft drinks or water.

Friday night’s was at 8:37. They are always at odd times so people will remember just when they are being held. You might not recall if it was 8:00 or 9:00, but it’s not hard to keep 8:37 or 9:06 in mind.

He’s an actor, head of the Theater Department at the college and knows how to keep people’s attention. That little discontinuity sticks out in our heads; it’s what makes a joke funny, among other things, and it’s the gimmick many entertainers use so they stand out from the rest of the crowd.

When my college comes a-calling for the annual Alumni Fund Drive (and it’s more inevitable than death or taxes, because you can be resuscitated or find an IRS loophole), I usually donate something like $37.42 or $43.57. One time I got a call and the person said, “Last year, you donated $41.72; would you consider raising your gift to $47.19?” I guess they caught on and played along with the gimmick.

That may be the reason we choose license plates. Why have the usual AKJ 3890 when we can have KENAI (my friend’s cat), GR8MOM (Great Mom), IDID26 (marathon runner?) or SXRXRNR (sex, drugs, rock n roll -- a real plate).

Friday, September 07, 2007

Typewriters And Gearshifts

At one time, I drove (a) standard-shift, (b) double-clutch, or (c) automatic. It is surprisingly difficult to switch from a big double-clutch truck to an automatic car without doing some thinking. You get used to keeping your right hand on the gearshift and near the low-range, high-range lever. It’s like the different touch you use on various typewriter keyboards.

I was brought up on a manual typewriter, since about the age of twelve, and had my own not too long after. It was an old Underwood and I used it a lot. I also picked up a portable typewriter somewhere along the way, small but well-built and very easy to use.

Much later, I bought my own electric typewriter. It replaced a newer solid portable that was as close to a desk model as you could get. Then an electronic typewriter which went 132 words per minute and saved anything beyond that in its memory; good for people like me who could exceed 140 with no problem. I’d stop to think, the machine would keep typing and I’d hit the keyboard before it finished catching up with me.

Each keyboard touch was as different as each vehicle’s gearshift.

Everybody has a story.
Wendy Lee Fisher, former local resident, passed away Monday. She was the daughter of Ham Fisher, the cartoonist who drew the “Joe Palooka” comic strip, which was based here in Wilkes-Barre and featured several local residents, including shoeshine boy “Little Max,” now jewelry store owner Max Bartikowsky.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"Sure, I Can Run It" (Or Learn Fast)

I also worked Master Control in a tv station once. Story there.

That was sort of left hanging from my August 23 blog, “The Grocery List.” Yes, there is a story there, probably not unusual for those who know me.

One weekend, I dropped in on a fairly major-market (top-50) PBS station and started chatting with the control room engineer about radio and tv. It was, as I recall, around the time of the Watergate hearings, or something like that, as the network was carrying a live feed from Washington. A scheduled break was coming up and the engineer said, “How would you like to switch the break?”

It would involve rolling the big 2” one minute videotape of something five seconds early so it would “lock up” just as its video actually began, then taking us off the network line, bringing in the videotape, pre-rolling the next tape five seconds early and going into it, fading it out, then bringing up the station identification slide and hitting the audio tape before going back onto the network.

“Perfect job,” the engineer said. “Yeah,” I replied, “especially since I’ve never done this before.” The guy almost passed out. “Hey,” I said, “it’s just radio with pictures. I’ve done radio for ages and this is the same.”

Well, it’s the same if you have nerves of steel, a lot of self-confidence -- and luck.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Xerxes, King Of Persia

Rhinoceros, Xylophone, Abracadabra, Platypus.

Now, what did I have for breakfast this morning? Well, what did I have? It’s hard to remember. But I don’t have any problem remembering the meaning of words I haven’t used for a long time. When is the last time a duck-billed platypus came up in conversation? But you probably know pretty much what it is, or could pick it out in a line-up where it was next to a cow, a circus clown, your pet cat and a lizard.

My brother and I were on Instant Messenger one day and he asked for the phone number of an old family friend we haven’t called in a whole bunch of decades. I typed in the number without a pause and sent it to him, despite having to stop and think what my own cell phone is.

Our school mailboxes had pointers and numbers with half-number lines. You might have a combination of 3 – 8 ½ - 6. After a bit of time, I could not tell you the numbers, but I knew the hand movements and could probably still open it based on “muscle memory,” if such exists.

I’ve heard people talk about where they were when a particular song was being played, which is good news for me. There are times when I hear a piece on the car radio and can tell you, to the spot on the road, where I was on different occasions when it came over the air. If I go back there, will I hear it again?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gramma and Gramps Left The Baby At Home

Left the dentist this morning, after a regular check-up . . . the usual “grease job and oil change,” so to speak. As I walked to the parking lot, an elderly couple drove in and I noticed they had a baby seat in the back of their car.

“Guess they left the kid at home,” I thought. “The grandchildren can take care of their infant aunt or uncle while the old folks get their dentures checked out.”

I resisted the urge to ask, “Any more due?” or, “Guess those fertility treatments held on a bit longer than you expected, eh?”

The assumption, of course, is somewhere in the picture there is a grandsomething, and the old folks carry it around frequently enough to have a baby seat in the car at all times. It's easy: slip baby in, attach buckles, and off we go – no fuss, no bother.

When we were kids, they didn’t have stuff like that. You just tossed the kids in the back seat and slammed the door quick before they got out. On special days, if they were small, they could stand in the front seat. It took us a long and painful time to figure out that kids were safer when they were tied down.

I don’t know why people didn’t realize that kids going 40mph in a car are still going 40mph when the car stops suddenly and they keep going right through the windshield. I saw a car wreck where the kids literally walked away and the mother was so relieved.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Dead Man Riding

On my way down from the Back Mountain, traffic had stopped for a funeral procession that was crossing our light. We waited through the green and waited through the red until it had passed. That’s one of the courtesies our society grants to the deceased on their last trip. Well, two of them: everybody gets to ride in a Cadillac and all traffic stops for you.

Too bad we don’t extend the courtesy of “stop and let them cross” while the people are living; no sense waiting until they can’t appreciate the honor.

I was taught to be aware of cross streets when traffic stops, to leave room for cars to enter from or turn into. To be aware of business driveways (gas stations, fast food places, drive-through banks, etc.) when I have to stop. To slow a bit and flash my lights so people facing me know they can make a left across traffic.

I was taught this by others who did it for me and I appreciated their thoughtfulness. It was more than kindness; they were thinking of the other person, looking out for the good of others.

What’s good about this is, they can never pay you back. All they can do is pass it on and, with any luck at all, the people they help will also pass it on. If all works out well, your actions will spread further than you could imagine and you will never know the amount of good you have eventually done. And you’ve done it before that person gets the inevitable ride in the Cadillac.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Our First Broadcast Was September 2, 1974

About a dozen other radio stations were also carrying radio reading services, but the audio was encoded into their signals and you needed a special $75 receiver to hear anything. You also had to qualify as impaired and some didn’t want to "come out of the closet." Some people never qualified: they were just elderly and pretty much homebound. The vast majority of those who needed this sort of service would never get it.

Until we came on the scene. Or, at least, came on the radio – anybody’s FM radio at ten in the morning. Nobody had to qualify, you didn’t need to be visually impaired; if you had difficulty reading, or were homebound, or just lonely, there we were at 88.5 on the dial, every day of the year.

“Are you on weekends?” someone asked. “They’re blind on weekends,” I said. “How about Christmas and New Year’s?” “They’re blind then, too,” I replied; “any day they’re blind, we’re on the air."

We don’t have many rules and I’m not sure what they are. We don’t stop in case there is a mistake; we are visitors, by radio, in their homes (thus, Radio Home Visitor) and people dropping by to read parts of the paper will make mistakes. Just today, I forgot to turn off the ringer on the phone and someone called. I answered and it turned out to be a staff member on her way in. We just kept going; it’s not the NBC Nightly News, nor is it supposed to be. We’re friends visiting your home.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

We Started On September 1, 1974

I didn't know there was such a thing as a "radio reading service" until I read about one in one of those scandalous supermarket tabloids during the summer of 1974. They always have a few human interest stories and one of them was about a college that read the newspaper on the air each weekend.

“Huh,” I thought, “that’s a good idea. But the people are blind every day, not just on weekends. Wonder if we can do something on a daily basis.”

Six weeks later, we did our first show, recorded for broadcast the next day only because “live” radio was not possible logistically. It didn’t matter; we weren’t duplicating any breaking news that was available elsewhere.

When I looked for a sponsoring agency, for legitimacy in those earliest days, I dropped by the local library and its Large Print desk. The lady in charge thought it was a pretty dumb idea; seeing that I wasn’t about to convince her, I agreed and went on to the Blind Association down the street. They thought it was a great idea and we started working on what the local blind population’s needs were.

Too bad for the library; they would have built up a lot of publicity, not to mention goodwill, which might have helped them when funding cutbacks hurt their work. That’s life; never say a new idea is stupid until you have examined it. Tomorrow, a little more as we start our 34th year of daily broadcasting.