Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Happily Ever After

News Item:
A newlywed couple spent the night in separate jail cells -- she in her wedding gown -- after police said they brawled with each other, then members of another wedding party, at a suburban Pittsburgh hotel.
The fight started Saturday night after a reception when he knocked her to the floor with a karate kick in the seventh-floor hallway of a Holiday Inn, according to police. It escalated when she attacked two guests from another wedding party who came to her aid, police said.
The melee moved to an elevator and then to the lobby, where the couple threw metal planters at the two guests of the other party, causing minor injuries, police charged.
"It was pretty wild," Ross police Sgt. Dave Syska said.

This one is from the cruise ship message board where I post.

Seems as how a newlywed couple booked a cruise. He was a control freak and a spousal abuser. She was a victim from the start. People were posting about his behaviour toward her during the week, and it wasn’t nice.

A person in the cabin across from them heard a massive verbal fight, then he shouted, “Oh, yeah? Well, watch this!” Someone on their balcony saw him dive off the ship from one of the higher decks. The ship stopped, but it wasn’t the only thing that was dead in the water.

Marriages can get rocky, but that early?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

And The Band Played On

As I came in from the newspaper office, around 2:00 a.m., I heard an alarm going off up the street from our parking lot. Not only an audible alarm, but also a flashing light, much the same as what some people use as a medical emergency signal.

Odd, I thought; there seem to be no neighbors out checking. So I called 911 and reported it, apparently the first (and only) to do so, while the band played on.

One cop arrived within a very few minutes, then a second and a third. The narrow road was blocked with police cars, and the band played on.

You’d have thought the siren, the flashing light and three cars containing Officers of the Law would have brought out somebody, but even with three of said officers wandering around with flashlights and radios at the ready, I was the only person without a badge on the street. Still, the band played on.

Finally, the owner’s dog-and-pony show ended and Wilkes-Barre’s Bravest (if not partially-deafest by this time) stood around wondering what to do.

I didn’t have that problem. I let them know I was the person who called in the event, in case they needed me, and said it was time for me to be in bed. Having performed my civic duty and also given three cops something to do in the middle of a rather boring night, I trotted off to my apartment waiting for my medal.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Whiskey Plates

I don’t know what I was researching, but somehow I ran into a listing for “Whiskey Plates.” That happens when you use a search engine; type in almost anything and you will find a few references sort of on the edge of your original inquiry.

So I clicked on it and found the practice in Minnesota for people who have been caught DUI. As I searched “whiskey plates” further, I found it’s a practice in other states, as well – an embarrassing practice that lasts a year.

If nailed for DUI, the driver must turn in his regular license plates temporarily and use tags that start with “W” and perhaps another letter and numbers. It’s not a badge of honor and, not only that, but in Minnesota, the police are allowed to pull over these cars for no other reason than to administer a breathalyzer test anytime they want.

It does not matter who is driving the car during that year; the whiskey plates are there all the time. Could be the offender’s spouse, children, parents, friend; anybody.

Is this fair, legal, against your rights? I don’t care; balance it off against the damage drunk driving does and the slap on the wrist drunk drivers get when caught. Perhaps people who drink and drive will see this and think twice about their behaviour – “do I really want to have a whiskey plate on my car for a year?”

Make that “one for the road” a new license plate.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

It's A Loverly Day Today

At least, that’s what Liza Doolittle would have sung, if she had combined “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” with “It’s A Lovely Day Today.”

It’s a little bit of both. A beautiful spring Sunday, temps are just right, no wind. In the Olde Days, we would take a leisurely walk from my maternal (friendly) grandparents’ house up to my paternal (ugh) grandparents’ house. Those were the days when you walked, partially because you were used to not driving during WW2. Besides, what else would you do on a Sunday afternoon? Television hadn’t been invented yet.

What did we do before television? There weren’t enough hours in the day, which may come as a surprise to people brought up in the tv age, the video game age.

We played croquet. Don’t laugh; it takes skill, more than you have pushing buttons and watching it happen on a screen. The lawn is not smooth, you have to hit the ball with just the right force and you spend time talking. It’s a great, calm, social game.

I went to Burritt’s Lumber Supply place to get shavings for my hamster’s cage, usually following the brook that came from up the hill a bit, underground past our house, then along the back across the street to the lumber yard.

And there were books, adventures and information, in the public library. They took me everywhere, taught me everything.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Things Are Not Always As They Seem"

Item: “Copyright 2008 xxx Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.” Ok; that makes sense. Someone writes an article, it’s their work and intellectual property and they want it protected. But then you look at the top or bottom of the screen and you see those four buttons: “share” “email” “save” “print.”

Uh, if you are trying to protect what you wrote, why are you inviting us to break the rules in at least three ways? Isn’t that self-defeating?

Item: We have a person down the street whose job description is “Parking Enforcement.” Even says that on his vehicle . . . which is parked in a No Parking space between meters under a sign stating, “Meter Parking Only.” There were some blank tickets on the seat and I was tempted to try the door to see if I could get at one and fill it out. I know the guy and I could stay out of sight to see what happened.

Things are not always as they seem; the first appearance deceives many. -Phaedrus (Roman poet)

Friday, April 25, 2008

The 1,000 Balloon Flight Found In The Ocean

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Hopes dimmed for a priest who vanished after sailing into the air, carried off by hundreds of colorful helium-filled party balloons. The cluster of balloons was found floating off Brazil's southern coast Tuesday.

The Rev. Adelir Antonio de Carli's former paragliding teacher called his disappearance a ''tragedy foretold.'' Marcio Andre Lichtnow said he was a ''headstrong, anxious individual who was always in a rush. I asked him to abandon the course because of these personality traits, which are not the ideal profile for a paraglider,'' Lichtnow said.

Forgotten Treasures, Rediscovered, On My Desk

Sometimes you just need to find something that is probably on the bottom of the pile, under which is you desk. Such was the case last night. I never did locate what I wanted, but I did run into a few treasures which had managed to hide for a while.

A photo, taken by my brother in the town next to his near Quebec City, of a man riding a unicycle. He wrote, “Fete de l’eau” on the back. Maybe the tall unicycle is to make it across the high water, of which there is none during this feast of.

There is an obituary clipping of an elderly lady who, may she rest in peace and may God forgive me, looks like Tony Curtis in drag, in “Some Like It Hot.”

I also have a sub-head from an article on the local Catholic schools. It mentions that “Closings are hurting enrollments.” I guess that’s a truth we can take to be self-evident.

There is a sturdy metal fish Christian symbol with a section at the bottom which, if you hold it by the fins, can be pushed inward by your thumb, leaving a lower front section in place. I have no idea what it’s for, but in small print, the moveable section says, “Not for climbing.” Someday, I will have to find out What Would Jesus Do with this thing.

I also keep a model train locomotive on my keyboard. It’s a Southern Pacific, now taken over by the Union Pacific. It’s accurate enough, but the Chinese didn’t know it should have an “F” on one end to signify which is the legal front.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Call Of The Open Road

The Travel Channel has a program about trailers, r.v.’s and other things you lived in and put on the road.

A Prevost bus motor home that goes for $1.5 million, for example. Or an Airstream aluminum trailer, the sort of thing we used to see all the time and (by golly) still do. Seen them in the 40’s? Sixty percent of all Airstreams built are still on the road.

The owners of those $750k-and-up Prevost seem to have a way about them. Some sort of manner which says, “We expect things to be ready for us, to be done right and not to have the little people wandering around.”

It’s an entitled life, to be sure, but without the realization that they poop and pee just like the little people whose lives don’t intersect with theirs.

Meanwhile, the little people are gathering in fields for their Airstream reunions, happily chatting with each other; no expectations other than friendliness and shared companionship.

Life doesn’t get much better than that. Not that I’d know; I can’t stand traveling. I hate being in cars or buses for any length of time. Oddly enough, I thought it would be neat to be an over-the-road bus driver, but actually doing it … no way. The only moving thing I like to be in is a nice cruise ship. Ahhhhhh.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Present At The Creation

People who invented or started things appear to have been later surprised to find out how they were present at the creation. Either they didn’t happen to think so at the time, or they were just doing something and thought everybody was doing it.
Here’s a piece I wrote for the school paper (bylined “Staff”) about one of them:

Our Frisbee enthusiasts are fortunate, if unknowingly so, to have at the college one of the original Frisbie pie-tin tossers from the mid-1950s.

Tom Carten, our Speech Prof and host of WRKC’s daily program for the visually impaired, lived near the Frisbie Pie Company as a child. He, his brother Jim, students at Yale and other lost-to-history people used to throw the heavy, unstable, pie plates.

“It took some skill,” Tom said. “You just didn’t toss them like the Frisbees of today. They were heavy, they weren’t meant to fly and they wobbled horribly. After a while, you got it so they would go across your backyard and sometimes your neighbor’s. Usually just your own; we were only kids, not big college seniors.”

The art of tossing pie tins was lost when the company went out of business, to be replaced by another which used thin, unflyable containers. Would he go back?

“You want to get hit with one of those? No way. I was there at the creation, and the creation hurt. Give me a plastic dish anytime,” he says.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Thousand Balloons

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) -- A Roman Catholic priest who floated off under hundreds of helium party balloons was missing Monday off the southern coast of Brazil. The Rev. Adelir Antonio de Carli lifted off wearing a helmet, thermal suit and a parachute. The priest wanted to break a 19-hour record for the most hours flying with balloons to raise money for a spiritual rest-stop for truckers.

First, I hope the fellow is ok; I wish him a safe life and good health in his adventure.

But it does seem to be a rather odd way to raise money for his ministry to truckers. Me, I’d have a second collection, or a pierogie sale or maybe ask the diocese for backing. But sailing away under a huge column of a thousand balloons – no, not my way of picking up some coin for any sort of fine project, regardless of what it may be.

There’s a priest in Mexico somewhere who is a wrestler and puts on exhibitions after Mass. He has raised quite a few pesos for whatever works he does that have no other support. I assume he is not the villain in these battles.

Meanwhile, the search goes on for the Rev. de Carli, as pieces of balloons have been found in the water. He was last heard on his radio asking for assistance in learning how to use his GPS device as he floated along in the air.

Perhaps a few more ounces of prevention…

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fun Is A Renewable Resource

And yet, so many people throw it away after one use – or just disregard it totally, for whatever reason. Fun is something we can toss back and forth, like a volleyball at the beach; a resource we don’t deplete from the planet. We can have fun alone, with others, on the phone, anywhere.

Yet, you look around you and there are so many people who seem to think it’s beneath them to smile, laugh, and enjoy themselves. They are either way too serious, or just out and out cranky.

Check any online message board as an example. There are more flames there than in Hell. Post something and in the middle of a good thread will come the anonymous put-downs.

Check the people around you; to whom do you trust your fun ideas? Not to the grouches, who will find something wrong with everything in life, including a nice vanilla ice cream cone. They have died inside and are killing those they come in contact with.

I suspect the more mature among us are those who can make 6-year-olds giggle and 10-year-olds say, “You’re funny.” Because when we do that, we show them it’s possible to spread joy around. We are remembering what adults did to us when we were six.

So we go around, spreading joy and happiness in whatever ways work for us. Because it’s renewable, it will continue on through those we entertain.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Yes You Can, But -- No You Can't, Because

Meter Parking Only: We need the hidden tax which, by the way, went up last year. Most places, you just pull your car over and leave it there. In the city, you can do this only where there is a parking meter into which you deposit coins; lots of coins. When your time is up, there is a chance someone will come around and put a ticked under your windshield. (Things At King’s hint: Read it carefully, check for mistakes.)

No Parking Here To Corner: This one’s a good idea. Maybe there’s a turning lane or could be a blind entrance for vehicles coming onto the main drag. Again, the meter checker will become a ticket dispenser should you and your car (especially your car) violate this sacred command.

No Parking Any Time: We had these signs at regular intervals on the causeway which led from our place, across the swamp to solid land. It was a narrow road and we didn’t need it any narrower with people stopping their cars to take photos of the red-winged blackbirds which hung out on the signs they couldn’t read.

No Parking Street Sweeping, Thursdays 10:00 – 11:00am, or some variation thereof. On the other side of the street it might say, “11:00 – Noon.” The next time I see the street sweeping machine will be the first time.

No Parking Friday, Sundown To 9:00pm: Bet you my last sheckel there is a synagogue or temple within a hundred feet.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pogo The Possum

We had the “Pogo” comic strip in the local paper from early in my newspaper-reading days. The artist, Walt Kelly, had been a reporter for that paper some years ago and it never let us forget it. Pogo was a quiet, philosophical sort of possum, taken to sitting at the pond with a fishing pole.

Which brings us to his cousin, many times removed, who has taken up habitation at the school. He’s not Pogo, he’s not philosophical and he’s not gentle. He’s got these sharp teeth, a nasty temper and likes to wander at night. They will not make a comic strip character out of him.

We think his nest is in a tree near the Campus Center and we hope none of the students will be emboldened by hops & barley to the point of engaging in what they feel are mere social events with our not-cute, not-cuddly neighbor.

They didn’t do anything of the sort when we had a family of skunks in the lower-level courtyard a few years back. Nor did anybody mess around when Mr. and Mrs. Skunk decided to increase and multiply in the bushy area by the dorm.

You see? Students *can* be smart when necessary.

We have squirrels which are fairly tame to us, or at least don’t give us a second look when we go by. The rabbits, by nature, do run, but not that far. The birds just pick at seeds and poop on our cars; they don’t mind us at all.

Friday, April 18, 2008

It's About That Missing Flag Pin

With all this noise about flag pins, their use or absence thereof, I thought back to somewhere between 1970 and 1973 when I lived near New Bedford, Mass. For some reason, it was a time when flag decals and flag bumper stickers were all the rage. It might have been because the younger set was making noise, defying authority and (horrors!) doing some thinking on its own.

Anyway, after some patriot wrote a letter to the local newspaper about all this, I chimed in with thoughts of my own, including the fact that someone with a flag decal had just passed me on the right. The general idea was that if you are going to be patriotic, then you have to keep the laws your flag waves over.

I know how to read the VIN plates on vehicles, to determine where they were built. It’s always fun to see someone’s car or pickup with a “Buy America,” or even worse statement, when you can tell they bought it made far from our shores, or across the border. I’d love to meet an owner and point that out. It’s a hollow sentiment.

Oddly enough, after the 2001 attack, tv news anchors were criticized for wearing flag pins, as this somehow undercut their objectivity. All I could think of at the time was some village idiot must think they should give equal time to the extremists.

If you want to see my patriotism, watch how I act. Because you won’t see a pin in my lapel. Anyone can buy jewelry, but it’s hard to put it into practice.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Gray Line Bus Company

The only bus that came out to our small village was the Gray Line. Those were the days when buses of all kinds ran here and there.

The Barnum and State, for instance, ran between Barnum Avenue and State Street. Then turned around and ran between State Street and Barnum Avenue.

The Chestnut Hill Bus Line ran its smaller buses north from central Bridgeport to somewhere; I never figured out exactly where they ended up, but one destination was the high school I went to.

The CR&L (Connecticut Railway and Lighting) buses, always large and always green, seemed to go everywhere except to our village.

Mom went to the Gray Line barn one day to get some student tokens for me and someone washing a bus gave her a wolf-whistle. She said it was neat; at her age, she was complimented.

I was in a Chestnut Hill bus one day when the elderly, somewhat crippled, driver was waiting for a woman to start up at a stop sign on a hill. She didn’t move, even after he beeped the horn, so he let off the brakes and gently hit her car. She gave him the finger out her window and took off. Ah, those were the days. All the lines are now city-run “People Mover” Transit District Buses. How dull.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

One In Fifty Million

Let’s see … my chances of being killed on a 5-mile bus trip are 500 million to 1. So we say it’s pretty much impossible, BUT, that “one” bothers me. The chances of being killed by lightning are 2.3 million to 1. There’s that “one” again. It’s 7,000 to 1 that you will be considered possessed by Satan.

The Large Hadron Collider will start smashing protons together this summer in Switzerland. This thing could, presumably, create a Black Hole and, if you know anything about black holes, then you know it’s the ballgame for Planet Earth. Within a very short time, and I mean very short, everything and everybody disappears down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. If UFOs do visit us, they’re going to wonder what happened.

The odds of this happening are, let’s get real, negligible. Very negligible. One in fifty million. Ah, there’s that “one” again, the indication that the chance does exist.

There’s no “one” when it comes to my playing for the Yankees and hitting a grand slam to win the Series. Nor is there one chance that I can flap my arms and fly to the moon. But when it comes to inventing a machine that has a one in anything chance of sucking the earth into nothingness, that is worthy of deep thinking.

It doesn’t mean that we can do this 50 million times before we all go down the crapper, but that somewhere in all those attempts it can happen. Could be near the end, could be halfway – or it could be the first time out.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Capital One: What's In *Your* Wallet?

No “Capital One” cards, that’s for sure. But $37; always $37 in these denoms: one 20, one 10, one 5 and two 1’s. I figure it’s the fewest bills (five) you can carry that will take care of any reasonable transaction. No sense in having a pile of 1’s or, for that matter, any other denomination, as I use my credit card for almost everything. That way, I don’t have to carry much cash and I write just one check a month.

Credit cards? Just one: Visa, which is an affinity card with our school. The college gets a small percentage of all sales and that can add up.

Other cards: Medical, of course; my driver’s license with the best photo of me I’ve seen in a long time; a college i.d. card taken by some less-than-breath-mint-IQ genius who had me tilt my head up and my glasses reflected the ceiling lights.

I usually carry four “Get Out of Hell Free” cards, a parody of Monopoly’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Waiters and bank tellers seem to love receiving them; born-again Christians tend to be insulted. As a character on Fred Allen’s radio show once said (when his line did not deliver a laugh): “That’s a joke, son.”

My Amateur Radio license is in there, along with a card containing the Country-of-Origin auto VIN codes, Fahrenheit/Celsius temp conversion chart, my fleet driver’s gas number and a few other handy things. I also have a card with my neurologist’s information and all the meds I take. What’s in your wallet?

Monday, April 14, 2008

"Things at Kings is almost indescribable."

A fellow blogger, Mark Cour, at Wilkes-Barre Online (, finally described Things At King’s. If I may quote him:

“Things at Kings is almost indescribable. It’s eclectic, it’s memories on parade and it’s observations from the front window when the snow flies. Never controversial, but always there.”

I never knew, until now, what this part of the blog universe might be called. “Almost indescribable” is pretty much on target, best I can see. There never was a goal here, except to make this a pleasant walk down a country lane, preferably unpaved, chatting about whatever came up.

For Mark Cour’s enlightenment, I’ve always felt myself living on the edge of the galaxy, sort of sitting there on the last group of stars, looking outward at the marvels of creation and dreaming. Next to my desk is a photo from the Hubble Space Telescope showing a huge amount of galaxies with their hundreds of billions of stars each. And nobody out there gives a rat’s ass if some religion can’t eat animal protein on certain days of the year.

What amuses me is the resemblance these galaxies have to a fried egg. Wouldn’t it be funny if, when we go to be judged, to find that God is a giant chicken? The average person eats 1,423 of them in a lifetime. So there is God, saying, “I think we need to have a little chat about your dining preferences.”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Numbers In Our Lives

The average person, over a lifetime, goes through:

3,056 pints of milk – 4,376 loaves of bread (87,520 slices) – 5,442 hotdogs and 12,129 hamburgers. No stats available for mustard, relish and ketchup. [All info from NGS TV.]

Then there’s those 2.5 tons of beef, 1.7 tons of pork, 2.3 tons of chickens (1,423 cluckers, giving us our 1.3 tons, or 19,826 eggs to enjoy with the bacon from all that pork).

We’ll go through 14,518 candy bars and 1,056 pounds of sugar, but make up for it by eating 11,196 apples, plus 5,067 bananas, 12,880 oranges and 4 tons (about 20,000) potatoes.

We will read 5,054 newspapers and take 28,433 showers, burn 31,350 gallons of gas and go 627,000 miles.

The people who make aluminum cans for soda and beer will produce 36 billion of them this year. I thought I had the stats on how many one person uses in a lifetime, but I don’t see them here. It’s a lot, especially when you consider that carbonated soda goes in one end and goes out the other without benefiting us in any way (try drinking water instead).

For starters, a baby will run through 3,796 diapers in the first 2 ½ years. I don’t have the numbers for elderly people using Depends.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Snow Shovel Is Still Near The Door

I could put the snow shovel away in June and three days later we’d have a freak snow storm. You can bet the farm on it. Mine is still next to the front door, next to my thick winter shoes with the tractor-tread soles. I think I’ll put them away tonight just to see what happens; any snow comes after this, I’ll let you know.

In the past, I’ve lived in places where we had snow in April. Ok, so those places were further north than this, but it’s not as if they were in Canada somewhere. It’s just that we always have one more good snow, “good” depending on the time of year. Right about now, it would be two inches.

Once, I lived at the end of the world, out on the end of civilization in Gloucester, Mass. We had a storm that didn’t affect too many people west of us (everybody was west of us), but gave us 41” of snow. I have some neat pictures of that event, but did not get one of a friend unknowingly walking over a parked car. Later, when things got plowed out a bit, he realized he had gone right over it and a drift.

There was a fine day in January of 19-and-68 when snow was on the ground in each of the Lower 48 at the same time. I would imagine a lot of people in the Deep South suddenly got religion that day as the Fire and Brimstone preachers declared it a sign from God that people should mend their ways.

I just figured it was a sign than the conditions were right for snow.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Hydrogen & Helium

There they sit, far out in the sky, at distances we can’t even imagine. Huge balls of fusion, hydrogen changing over into helium, twinkling in earth’s atmosphere, making up constellations even though the individual stars are nowhere near each other.

Nowhere near each other? That’s putting it mildly; they are separated to such a degree that their pattern would not exist if viewed from anywhere else but here.

So there they hang, hundreds of billions in our galaxy, where we go about out business somewhere in the vicinity of 2/3 out from the center. We are definitely not on Main Street; we’re not in the ‘burbs; we are, ladies and gentlemen, in the galactic sticks. If there really were little green people coming here in their flying saucers, it would be just a Sunday afternoon trip to the countryside checking out the hicks on the blue planet.

I almost forgot to mention: we are but one of, maybe, 300 billion galaxies. Give or take. The people who keep note of these things realized a couple years ago that they somehow sort of missed two million galaxies in one part of the sky. Add them in to the whole pile and that’s a lot of stars, a lot of hydrogen burning as it changes to helium.

And when all that “H” fuses into “He,” the star can do one of two things, maybe more. It can expand and become a gas giant, incinerating all the planets closest to it (in our case, us), or it can kind of blow up big time, as a supernova, and take everything nearby with it. A star did that 7.5 billion years ago; we just saw the light last week, it was that far away.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Picked Up A Penny This Morning

Yeah, I still dive for pennies. Ages ago, Mom would say, “It pays the tax,” but now that tax in my home state is 6.5%, it takes more diving than before. Some people will only go for pennies that are face-up, on the belief that face-down coppers are unlucky. I say that are worth one cent, regardless of whether it’s “face ou fesse,” to use the kinder-sounding French. Get enough of them and you can buy a car.

I used to get two of them for every good metal coat hanger I brought to Jacopian Cleaners in Stratford. About once a year I’d canvass the village asking people if they had extra coat hangers, bundle up the good ones in 25’s and take them up for sale. The money was good for my age and came in handy.

“Wheat pennies” always seemed so much more economically worth something, rather than the later Lincoln Memorial cents which came out later. Someone spoke of a quiet Midwest town, “where you seemed to get a lot more wheat pennies in your change.” I can’t find out who it was, but he certainly grasped the image of a time and a place.

I think I missed the days of the penny postcard. Not sure on that one, but one time I checked to see when they went up to two and three cents; it seemed as if the price went up before I entered the scene. There was a thing called “The postman’s privilege,” which was being able to read what was on postcards, be they the blank style, or picture postcards. Those with no photo carried a lot of correspondence in days gone by; for one cent and small handwriting, you could say much for cheap.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

And Children Of All Ages

A nearby priest, and friend of mine, was just asked to be the local chaplain for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Greatest Show on Earth.

We’re not talking about the Shrine Circus or those one-ring dirt shows that travel the south. This is the Big One. This is the railroad train with 52 cars, the Traveling Moral Exposition of the World, so-called by its owner, and former mayor of Bridgeport CT, Phineas Taylor Barnum, the king of humbug.

Mayor of Bridgeport? Yup, and a darned good one, too. He was a great businessman, knew how to run an operation and was held in high esteem by his peers. Besides, since B’port has had so many clowns in various offices, why not have a circus owner be their boss? Makes sense to me.

Anyway, our good reverend has done this before. He gathers the aerialists and whoever is available at that time backstage and has Mass for them. Last time, he noticed the Queen of the Aerialists, in full costume, eating her mac & cheese supper off a plate on a packing box. Sic transit gloria mundi, as they say in show business.

He suspects the make-do “chapel” is the children’s school room at other times. Next to it is the ladies’ dressing room and a sewing machine where another queen of the show was mending her costume. What happens backstage stays backstage; the glitter and music and acrobats shine only when the lights are on.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Mr. Carten, Your Tests Came Back Fine

You think about a lot of things.

You think about what could have happened, about what it could have been like. Plans that you would need to change, small details that pop up every time you walk into your house.

What about this, that, the next thing? I’m lucky: I don’t have many “toys,” so leaving what I have would not be that big a deal. I wonder what it’s like for someone with two or three really nice cars, a big house, another one at the shore, piles of investments, a big yacht, a great entertainment center. Suddenly, they can’t help you; they are Good-Time Charlies, willing to play with you, but not willing to comfort you when the times get bad, really bad.

But it’s not going to be that way; I'm fine, so they say. I have far more friends than toys and even if the worst were to happen, my friends would be there. My fair-weather friends already split the scene when I was diagnosed with epilepsy, so I know the ones who are left will stick by me.

Even so, with the future looking good, you still think about a lot of things. Maybe this is one of several dry runs for the day when. Perhaps it’s a chance to see what’s really important in my life, so I don’t get caught short on the day when. Could be we need to know that what happens to others will someday happen to us.

Eventually, it will be, “We have to talk about your tests.”

Monday, April 07, 2008

My Little 'Ghia

I used to own a Karmann Ghia, a nice-looking version of a VW Beetle. Cost me $450, right off someone’s driveway in New Bedford, Mass. That was back around 1970, but I don’t know how old the car was when I bought it; I do know that this under-powered car was even weaker, as only three out of the four cylinders worked. Or so I was told; maybe that’s the reason it only cost four and a half bills.

At the time, I was working in a radio station in nearby Fall River. At the end of my shift, a bit on the wrong side of midnight, I’d use a flyover to get on the entrance ramp for the interstate. At the top, as the road tilted down, I’d floor the gas pedal and keep it all the way down for the next, oh, maybe five minutes. By that time, I was up to about 70mph. Pickup was not one of the Ghia’s finer points, not at 60hp and three working cylinders.

But, as much as you can know a car’s feelings, this one loved to be driven. On Sundays, I’d go to the village of South Dartmouth to get some newspapers and it would just skim over the hills and dips, racing around the curves at its own speed. I’d have one hand on the steering wheel, the other on the floor-mounted gearshift lever, and off we’d go.

It ran forever on a drop of gas, especially at its favorite speeds. You get in a car like that, drive it a bit and you get a sense of how it likes to be handled: how to anticipate hills, how it likes you to go through the gears when you are leaving a stop sign or traffic light.

There was a special bond between me and my car.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Feeling Comfortable at 294 Degrees

“Winds light and variable, temperatures in the mid-290’s. It sounds like a good day for a picnic, so get out there and enjoy it, because the next day it’s going to drop down to the mid 270’s, with a possibility of 270 overnight.”

That’s for the U.S. of America, not some other planet. Here & now, not some time in the global warming future, either. How will we survive it? The same as we do now, because it’s 295 degrees Kelvin in my room as I write this. 72 Fahrenheit, 20.2 Celsius (formerly Centigrade). I’m sure there are other ways of measuring heat which I haven’t learned. Well, I know there are, but I’m not that esoteric at this time of day.

Kelvin starts with Absolute Zero, which we can’t quite attain, although we can come pretty close and nobody really wants to go there. The Celsius scale is zero at freezing and 100 (“Cent,” or 100) at boiling; it makes sense if you are water. There are seven different stories as to how Fahrenheit came about his scale, some of them pretty good (the coldest temp he could produce in his lab was called “0” and the melting point of butter was called “100”).

To find the temp in either C or F, you add this or divide that and/or multiply the other thing. OR: You keep a little list in your wallet with ten-degree increments, which are close enough that you can guess what’s in-between. After a while, you get fairly good at it and don’t need the aid. People will be simply amazed that you can come up with the appropriate reading on a moment’s notice.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Waiter, Waiter! Percolator!

About 4:30 this afternoon, I finished up a thermos of decaf coffee that was made yesterday afternoon at 5:30. It will come as no surprise to you that I am not any kind of perfectionist when it comes to the stuff; all I am looking for is something liquid, warm and a touch on the sweet side.

Tea, preferably, but I’m too cheap to throw out a jug of coffee, even if it’s nearly a complete day old. I’ll have my thermos filled with tea when I get back from church and do my radio show.

The title for today’s blog is from a song, “Java Jive,” which is not completely about coffee:
“I love coffee, I love tea,
I love the java jive and it loves me.”

The sacred hot liquid is also called “joe,” for which nobody has a good explanation. Most of us start the day with coffee and there is a morning tv news show with Joe Scarborough called “Morning Joe.” You will also hear “cuppa,” as in, “Let’s get a cuppa.” Mud, there’s another one.

Java, joe, cuppa, mud. One of my friends used to pass by me on his way to work, raise his hand in a grip and shout, “Mug Up!” as he went to a diner for his morning brew. A guy who worked with me, and was fairly hung over in the morning, thought he was saying, “Wampum!” I never could convince him.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Saturdays With Mike

Sometimes I wonder if radio is the last holdout where dj’s are regularly required to work six-day weeks. As long as I have been in the business, and it’s been quite a while, many of the daytime weekday staff also pulled a Saturday shift.

[This is another of those “late one day” posts, written tomorrow, so to speak.] I’m listening to my favorite station right now, courtesy of the Internet, Toronto’s CHWO, better known as AM740, and the 3-7pm jock is doing middays. He sounds live, but you never know; these days he could be voice-tracked, at home and watching a hockey game.

The life of a disc jockey is one of regularity. If your shift is 10-to-2, then those are the hours you work, regardless of what holiday it is – including Christmas. Well, at one station where I worked, you had somewhat of a reprieve: each person’s shift was reduced to two hours and the slack was taken up by the poor evening announcer who normally worked 6:30 to sign-off. He got stuck with 3:00 to midnight.

Nine hours at the mike. Or, as we call it, the mic.

You figure the average dj can fit in six records per half-hour, along with whatever else you have to do in that time. Seven, if you are good and can keep up the pace, which you can’t over a long period of time. That’s six times eighteen. So you are selecting and cueing up about 100-110 cuts of music over a nine-hour period. Welcome to the exciting world of radio.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Be A Sport, A Lot Of Sports, At Once

Some colleges have big quads, large areas where students can do all sorts of things at the same time, without interfering with each other. Other, smaller, places (especially those in the middle of a city) don’t have that sort of luck.

Ours, for instance.

We are just a few acres, never able to grow more than a little bit here, a little bit there. Our “quad” is just a small area that used to be a city street which went through the middle of the campus.

Two nights ago, I was walking through that area and noticed some Frisbee flipping going on at the same time as some students were lofting a baseball. “Huh,” I huh’d, “I wonder how many sporting events can take place in this spot at one time? That would be a lot of fun when the weather is warmer.”

My guess is we can orchestrate, perhaps, fifteen duplicated games. That is, maybe three Frisbee flips, a few people tossing baseballs, maybe a croquet game or two, and so on. We might be able to hit twenty, if we did it right.

Above all, it would be fun. We don’t do enough of that these days; we don’t lay down in the grass and guess what the clouds look like. We get embarrassed when we cut a real neat fart. We don’t slurp our spaghetti. Pity.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

“Huzzah for Madison, Huzzah.”

I wrote my music column this week about campaign songs. Things like George’s “Follow Washington,” which was, no doubt, the earliest. George showed up in his general’s outfit when they were picking the President, despite no longer being in the Army; he knew how to make the right impression.

John Adams used “Adams and Liberty,” while Thomas Jefferson had “For Jefferson and Liberty.” If it worked for one person, it might very well work for the next, so just change the names. Now here’s a campaign song you don’t hear very often: “Huzzah for Madison, Huzzah.” You don’t even hear “huzzah” that much anymore.

“Little Know Ye Who’s Coming.” Little know ye this was John Quincy Adams’ weird campaign song. A picture of the apocalypse that will descend on the United States if Adams doesn't win the election. The song predicts that violence will break out, warns that plagues and famine will sweep the land, and warns that Satan will stride the nation. All this will "be comin' if John Quincy not be comin'." [From]

“We’ve Got Another Washington and Wilson Is His Name,” for Ph.D. (I think) Woodrow. Then Rutherford (or “Rutherfraud,” for how the election was supposedly thrown) Hayes had “The Boys In Blue Will See It Through.” Then there was “Get On A Raft With Taft” (William Howard, I presume), while Old Rough-and-Ready Zach Taylor settled for “Rumadum Dum,” which may refer to drum beats, rather than an effective beverage.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dog & Pony Shows Come To Town

Harking back to the blog entry for March 18, wherein the editorial “we” spoke of the three leading candidates suddenly being very fond of Our Fair State – two of them arrived today. One in this college and one in that college. No particular reason for the split except that both wanted to use our larger gym and, due to which advance team called before the other, it ended up as “ladies first.”

All three candidates are pro-choice and of the two who were kissing babies today, the local pro-life office, predictably, showed up only at our place. The reason given was that we are an RC operation and the other isn’t, but I suspect it’s because Barack’s last name isn’t “Clinton.” She could eliminate the income tax, give us $1.00 gas and become like Betty Crocker, but it’s the last name that brings out the pickets. When John McCain gets wheeled in, they’ll give him a pass because he’s a Republican.

So promises were made and cheering squads, like the audience on Oprah’s show, made the right noises at the right times.

But I wonder just how much any president is able to do? Ok, this one put us in a war nobody wanted, including his father, the Pope and other countries. But when it comes to pro-choice or pro-life, the decision isn’t theirs; it’s ours. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves for the decision we make when the issue hits us in the face. Hillary, Barack and John didn’t make us do it; we did.

For anyone’s information: I am an undecided voter and could go for any of the three at this point.