Wednesday, October 31, 2007

God Really Doesn't Hate Fags

The hate group which operates under the guise of the Westboro Baptist Church likes to picket funerals. They show up at as many military burials as possible, at funerals of gay people or those who died of AIDS, at a major coal-mine disaster funeral and such. Their message is pretty much the same: “God Hates Fags.” America is ok with gays and God sends our dead to hell.

They list these protests as “Love Crusades.” Most people would use the term “hate,” and wonder what could be in the father’s head (it’s a family group) and whatever is he hiding.

He may not have realized that some day he will have picked the wrong funeral to dishonor. When Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder came home in a casket, the “church” did its usual picketing (“God Hates Dead Soldiers” and “Thank God For IEDs”), but Al Snyder felt this was the time and he was the person.

Those who live in hate have certain rights of free speech, but Al decided to take it another way: Defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury agreed, awarding him about $3 million compensatory and $8 million punitive. He will never see the entire amount, of course, as this so-called church does not have that kind of money. But if he bankrupts it and the family, at least the hating will stay at home.

The last time I blogged about these people, they attempted to use my comments section to spread their views. Not going to happen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Uh, Just Where Did It Land?

There we were, four professionals having supper (well, if you are a professional, I guess it’s dinner, even though at home dinner was at noon and supper was at six, like the Last Supper wasn’t the Last Dinner).

Anyway, I had some feta cheese on a roll and a small chunk of it fell off and down, I thought, onto the floor. Couldn’t find it. The woman next to me leaned over, put her finger down in her shoe and pulled the cheese out. “It’s right here,” she said.

What are the chances?

They’re probably somewhere in the same league as the time I worked in the helicopter factory and our department was just outside the shop floor, which was made up of wooden blocks. The blocks were somewhat beveled, with large holes on each corner; women, who were warned not to walk near the shop with spike heels, were always getting stuck when they did.

As we locked up our place one afternoon, the boss’ cigarette fell out of his mouth. It landed, lit end up, in the middle of a block. We looked at it for a few seconds, remarked on the chances of that happening, and/or happening again, then took off for home.

I’ve got to pay more attention to those “what are the chances” moments. There have to be many, but we just never notice them. Cheese in shoes, cigarettes balanced on blocks.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tea & Spice And Everything Nice

Thanks to the inter-library loan system, I just received “The Romance of the Clipper Ships” from a college in another part of the state. It’s not quite the edition I remember, so I’ll check again to see if there is an expanded version. This seems to be an abridgement of a larger edition, possibly the one I want to buy from Amazon, but I’d rather see it first and the inter-library loan is the best way to go.

These were the fast, cargo-laden ships that brought us tea and spices from the Far East. They were the fastest thing on the water at the time and, although far slower than today’s ships, still hold respectable records for daily runs.

The tea clipper “Cutty Sark,” all sail and still at dock in Greenwich, England; the “Flying Cloud,” and so many others. They raced from England to where the spices and teas were, then raced back.

Whoever wrote the words, “Calm seas and prosperous voyage,” never bothered to let the flatlanders know that you had one or the other. A prosperous voyage was when the winds roared and the seas towered; this was what the Cutty Sark was made for with (as far as I can tell) its 28 sails.

The romantic part of these ships is reading about them in the evening, with music playing and a steaming mug of tea at the ready. I doubt working aboard them was very romantic; conditions and livestyle must have been fairly rugged.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hand Work Says It's Coming

As I went up River Street to church, I passed the chiropractor’s office (Dr. F. L. Handwerk, “it’s all in the name” is his motto) and glanced at the time/temp sign. 42 degrees, and says it’s going to be 34 tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen, Summer is over; Indian Summer is over. For a couple of weeks, we’ve always had little (or larger) splotches of blue on the Intellicast Doppler map. It’s coming; this is what we get for having the earth turn on its 23.5-degree axis. An axis of evil, to quote a certain President about certain nations; this time, one which brings cold weather and the threat of inches.

It’s only slippery water, for gosh sakes; tiny little flakes that melt when we pick them up, or let them land on our tongue as they fall from the sky. Unfortunately, people get strokes and heart attacks pushing these tiny little flakes out of their driveways and sidewalks. Citizens of Our Fair City want to fire the mayor because their road wasn’t cleaned of many inches of tiny little flakes and their big bully cousins, the frozen stiff layers of hydrogen and oxygen.

Which reminds me: The Titanic was a steamship which ran into an iceberg, filled with water and sank. Its power, its ripping open and its sinking were all caused by a combination of hydrogen and oxygen at different temperatures.

This is a superb day to stay inside, listen to music and drink tea.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Running A Day Late

This past week in “Things At Kings,” I’ve been running a day late with the posts. At least I can fix the date to make it look right. Every time I write a new one, I try to add a second to catch up.

Fat chance.

Reminds me of the time I worked in a high school and was in charge of the teachers’ attendance registers. Each month, I had to fill out a form with information and send it in to the Superintendent of Schools, or some such Grand Poobah. Late, always late. They were constantly on my case, asking me to get it in on time.

Once I was exactly a month late. I waited for the phone call. And waited. Nothing happened and I realized they never looked at these. The reports came in each month and some flunky merely tossed them into a file. They probably scanned the sheets to see if any school was way out of compliance, but never checked anything else.

Home free, I was. For the rest of the school year, and perhaps for the remainder of my time in that job, I sent the reports in a month late and never again heard a word from the Super of Schools.

I guess you have to work within the mind of the record-keepers, the boss, the people in charge. Once you find out what their real priorities are, you can set your own schedule and they will be happy. Not particularly informed, but ignorant and happy.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Where The "H" Did It Go?

I walked down the street past the Kirby Health Center Annex and noticed a new tenant in the building: The Artritis Foundation. Artritis? I know the locals pronounce “Plymouth” as “Plimit,” but I haven’t seen this variant of Arthritis before and I hope the agency picks up on it quickly.

If they can’t spell their own name, can they deal with your aches and pains?

The people who make available Seeing Eye dogs put out some sort of annual report to the public and the cover had just the year and a few words, in print and Braille. I think there were something like a dozen errors in the Braille transcribing.

The next day, I sent them a gentle note, reminding them that it’s necessary to have things like this checked by someone first. Credibility is a stake, even to a slight degree.

I’ve always found it a lot easier to eat humble pie when it’s served by my proofreader, rather than when it’s delivered publicly, by the truckload, from readers. Being embarrassed in front of one person for some silly mistake (or even a stupid mistake) is a lot easier to take and a lot less damaging to my ego, than to see it out there in front of everybody and beyond correction.

Treating these for what they are is important. They are accidents, not deliberates. Get angry over deliberates, be gentle with accidents.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Certain Maxims Of Tom Carten

Never get on an elevator if you feel the need to use the “facilities.” If it gets stuck between floors, you are –perhaps literally- in deep doo-doo.

Don’t tell jokes about a person’s profession; they’ve heard them all. Ten times over.

Mr. Mixed Drink doesn’t make people funnier, more attractive or infallible. He just makes us think we are, but others will not share our opinion.

If we can excuse it in ourselves, we can do so for others; if we can’t excuse it in others, we should not be doing it ourselves.

To stop a gossip, simply ask, “Tell me how you know this?” Or: “Who told you this?”

We have fewer rights than we have obligations. Somehow, we have to pay the rent for having been created and so we must look out for the good of others. After that, we can worry about our “rights.”

Temptations are so delicious; enjoy them, but don’t fall for them. To put it another way: Nobody ever went broke looking in the window of New York’s finest jewelry store. Just don’t go in.

People don't want to hear your complaints. Really. If you dislike something, keep quiet; others have their own stuff to deal with and you don’t want to hear about it, do you? Nah.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sleeping With Your Opponent

There are worse things than sleeping with your opponent; sometimes it helps in your growth as a person, regardless of your age. Let me explain.

One of the regulars on my radio program told me about a high school football game held around here a while back. The visiting team was booed badly on the field and, when it was over, the home team formed two lines and as the visitors left, they had to run this gauntlet of razzing, abusing players. The visiting team, on their part, mooned everyone from the bus as it pulled out.

A distinctive lack of class on everyone’s part: teams and fans alike.

I was watching a tv show about girls’ high school basketball in Alaska. The trip from Juneau to Sitka takes 18 hours on the Alaskan ferry and, once there, you stay at the other team members’ homes. Yeah; you live with your opponents for the two or three days you are there. As one girl put it, “you learn to leave your grudges at the foul line.” What happens on the court stays on the court and your friendship at home (theirs, perhaps yours) is a separate entity.

Having been to Alaska a bunch of times, I’ve read a lot about it and how its people get along with each other (for better or worse). Their student teams seem to have a far different attitude towards sports than we do here in the Lower 48. Let’s call it a healthy attitude, one where winning is important, but friendship more so.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Room Temp.

“Serve at room temperature . . . Keep at room temperature.” I never could figure out what “room temperature” is. When I leave my window open and the heat off in the winter, room temp is somewhere in the vicinity of 20 degrees or so. In the summer, it can easily hit in the high 90’s.

“Room Temp” is as variable as “Soup du Jour” in restaurants and diners everywhere. You ask the waiter what’s the Soup du Jour at ten different places, and you get ten different answers. Call a hundred diners to graph the Soup du Jour against the Room Temperature and I’m willing to bet you will not find any duplicates.

Football fields. Used, secondarily, for sporting events on weekends and as a place for endless time-outs so sponsors can squeeze in just two or three more commercials. Primarily, a unit of measure. As in, “This airplane is two football fields wide, wingtip to wingtip,” or “The asteroid which changed Cleveland from a city into the world’s biggest swimming hole was twenty-five football fields wide.”

Golf balls (for us) or coins (for them). A measure of hail. Us common folks, including those who talk to us from the television screen, talk about golf ball sized hail. Not a bad idea, when you think of it; if we see hail on the ground, or pick up a chunk, it looks a lot like –well- golf balls. Not at all like coins, which is how hail is measured by the people whose job it is to measure hail. “Dime-size . . . quarter-size . . . Sacagawea-dollar-size.” You’ll know it when it hits you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Blog With No Title

I wonder if any truly neurotic set of parents, living somewhere on the edge, decided not to give their children names. They gave birth at home and decided that giving the new ones a name would cripple their psyches and development. You know, the nut cases who tend to live in yurts and claim everybody else has it all wrong.

Probably been done, although it seems to run against our nature; we are a naming people. We give names to all sorts of living and inert things, including sounds.

Years ago, I was at a concert where Bobby Rosengarten was the drummer. He’s one of the best and had come in from New York for the occasion. At intermission, I went backstage and said I’ve been trying to find the name for the drum figure that’s two eighth notes and a quarter note. Most people, erroneously, call it a rim shot; he said its name is actually “ba-dum-dump,” as it sounds, and is an old vaudeville bit.

Each profession has its own names. My radio business is filled with them: Carts, joins, deadroll, backtime, outcue, slip-cue (an old one), voice track, and such. At the newspaper, we have names for everything from the classified ad department, through the newsroom, to composing, the press room and the mailing room.

We like to have everything to have its specific name so there will be no confusion. Even locomotives have the letter “F” on one end, to show which is the agreed-upon front, because they can run equally well either way. “Go forward” can mean only one thing.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

No N*ggers In This Neighborhood

Take it easy; the word is “naggers.” We don’t need them; never did and never will. There are few things worse than living with, or near, someone who “finds fault incessantly” (dictionary definition). “To be a persistent source of annoyance or distraction” (same), “to irritate by constant scolding or urging” (ditto source).

There must be a special place in heaven for those who are the victims of this, as well as a room for the perpetrators who don’t face the flames of Hell, but their own voice, for all eternity, playing back their nagging, over and over, forever without end. Ha ha ha.

The tease in the subject line: when you probably thought it was *that* word, the NAACP has been holding a burial service for the “N” word. That should take care of rap music pretty quickly.

Let’s hold a burial service for other words. “Ho” would be one. As in “Are you my ho’?” I’ve actually heard this, as well as her reply, “I’m your ho’.”

Dig another hole for “bitch.” I don’t mean to silence dog breeders; they can keep using it. I refer to guys on the street talking about girls on the street.

Hey! Let’s put the shovels in to make room for any street term guys have for girls, as well as those words girls have for guys. I tell girls, “If a guy uses a street term, leave him; that’s what he thinks you are.” Toss the words in and cover them with dirt.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

It's Been Circling Us For A While Now

When I returned from picking up the newspapers around 1:30 this morning, I noticed the moon, about half-phase, hanging over the Administration Building of the college, almost ready to touch down on the roof.

As it sits on the horizon, rising or setting, it looks a great deal larger than when it is sailing across the night sky. It seemed particularly large tonight and, although I know it’s moving away at a rate of 1.5” per year, I wondered if perhaps we had gotten it wrong and tonight it was moving in to mash us all into bits of protoplasm before sunrise.

I stood there looking at it for a while. It’s pretty much a planet, 1/6 the size of ours, either circling earth or in a spiral rotation with us in a double-planetary spin, each rotating around the other. I’ve read both in astronomy books. As long as we’ve been here, it’s been there, “a faithful witness in the sky,” (a Bible phrase?).

Do people really look at this somewhat-planet? It’s really quite big, compared to what it circles; moons are generally quite smaller in relationship to their main body. It’s even been inhabited a few times in the past by intelligent creatures.

We might do well to get in a rocking chair some evening, before it gets too cold, and just sit on the back porch meditating about this big hunk of green cheese, or whatever it’s made out of. It’s so close, astronomically speaking, while all else except the sun are just dots on a black background. Catch it, nights and days.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Just Because It's In The Dictionary . . .

. . .Doesn’t mean it’s really a word.

The Oxford English Dictionary takes four pages to note words that aren’t words; “List of Spurious Words” they are called.

Deporture -- 1611: “Her stately port and majestic deporture.” We beg your pardon, ladies and gentlemen, but this word exists not. Someone in the 17th century committed an error with the word "departure," and we beg your forgiveness.

Banket -- 1846: Error for “Banker, a piece of wood about eight inches square and nine feet in length, on which to cut the bricks.”

Munity -- 1648: Error for “Mutiny,” explained as “security, freedom.” “Devotion doth rather compose the munity then infringe the true liberty of our true affections.”

Exiled -- 1577: “Slender, weak.” Error for “exile: meager, scanty.”

Yes, “ain’t” is, indeed, in the dictionary; at least, in the Descriptive (“here’s how the language is being used”) dictionaries, if not in the Prescriptive (“here’s the words you should be using and how you should be using them”). It might be noted here that the Merriam-Webster people would hand-write the most vile English words for their file, rather than expose them to the female typists.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

George Washington Shopped Here

He could very well have; there is some evidence, more or less accurate, that he slept nearby. Of course, George is supposed to have slept in so many places that it’s no wonder he’s called the father of our country.

Lovell’s Hardware opened some years before a certain thirteen colonies decided they’d had enough of this British stuff and decided their Independence they would Declare. When George traveled through Stratford, colony of Connecticut, and tried to work out the nuts and bolts of this new country, he might well have purchased them at Lovell’s, same as my family did over two hundred years later from the same family.

The store had a wooden floor with all the give-and-take you get when it’s not vinyl over a cement pad. It had a hardware store smell you don’t get these days when big box stores have ventilators; there was probably still an aroma from the General’s horse in there somewhere.

I recall the youngest clerk as being in his forties; he was the owner, or the owner’s son. I think that was Bud Lovell and he kept his glasses in his mouth: the end of one earpiece in his teeth, ready to be removed and put on his nose when needed.

Lovell’s survived the Revolutionary War; how many stores still in business can say that -- especially a locally-owned store? They kept the place going until the big ones hit and that was the end of a wonderful place whose people knew their stuff and shared it with you, helped you, chatted with you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Notice Something Headed Toward Us?

Sure, we can get hit by an asteroid. Lots of them out there and I’m willing to bet there’s one with our name on it. We make our circles around the sun, it makes its circles around the sun, and at one point we’re sharing the same piece of solar real estate.

In other words, there’s a cosmic train wreck the likes of which we won’t ever see again ‘cuz we aren’t going to be here anymore.

So, let’s say that astronomers are able to see one coming (which is not always possible). I did an Internet search and found “if the end of life were an hour away, most Brits would want to be with loved ones. In a survey that asked British residents what they'd do if an asteroid were to hit Earth in one hour, 54 percent said they'd try to be with, or phone, their loved ones. About 13 percent predicted they'd crack open champagne and enjoy their final hour; 2 percent said they'd eat fatty food.”

I was listening to a couple of announcers on my favorite radio station tossing this one around yesterday. Another answer that came up was some percentage of people would start looting stores. I’m not surprised at that; so many are short-sighted and would not realize that what they have stolen will be useless in less than sixty minutes.

Me? I’d make myself a hot, steaming mug of tea, get in a lawn chair, call my family and let them know I’ll be looking for them on the other side. A few short prayers for my own safe journey, as well as all others’, and then watch the big show.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

They Did It With Fixed Lenses

A friend of mine has been watching the Playoffs, or whatever they are called these days. She is interested in the Cleveland/Boston series which is 3-1 tonight. I’m fairly immune to sports, but having lived near Boston for many years, I do feel a certain partiality to a city I know, rather than one I know nothing about.

The main wind-up-and-pitch camera used to be up in the stands behind home plate. This was back in the days before color, when the cameras had four fixed lenses. You chose which lens you thought would be right for the upcoming play and you were stuck with it, unless you had a few seconds’ warning to switch, focus and find your target.

The main camera these days is in the outfield stands with a good long lens that makes it possible for us to be right behind the pitcher, looking straight at the batter, catcher and ump. What you needed for that just didn’t exist those many years ago. Nor could you zoom in to follow the action as the ball went way out and get a close view as the player caught it to end the inning, or contribute to ending it.

I sometimes wonder what the younger set might think if they saw a recording of a game from those days. It was not visually exciting; the camera angles were set up mostly to show the action on the field. You would not see any close-ups of players in the dugout, or pitchers pondering what they should deliver next. Instant replays? Forget it; keep your eyes on the screen and pay attention. Innings, balls, strikes, scores, ball speeds on top of the screen? You’re kidding, right?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wood. *The* Wood, To Be Exact.

There’s something about birchwood around here.

We have Birchwood Basement Waterproofing Company, Birchwood Chimney Cleaning, Birchwood Farm, Birchwood Landscaping, Birchwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Birchwood Village Estates and some other high-ticket development with a similar name.

This never dawned on me until I was coming home from church Sunday morning. I happened to notice Birchwood Village Estates, which is a rundown, mostly vacant trailer park near the church.

It reminded me of the Birchwood Basement Waterproofing Company, which sort of thing is big around here in this area of hills and valleys. The water has to go somewhere as it goes downhill, and people’s basements seem to be good places.

The Kirby Family, co-originators of the five-and-dime stores, lived here and left their name on everything that didn't have one. But there’s no Birchwood family to drop theirs all over, like cow flops in a field.

I asked around and someone told me that birchwood (or birch trees) are the first to grow out of culm banks – the huge black piles of stone leftover from coal mining. This having been a big coal area years ago, the tree’s name is as endemic as the black mountains which are still all over the place.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Taco Radio Replaces Pierogie Radio

Tomorrow, the area’s only “standards” radio station, known for its polka shows, flips format and goes all-Spanish. You can only imagine what’s going to hit the fan when the old folks turn on their radio and Juan Lopez is spinning the latest in Hispanic music, instead of Stash Przyblyski (“shibliski”) with Jolly Joe and the Bavarians.

As my brother would say:
“That’s going to go over like a turd in a punch bowl.”

We do have a growing Hispanic population here, as we once had a growing Irish community, as well as Slavic, Polish, German, Italian, Welsh and anybody I’ve forgotten. Why didn’t they have their own radio stations? There wasn’t any radio then. Or very little and not about to cater to penniless miners.

The owners of this station have two others in the general area, also going Spanish. None of them are making much money in English, so they are, literally, going for broke. The local operation is not my train set, so I don’t know how it’s been managed and why it went from #7 in the ratings down to #17. With any luck, and better sales techniques, the Anglo businesses around here will tap into the Hispanic market and find languages may be different, but money is still green, and the tender is legal.

Down the line in the next city, they’re doing their best to get rid of the [bad word] …uh… Hispanics. If they try hard enough, they will lose much of the prosperity these people have brought with them. Maybe “Radio Taco” will bring it to us.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Stranger In Our Midst

Seven years ago, three years after my mother went to glory, I paid a visit to the village where I once lived. Specifically, for purposes of this posting, to the diner where we hung out. It felt as if I had never been there before; it was just another joint where I could get a meal. I knew every inch of it, knew every inch of the beach just two feet away, but I was just another customer in another diner. It made no “back home” impact on me.

I suppose when you know you have gone for good, what you've left goes with it.

Oddly enough, during the time after Mom passed, I never slept in my room. I made up the living-room couch and stayed there. Don’t know why; I just did it. I didn’t feel my room was mine anymore and I was pretty much a guest in someone else’s place. Maybe a psychiatrist could come up with an answer in a few seconds. Could be I knew we would be selling it and it would no longer be ours after 49 years.

Here's something I thought was funny, and so did the person’s friends; he did not. I knew an Irishman, a Dublin native, who moved over here. He was always touting the values of this and that in Ireland, over the United States. Ten years later, maybe a bit less, he went back for a visit with the idea that they would embrace their fellow native from the States. He returned in a foul mood and, as it came out later, his fellow countrymen had treated him like an American tourist.

He took out citizenship papers shortly thereafter, realizing that he really was an American.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Hot, Steaming Mug Of Tea

I had the air conditioning on up until recently, and what I need today is a nice hot, steaming mug of tea. Well, I said that autumn was Mother Nature’s warning track for the onset of winter, and we are now onto that dirt-filled warning track.

Pardon me for a moment while I heat some water. Really. I’m going to stop here and get implements of tea. . .

. . .Ok; I’m back. While waiting for the water to boil, I started a load of clothes, visited The Smallest Room In The House, made the tea and here I am, Mr. Efficiency. I should be Mr. Neat Room, but all things come in due time.

My grammar school (1947-56, if you MUST know), sent me their newsletter. Among other things, they’d like to know who the kindergarten teacher was in the school’s earliest days. I can remember a nun I didn’t have, but who was as tall as a cowboy; we called her “Tex.” St. Joseph Monica, our beloved “Harmonica,” but I can’t remember this gal’s name. She was a lay person, one of only two I had; nice, nothing like the other one, a real witch. The nuns were great, all of them.

I wonder how many Catholic grammar schools that were around in 1945 are still in existence today? And I don’t mean “merged,” a nice term for “closed, but let’s not use that term.” Mine outgrew its original building, as planned, but is still there, still full of students and just as lively as ever.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Few Follow-Ups

Or, “let’s see … where was I?” Ah, yes; I was going to update you on some of the postings I’ve made this month. Here we go.

Oct 9: “Our cat who art in heaven”:
Kenai’s human companion will have its ashes buried in a pet-loving relative’s yard. The vet’s office couldn’t have been nicer. A pet that’s not yours is just another animal, but they can be genuine companions when you live alone.

Oct 8: “Our best-known street person has passed on”:
Charlie Weiss had a simple viewing and an equally simple service at the funeral home. For someone who lived on, and wandered, the streets, it was nicely attended. We felt everyone who shares this planet has a right to a send-off of one kind or another.

Oct 5: “Chance of widely-scattered Doppler”:
Yes, the weather did change. Rather quickly, too. The weather guy on tv said it would and he was right. Behind the nice stuff was a band of thunderstorms; behind them was a cold front and behind that is winter.

Oct 1: “The Lump”:
I used to very occasionally remind people that guys get breast cancer, too. Now I’m a little more active in the “by the way” department. Yes, we are not only a minority, but a small one at that – but if we find a lump, it’s necessary to find out what it is, and why it’s there.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Putting Your Money Where Your Feet Are

A new book is in bookstores nationally and I’m interested in it. Something like $27 worth of new book at retail; from Amazon, as low as $14.50. Dilemma: I’m cheap, but principled. Cheap means I log onto Amazon and pay maybe $17 total to have it delivered. Principled means I walk a few blocks to the local Barnes & Noble and keep at least some of the money in Wilkes-Barre. Salaries, etc. It’s a chain, but at least it employs local people and is paying local taxes. There was a good book store across the street, but the owner finally gave up and, much later, B&N came to town.

Are my standards worth $9? At what point do you stop subsidizing something just out of principle? My feet are in this city; should my money stay here also? And to what extent?

To the extent possible, I do not patronize chain restaurants. My favorite eat spot is a locally-owned place across the river; a husband and wife own the land, the building and the business. When I need a picture backed or framed, I go to Ken’s shop down on South Main Street, rather than to a place at the mall.

We can’t have someone in Arkansas, or California, or Delaware walking off with the top layers of money that leaves our hands. Why should so many of our transactions have an automatic “tax” to these companies’ bank accounts? Perhaps we can find ways to keep more of our money circulating in our own towns and less of it heading away.

The Olive Garden turned me off, but no local diner ever did.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Our Cat, Who Art In Heaven...

Winners write the history books and they are egocentric, so they tend to see their victories in somewhat larger-than-life views.

Likewise, humans write the theology books and are no less egocentric, placing us at the pinnacle of visible creation, even inventing degrees of souls.

Vegetative Souls: Plants. No consciousness.
Animal Souls: Stuff that thinks but dies and that’s it.
Human Souls: Us; we get to live forever after bodily death.

Oh? Says who? Says us. How? We wrote the books, that’s how.

Kenai Kitty had a stroke this morning about 8:00, although the symptoms were not all present. I realized something was wrong and took her to the vet at 10:30 when it became obvious this was serious business. She was gone to kitty heaven at 11:00.

After years of pondering the mysteries of the universe, I have come to a conclusion of sorts that once God has given part of his (hers? its?) life to create another being, its life is never taken away. Just as our lives continue on, when our bodies are no longer able to hold us here, I am convinced that we will meet the life of God that was made present in beings of other galaxies, grass and flowers here on earth, and –yes- dogs and cats, along with chickens and great white whales. Life, part of God’s essence, cannot disappear.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Our Best-Known Street Person Has Passed On

He walked the streets forever, dressed in a heavy overcoat and carrying two shopping bags. You approached him, if you did, from upwind. Depending on whether or not he had taken his meds that day, he could be an amazing commentator on many subjects, or just a nasty and crazy old man. Most people avoided him.

He was Charlie Weiss and he was Wilkes-Barre’s premier street person for many years.

As with anybody whose real story is unknown, the rumors floated around just as Charlie floated around, haunting this part of the city, then that part, later another part. He was very rich, he had loads of money in the lining of his coat, his rich family supported him, his parents divorced and that sent him over the edge, and so on.

My guess is nobody knows and them that does know ain’t talking. Mark Twain, or someone, said everyone is like the moon and has a dark side they never reveal to others. So it will be with Charlie Weiss. How he became the person he was is, really, not our business but he remains as fascinating as a train wreck. The rumors are probably just rumors, “facts” made up in the absence of reality, stories passed on as a sort of faulty oral history.

The best our city could do was tolerate him. I doubt he ever did a day in the city jail; the police were good to him, the donut shop put up with him. He lived life as he wished. Now he has a fine coat, all the donuts he wants and an eternity of friends. RIP, Charlie.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

And The Band Played On

What was on tv the other night? I don’t know; I was listening to this Chicago jazz band, a fairly quiet mainline group. There is much to be said for not having the television set on: it’s noisy, only 44 minutes out of each hour is program material, the shows are constantly being interrupted for commercials and announcements about other programs, and the bottom of the screen keeps telling us what’s coming up next, or next week, or maybe next year.

You don’t get that when you load your CD machine with discs. What you do get are several hours of whatever kind of music suits your taste for that evening. There’s no canned laughter, nor is there any predictable applause at predictable points (which I noticed when recording Oprah Winfrey’s show the other day), and there’s no wild applause when the host comes back from a commercial break. Why is that? What’s so exciting about another segment of the show starting up? Does it make us excited?

Meanwhile, in the background as I write this, a trombone is growling, a piano is holding the melody and a few muted trumpets are adding their two cents’ worth from time to time.

It’s the sort of thing our parents and grandparents used to hear on the radio every night, from hotels and ballrooms all over the country. NBC or CBS might have a hook-up and they’d listen to a band from the Meadowbrook in New Jersey where a guy named Sinatra has been working. Some dance band led by a Goodman fellow, not very well-received, has started playing hot stuff on his late-night radio shows as he moves around the country and it’s caught on in California. He might make it.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Contemplating The Universe

Last month’s calendar photo was taken from the Hubble Space Telescope and showed, perhaps, hundreds of galaxies. That figure barely counts, almost does not show up, on a count of all the galaxies that exist. Recently, astronomers discovered two million galaxies they’d never seen before, and that number itself makes absolutely no difference in the count.

As far as we can tell, our universe holds some three hundred billion galaxies. The star count on each is a guess; ours varies from (choose your star-gazer) two hundred billion to four hundred billion.

Take all these galaxies, all these stars, all these planets and you’ve just got to have all kinds of conscious life-forms scattered through the universe. There just can’t be one totally egocentric “God created all this just for us” people; the universe has to be full of civilizations saying the same thing.

When you look at the immensity of space and creation, it makes you wonder if beings on this planet really suffered eternally for eating animal protein on a certain spin of the planet during a particular number of rotations around its sun.

Or if one of their ultimate religious leaders, who claimed dominion over the entire universe, was little more than one step ahead of a guy with a bone thru his nose, a rattle in one hand and a some magic reeds in the other.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Chance Of Widely-Scattered Doppler

I was looking at the Doppler radar map, courtesy of and saw the dreaded blue smudges up in northern Idaho. Green indicates rain; yellow is heavy rain; red is “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.” Blue? Snow, light to dark, little to lots.

A few days ago, in this spot, I referred to Autumn as “Nature’s warning track,” and the radar weather map gives us a live shot at what’s going on over the horizon.

Blue is what’s going on. Ok, Idaho is way far from here and the weather we’ve had lately has been particularly nice. But the last time I checked, Autumn *followed* summer, not the other way around. And since I’ve been online, those little bits of blue start to get bigger and move easterly as we ease out the year.

It’s inevitable, folks; the first blue has appeared on the weather map. So enjoy what nice days we have and put off as much as you can. Drive with your car window down, hang out on the front porch, go to the ice cream stand.

You don’t want to be watching the snow coming down and think, “You know, I could have been driving with the window open, letting the wind into the car, listening to the sounds and smells. I could have been hanging out in the evening, because the news will be the same and I can read about it in the newspaper. I could have been slowly and softly licking an ice cream cone, enjoying every small lick, instead of some crappy donuts.”

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Front-Loading Television

Actually, it was a little bit before television. Maybe there were a very few here and there around town, but they would have been quite unusual and stations were only on for scant hours a day. That would have been around 1944 or 1946.

I remember spending some time watching the front-loading Bendix washing machine in my grandmother’s kitchen. It replaced something, perhaps a table, and it had a window in the front door. So I could see the water sloshing around, the clothes rocking back and forth and, then, the spin cycle. It was all very exciting for a young boy. You can imagine how I felt when Dr. Swanson, down the street, got a tv and I could watch “Six-Gun Playhouse” from New York City’s channel 11.

We still used solar heat to dry the clothes: a clothes line held up by a couple of boards with notches in them. Dryers don’t give the same smell as clothes that have been snapping in the sun and breeze all afternoon.

Seems to me that I beat carpets out there, too. We seemed to have a regular carpet beater and why we didn’t use the Hoover vacuum cleaner is beyond me. Maybe you beat them when the dirt was deeply embedded. I remember being amazed at how much dirt came out, no matter how much I beat the carpets.

My grandmother kept a pencil or two on the woodwork above the Bendix. It’s important to have a pencil handy at different spots in the house; you never know when you will need one.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Way To Go

I’m a writer. That means, or should mean, I have an imagination (“mental synthesis of new ideas from elements experienced separately”) and a way to put all those images into words which will make it from my mind to yours. If my luck holds.

Just today, I was chatting with an employee about life expectancy. I had run across an actuarial table which showed our odds at birth, as well as add-ons at different points during life. The older you get, the older you will get. This was in yesterday’s blog.

I mentioned that I’d like to go out in such a way that I’d make the front page of the New York Times. (Pardon me if I’ve written about this before; after 520-some entries, it’s hard to remember if you’ve repeated yourself.) Several scenarios have come to mind, but the most definite would be getting shot by a deranged Pope. I don’t know if that would end up “above the fold” or not, but I’m pretty sure it would be Page One.

I love astronomy; always have. There are a couple of asteroids in near-earth orbits and we’ve almost been nailed a couple of times in recent years. There’s going to be another close call pretty soon and it’s within the realm of possibility that the two of us might end up sharing the same piece of real estate. I’d like to be under that huge hunk of rock. Another front-pager in “The Old Gray Lady,” as the Times has been nicknamed.

Of course, there’s always the standby: Jesus comes on a big white horse, holding a huge flapping banner, in the middle of Times Square, picks me up and we go to glory.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Stands for: “Driving While Distracted.”

The latest culprit is the nearly-everywhere cell phone and the estimate in the State of PA that some eight percent of drivers have one of these actively talking into their ear during some or all of their time on the road.

The cure, as Those Who Make Laws see it: Hands-free phones, so you aren’t holding onto one as you try to drive. I’m not sure that’s the problem; I think you are distracted whether the thing is in your hand or hanging off the console of your car.

It’s your mind driving the car, not your hands. They only do what your mind tells them to, and if your brain is fully engaged in conversation, your hands will be somewhere behind the eight-ball while you are wrapped somewhere around a tree.

It’s not unlike those people who are very conversational and very polite. You know, they like to keep eye contact while they are talking, even if they are zipping down a road at the same time. “The road! The road!” you say. “Watch the [bad word] road!”

Nor is it unlike someone who drops a CD or a Detex card and fumbles around trying to retrieve it at about 45mph. I always figure it will be there when I (a) get to my destination or (b) when I can get to a safe place to stop.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Lump

I found a lump the other day. There are better things for which you want to see your physician. Telling her this particular bit of news is not one of them.

Things had been going well for the past eleven years and I put my previous problems out of my mind until I happened to be feeling around during a dull moment in my radio show and hit it.

The studio seemed to get awfully cold for a moment. As I continued reading the news, I also thought of things that I’d have to do. Cancel my September 2008 cruise, get my room cleaned up, get my railroad videos to the college’s reference librarian so her son can add them to his collection, etc. Tell the family, tell the close friends, wrap things up.

As it turned out, things seem to be ok. “No problem” is the word from radiology; “seems to be” is the phrase from me. It’s not that I don’t trust the experts with the machines; it’s just that they can miss things and, like the captain of his ship, I am the one ultimately responsible for keeping an eye on my health.

Short of getting paranoid every time I get some passing little twinge, I’m keeping an eye on things. The stats for my life expectancy when I was born came out to be 66 years, or one year older than I am now; but these days, having reached this age, those same stats tell me I’m good for another 17 years. Just look both ways before crossing, and check that lump.