Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Galaxy Spins At Mind-Bending Speed

Not only that, but our solar system moves pretty fast, as well. I don’t know what the surface speed might be, but one trip around the galaxy is on the order of 225 million years. We orbit the sun at a speed of 66,780 mph and spin (depending on whether you are at the Equator or around where we live) at 1,000 or 700-900 mph.

Aren’t you glad our atmosphere goes at the same rate? Imagine trying to live where the wind is between 700-1,000 mph all the time. So when there is little or no breeze here, it’s really going about 800 mph, just keeping up with Earth’s spin.

Then we’ve got galaxies, a few hundred billion stars (and, presumably, planets) moving away at a good percentage of the speed of light. Yet, they seem unchanging to us – such is the immensity of space. Sure, we will eventually notice they have changed their position in the sky, but “we” may be astronomers of a different generation.

Eventually, all the galaxies will fly so far away we will have no idea there are others out there than ours. I wonder what our theology will be like then? Perhaps we came along at just the right time, so we can know about galaxies, the Big Bang origin of the universe. If we came along a trillion years later, we’d think we were all alone in our lonely galaxy.

Most of us believe there will be an end-time, an end of the world. How and when is beyond our knowledge. Maybe a giant asteroid, perhaps a particle collider gone wild, or just Jesus pulling the sky apart and entering the universe. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 30, 2008

You Haven't Changed A Bit

Reunion weekend. High school and/or college reunions are golden moments when old alumni get together and lie as only old alumni can lie. "You haven't changed a bit," someone says. To which you reply, "I looked this bad forty years ago?"

The profs were tougher then, the beer parties bigger, the antics worse and the present students have it so easy. Or so we are to believe.

The grads from classes long past who want special favors not granted to anyone, always and without fail will boastfully inform us, “I am a major donor.” We look up their record and it was $25 a quarter-century ago. True story.

Then the teachers show up, the shining lights who have been here since … well, do I hear forty years? Fifty years? They were born to be profs, they have lived their lives and will be buried as profs. Some come and teach, retire and disappear beneath the waves. Others, even if they retire at the usual age, have become part of the place to the extent they are buried from our chapel. Yes, we have people who started teaching in 1950 and are here yet, as far as I know still doing a good job.

We have students who might as well have the college seal stamped on their foreheads, they are so loyal. We see them when they are in town, we hear from them, they represent us wherever they have settled. We were a major force in their lives; some are old grads meeting even older profs.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


I saw the word on the side of a box downstairs from my office. It's not that I've never heard of it before, but the name seemed fascinating at the time. That happens occasionally, so off to my big dictionary I go.

“From the name of the seat of the Duke of Beaufort in England,” we learn from the 1934 edition. The later, 1961, volume tells us it’s “from Badminton, residence of the duke of Beaufort, Gloucestershire, where it was first played in England.” This would be in 1873.

For more history, check Wikipedia – if you trust a reader-edited site. I don’t.

I assumed it was from the Royal Family’s German past, since the name starts with “Bad-,” a common German nomenclature. Sort of like “Bad Minton,” but Anglicized to make it more palatable for the locals, especially after WW1.

There’s Bad Ems in Germany, Bad Harzburg, Bad Nauheim, Bad Homburg, and so on.

We have our own “Bad” things here, but they are no relation: Bad Axe in Michigan; Bad Lands, South Dakota; Bad Water in Death Valley, California. There is probably a bunch up in Alaska, not counting Coldfoot and Dead Horse (a hard sell for any tourist bureau).

If any of our readers knows German, could you enlighten the troops as to what “Bad” means in that language? We here at the blog thank you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sometimes Justice Is Served

I have a family who has been friends with me for some duration now. One of their daughters, Laura, took up boxing for reasons unknown to me. I won’t question her decision because she has made some good money on the smaller circuits and has also kept her dignity and her integrity. You can do that in the sport and still pull in some good coin.

She’s in college now and her mother said she was at one of those evening off-campus parties that sort of spring up as they will in colleges. Laura is of medium build, not particularly big, and an attractive kid. One of the football players, who may have had his judgement affected by a few cans of fermented beverages, decided to show her exactly what his feelings were about people who were not of the white race.

“You black bitch,” he said.

The next thing he knew, he was picking himself up off the floor. It only took one punch from Ms. Pro Boxer to deck the guy, one punch to pretty much ruin his reputation around the school.

Someone said that he could take her before a magistrate and prefer charges. Others said that would be pretty funny in itself: Big football player saying, “This little girl knocked me out with one punch when I insulted her.” They could imagine the magistrate breaking down into laughter and saying, “If I were you, I’d quit while I was ahead. I think I will dismiss this case and recommend you do not appeal.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


The college where I work (when necessary, and only when necessary) is in the very midst of making a few changes, one of which began the day after graduation and the other just a few days later.

This should be fun to watch when the students return in late August. What was there, isn’t; what will be there, wasn’t.

One of them was a parking lot right in the middle of campus, or nearly so, for the teachers and administrators. Really not the best place and, although parking is fairly tight here (tight as in, let’s say, your underwear from when you were a teen), adjustments have been made so the lot can be made a green spot; we have so little of it. The lot is dirt right now; the pavement was all up a day or so after graduation, looking a lot like the main street in Paris during the Revolution.

Another was a three-story parking garage, long abandoned due to structural deficiencies. By that, we mean “no cars allowed and pedestrians should walk carefully.” It’s pretty much gone as I write this, and will be a gravel parking lot. The students picketed against it when it was being built anyway, so now when they return at reunion time, they will be satisfied.

Two old, long-abandoned buildings across the street are also coming down this summer. Whatever “business” took place in them will have to move to another abandoned building. In its place will be a commercial property, brand new and beautiful.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Lots of inventions, discoveries or marketable items have been the greatest thing since sliced bread, but they haven’t lasted as long. Nor have that many been as good as touted.

Which leaves one to wonder: What did people say before sliced bread was invented?

“This is the greatest thing since the railroad was invented”? Or maybe: “This is the greatest thing since the wheel”? Maybe: “This is the greatest thing since we learned to walk upright.”

Without sliced bread, the toaster industry would never have flourished or, indeed, even come into existence. Sandwiches would have been two unequal slabs of bread, thus leading to selfish children complaining that the other has the bigger piece.

How many people are employed today, supporting their families, all because sliced bread allows them to manufacture toasters? How many sandwiches are elegantly crafted because the bread is consistent? How much whining is avoided since each child has an identical piece? We take so much for granted, with hardly a thought.

Truly, sliced bread has impacted our lives in just so many ways. It must be a matter of great pride for an object to be thought of as the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Where would peanut butter and jelly be without it?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

If It Rains At The Fine Arts Fiesta. . .

I mentioned this the other day: When we have the Fine Arts Fiesta down in Public Square, we are going to have rain. It’s a sucker bet you can pull on the out-of-towners and amass a fair bit of coin so you can take off to a nicer part of the country until it blows over.

Someone wrote a letter to the newspaper yesterday. He said something to the effect, “Why don’t we move the Fiesta to July when we need the rain?” Y’know, the guy makes a lot of sense. Since it’s pre-planned from all eternity that the Wilkes-Barre Fine Arts Fiesta will be rained upon, we might as well have a good secondary effect: help the farmers.

Don’t make fun of his idea until you’ve tried it.

On another, perhaps not unrelated, point: umbrellas. You think it might rain, so you haul one around with you all day and nothing happens. You think you can get away without one and, when you are at the Point of No Return, the rain comes down.

Plan: Walk non-umbrellead with someone who has one. That should be enough to cancel out whatever the rain has in mind. You will not get wet because the other person has a rain-negating ‘brella in hand; since you would ordinarily get soaked with none, you have the option of ducking under your friend’s. While the rain is trying to figure out what to do, you will have arrived at your destination.

As usual, all advice is free and you may pass it on.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Harvey West Was Simple

I never realized it at the time. But when you are five or six and the guy down the street is pretty much at your level, you don’t think too much about it. Years later, Mom said, “You know, Harvey was simple.”

These days, the Challenged Agencies would want my head on a platter for even suggesting my old pal was other than, well, challenged in some way. Mentally challenged? Developmentally challenged? Something challenged?

No, Harvey was simple. “Marked by or showing unaffected simplicity and lack of guile,” says one dictionary. That he was. “Free from vanity or conceit,” says another.

That’s a challenge? I’d say it’s a virtue he was blessed with, one more of us should have. With Harvey West, what you saw was what you got; while others might be two-faced, he had only one, and it generally seemed to be smiling.

Not an ounce of vanity, not a bit of conceit. He was one of the few adults in those days who spent time with me. Perhaps we saw each other as peers.

Was he mentally challenged? Not in the least. Not a whole lot challenged him; he just went from one day to the next in his own way. I have known a great many people in the decades following and, of those, there are lots I’ve had to be wary of; duplicity taints the very blood in their veins. But not simple Harvey.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Used to be you could buy an album of all your favorite pop tunes for cheap. Really cheap. “As originally performed by [this artist, that artist].”

They were Sound-Alikes and were rather popular for a while. I haven’t heard of them lately, “lately” meaning “in an awfully long time.”

You couldn’t tell them apart from the genuine article. If Danny & The Juniors came out with a hot tune, along with eleven other people or groups, there’d be an album with people who nailed them dead-on. It was a lot less expensive than buying twelve singles.

I suppose it was legal; that’s something which never crossed my mind at the time. There was sort of an attempt to have you think they were the original groups, but I think anyone who could read would realize they were “covers.”

One of the more remarkable attempts at outright fakery was when Peter Best, the Beatles’ early drummer who was drummed out of the band before they became famous, issued an album of his own. He called it “Best of the Beatles.” The album sold very well with people who thought it was a Beatles compilation album and, when he was called on it, said, “I am Best and I was with the Beatles. Where is the trickery?”

I miss those Sound-Alikes. Singles in those days were less than a dollar and albums were anywhere from $1.40 for cheap labels to the regular $3.98.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Global Warming

It’s not here yet. At least, not the way I expected; I had planned for a little warmer Spring than we’re going through at the moment. The temps have been a bit on the low side during the day, with a touch of frost in the higher elevations at night. Parts of Colorado and Arizona have snowfall.

I know global warming is real; just look at the trends over the last hundred years. You’d have to be an industrialist, an oil company exec or the current sitting President to deny it. The rise in temperature is slight, as we figure things, but not so slight as Mother Nature looks at the thermometer. A half-degree here, a quarter-degree there … it all adds up to either another Little Ice Age (last one was 10,000 years ago) or a glacier-melting, seaside-city flooding warming. Three more degrees higher should just about do it.

There’s a lot of water locked up as ice in the north and south poles. We were kinda hoping it would stay there, all frozen and white. But when you hear of huge chunks of ice breaking off the Antarctic, things big enough to be compared to a certain state, then we’re in trouble.

Buy waterfront property in Pennsylvania. The dikes around New York City will louse up your view of the Hudson River, but the people who lived in what was New Orleans before it completely flooded out, say that you will get used to it.

It only took a three-degree increase in temperature.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Brother Makes Plans For The Future

He writes: Grim Reaper? Or future reality?

We all know it will come to pass when the Grim Reaper cuts a swarth and it is in our row, but we do not talk about it. So if we consider this like a trip we’d take in our camper, then if you are like me, you plan ahead. So I am planning for the coming of the guy with the scythe. No, it is not about my exiting, but rather about leaving momentums and thoughts and a ray of comfort maybe.

Probably my most cherished trick is a book I am writing, composed of family anecdotes, things we did together, things that I did that they were never aware of, but all on a positive note. We enjoy wine; there is an option of starting a ten bottle wine cellar. I have a root cellar and these bottles will go unnoticed I am sure as our wines are kept in a cool closet.

At 85, my mother bought herself a top-shelf lawn mower. A neighbour had to come over and fire it up. They, and us, were also asking questions. It was only after her death two years later that I understood. She had bought it for me! With that thought in mind, I now buy quality tools, tools which will last forever, as I know somewhere along the line someone will be glad to have them.

This is a fun project and I am enjoying it. Using what I have learned from my mother and from putting myself in her place, I now understand how happy she must have been.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What Be That, Closing In From A Distance?

Like a pirate ship that approaches with frightening regularity, all sails set, and the dread we good sailors experience as we go about our lawful business. Closer and closer it comes; now we can see the men on deck, swords drawn and waving, shouts of, “Arrrrr, matey, an’ you know what we want. Arrrr harrr harrr. Give it up, just like you did last week,”

It’s deadline again. The newspaper wants my column this afternoon.

The barstards. And my faithful lookout on shore even reminded me yesterday to watch out for them. A cleverly-worded poem of warning; another today. Decoded, it read, “Beware of Cap’n Inkstain aboard the Newsprint. They want all you can give them.”

Curse them, curse their swords, their wooden legs, their eye patches. Curse the parrots on their shoulders, their bare-chested female bow figurines. No; let’s take it easy on the chicks, but send all the rest to the Eternal Flames of Hades, there to be pitchforked forever by the Evil One for forcing me to stop everything just to make deadline.

Let’s check the naked bowsprit chick again. Hoo-HAH!

Anyway, back to those pirates disguised as editors at the newspaper. There they sit, rubbing their hands in anticipation that I won’t make it in time. “Ha, ha, ha,” they laugh in mirthful glee. “He’s not gonna make it this week.” But virtue will win once more, after being fortified by a hot, steaming mug of tea.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Was 5 and Gail Was 7

That was quite an age split. I remember thinking just how old she was – seven was way up there when you are only five. It’s old. Of course, you aren’t very reflective at that age, so I wasn’t doing much meditating on the fact that six years earlier I didn’t even exist. We're not much of a philosopher in those days; that sort of thing comes later, if we're lucky.

Then I was in grammar school and the sixth graders were introduced to us as crossing guards. I never did see what streets they guarded us against, but they had those belts that went around and then up across one shoulder. I knew that sixth graders were pretty much all grown up. That was about as old as you got before you leveled off and started a family.

I remember Buddy Hewitt walking along the street, sort of looking down. I asked someone if that’s the way old people walked, looking at each step. He was fairly old at the time, probably 15. When I finally reached that age, I realized it was just Buddy. He most likely still does in his late 60’s.

People at retirement age were just old geezers who were relics from the past. They wore funny clothes, had long beards, round glasses, canes and said, “Ain’t that a knee-slapper?” Maw was plump, had a rocking chair, knitted and said “shoo” to local cats.

“When I was seventeen, it was a very good year. It was a very good year for small town girls and soft summer nights. When I was thirty-five, it was a very good year. It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls of independent means.” --Frank Sinatra

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Just Who Are You?

This is something I wrote for a publication about twelve years ago. The core idea came from a radio commercial and I took off from there:

Just Who ARE You?

I don’t care what your gender is … that just tells me how the chromosomes lined up. I don’t care what nationality you are, or even your race … those tell me where your ancestors came from and how they adapted to the climate.

I don’t want to know your college major, career plans or professional skills … they’re great on a resume and may get you a job, but they don’t tell me who you are. I don’t care what you do for a living … that just tells me how you manage to support yourself and your family.

What I want to know is WHO you are. Not what you can do or what you’ve done in the past; those are nice skills things.

Who are you? You are a unique creation; there never was anyone just like you and you don’t have to imitate anyone. Uniforms are fine in their place: they offer instant identity, but at the cost of covering up all those marvelous differences that don’t need duplication. Differences are good; without them, we’d all look a lot like railroad ties: seen one, you’ve seen them all. We’re always changing and only dead things stay the same.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Fifteen (15)

The combination of the words “five” and “ten,” according to the dictionaries I checked. Nothing more interesting than that.

One of my favorite numbers, for another thing. Why? I don’t know. I have favorite numbers and 15 is one that is most comfortable. It looks good; it’s not too small, it’s not too large.

But it also reminds me of "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest." That’s a lot of people sitting on some expired pirate, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum to the contrary notwithstanding.

“” showed how it’s not quite that bad – but don't write home about if you are the fifteen men.

“Dead Man’s Chest,” it says, “is a tiny island that forms part of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Pirate legends claim that the notorious pirate, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), marooned 15 of his crew on 'Dead Man's Chest' as a punishment for their mutiny and desertion. The Pirate Code stated: He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning. The Pirate Code of Blackbeard stated that each pirate who was marooned should be given a cutlass and a bottle of rum.”

And a yo-ho-ho to you. Sorry you missed the boat.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Know The Weather Months In Advance

Ask anybody in Our Fair City what the weather will be like months in advance, yea, a year in advance, and they will tell you. It has to be a particular date, the Fine Arts Fiesta on Public Square, and the answer will be: rain. No exceptions.

It’s become a local joke. You find out the date of the Fiesta and people will say, “Well, I guess we won’t be doing any outdoor yard work that weekend.”

One year, some of the tents got blown down. I’m sure we’re due for a major mine subsidence – not just anywhere in the Valley, but only under Public Square. It’s the Curse of the Fine Arts Fiesta, one of the nicest events this city has each year.

How? Why? Is it the evil spirit of the forever-damned mine owners who wish to once again crush the spirit of the residents? It’s not working, guys; every year we look forward to the weekend and we laugh at the rain, we laugh at the winds. You raped us once with your sordid practices and now, having reclaimed our Valley and our spirits, we rejoice in the beauty of what our hands can produce.

We are in the third day and the sun has finally come out. The temperature is just a bit on the cool side, but a jacket will take care of that. The Fiesta will keep us going until the Farmers’ Market starts up for its four-month run on the Square.

The Square, alive and often a focus of activity, rain or shine.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Brother Talks About His Hobby

Some people have standard hobbies, others collect wood. Firewood. This could be called a hobby all right.

If I’m still here on this earth on June 22, I’ll be 70. My podnah, if he is still on this earth on June 22, he’ll be 80. We’ve been bumming around now for over 30 years and one of our longest passions has been gathering wood to keep our respective homes warm whenever needed.

Wood, the kind we want is all over the place. Trees fall, limbs break and they tumble to the ground just begging to be cut into 16’’ lengths and split to keep some old geezers warm. We are fussy, we will not burn anything other than hardwood aged for two years.

Hobbyists will spend hours in specialized stores and crafts fairs. My digs are neat. No parking problem, no sales tax and nothing is made in China! Think of it now, NOTHING is made in any Asiatic country. Kinda brings back memories of the good ol’ days, doesn’t it?

There’s a thing or two which I have written: “The Art of Woodry,” “Moonwood,” “If My Tailgate Could Talk.”

Pretty much underlines my thirst for the wood and the treating of such, from the saw to stack to stove.

Addition To May 11 Entry

Original entry for that day: I guess you couldn’t be too careful in those Victorian days. Even if Queen Victoria, she supposedly of “we are not amused,” was long gone.

As reported in "The Quote Verifier," I found the following: "Words put in Victoria's mouth."

Not only that, but: "Biographer Stanley Weintraub could not verify that Victoria said any such thing, and doubted that she did. 'In fact,' Weintraub told a reporter, 'she was often amused.'"

Correction noted.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said"

That’s one of the few things Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra actually said. Many of his quotes came from others or were just made up by writers.

It’s hard tracing quotes back to their owners after someone else picks them up. We all know Marie Antoinette haughtily solved the peasants’ bread shortage by saying, “Let them eat cake.” Various people were supposed to have said this, and long before Marie the Soon-to-be-Headless had the words put in her mouth.

In Ronald Reagan’s tear-jerking death scene as George “Gipper” Gipp, he asked Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne to “win one for the Gipper.” In the actual 1920 event, George simply asked, “win one for me”; in 1930, Rockne embellished it to what we know now.

“I did everything Fred Astaire did,” said Ginger Rogers, “except backwards and in high heels.” Ms. Rogers will tell anyone she did not make that one up, but found it in the “Frank & Ernest” comic strip; artist Bob Thaves was the originator.

“Give me liberty or give me death,” didn’t say Patrick Henry. Did say biographer William Wirt who kinda made it up and sorta put it in Pat’s mouth. Joseph Addison’s earlier play “Cato” has a line which includes “liberty or death.”

You can spend a lot of time paging through “The Quote Verifier,” by Ralph Keyes, subtitled “Who said what, where, and when.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Keep The Riff-Raff Out Of The Area

riff raff, middle english, from ryffe raffe, from rif and raf, “every single one”: Disreputable persons.

Item: Ronald Howlett faces charges after he became mad at two boys, 8 and 12, who were riding their bikes in a parking lot outside Heavenly Massage. He went inside the business, took a gun and threatened the boys. He claimed he “only wanted to keep the riff-raff out of the area.”

Given the choice to define as “riff raff” (a) two kids on bikes, or (b) the patrons of a massage parlor, including its gun-waving owner, I’d saw the riff raff was someone who had not been on a bike in years.

A guy who runs a massage parlor calling kids on bikes “riff raff”? Uh, I think it might be the other way around. Way around. The riff and the raff are inside paying some stranger to get their engines warmed up before The Big Show.

While outside, kids who don’t know the meaning of the word “adultery” or “fornication” are riding around the parking lot. They’ve probably heard “whore,” but don’t really know what it means; if they were allowed inside, given a short course and allowed to watch, they’d figure it out quickly.

But they’re just riff raff, says the owner, riding their bikes.

Monday, May 12, 2008

All Railroad Tracks Go To Vermont

Lots and many and loads of years ago, I remember seeing railroad tracks somewhere. Having taken a train to Vermont when I was four (accompanied only by my brother, age eight), I was fascinated by the possibility that all rails led to the Green Mountain State.

“Do these tracks go to Vermont?” I asked my long-suffering father. I asked a lot of questions in those days, and those days have not ended. My father is long gone, but the questions remain.

He explained that, yes, those train tracks did, indeed, eventually end up in Vermont. They connected to other tracks and, one way or another, I would find myself in Brattleboro, home of a cousin.

I once knew a girl who lived in an un-numbered house on an unpaved, un-named street in a small town in Vermont. Her road lead to the main North-South highway, Interstate 5, in California, the same way as all railroad tracks go to Vermont. Go out her driveway, down the road, find the paved road, to a larger road, and increasingly larger roads until you end up on U.S. 5 South to an East-West Interstate. Take a right until you get to I-5 and there you are. All roads will take you to California.

That’s the beauty of an interconnected system. You can go anywhere the road (rail or highway) goes without interruption. All you need is a map, if you want the best route possible, or –if you are like my brother— just sort of follow your nose.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Born Too Late

Darn it all to heck, but I never had the chance to ride on a trolley car. Mom told me of the times she rode from Stratford to Bridgeport and her mother said to wear clean underwear in case the trolley derailed. I doubt it went fast enough to do much damage to car or passengers, much less require anyone to end up in Bridgeport Hospital, but I guess you couldn’t be too careful in those Victorian days. Even if Queen Victoria, she supposedly of “we are not amused,” was long gone.

They had only one headlight. Right in the middle, low. Except for a driver too cheap to replace a burned-out bulb, you didn’t have to worry which side of the car the headlight was on. Also, if you weren’t actually in the middle of the tracks, the trolley wouldn’t hurt you.

Another thing I missed was biplanes. I’ve seen them in WW1 war movies, but never (I think) have seen one over my head.

I missed barnstormers who came to airfields to put on shows and take people up for rides. Mom didn’t; her girlfriend bet her that she wouldn’t do one of those penny-a-pound spins around the airport. Mom hit the scale, counted out the coins and up she went. No wonder she wasn’t scared when we flew through parts of Alaska in various bush planes. Been there, done that in something that probably was held together with bailing wire.

Didn’t get a chance to ride in a car’s rumble seat. I’ve seen one, I think, but I came around too late for a ride. Probably much too dangerous, as well.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Donald Duck, for one; and Winston Churchill

There's Dagwood Bumstead and Frank Sinatra.
Sammy Davis, Jr. and Albert Einstein.
Franklin Roosevelt and "Maberry's" Barney Fife.
Pee Wee Herman and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Abraham Lincoln and Playboy Bunnies.
And four-legged participants in dog shows.

Quite a collection of people who prefer (or preferred) bow ties. At least during part of their lives and/or careers.

According to those who make, market or sell them, they are as simple to use as falling off a tie rack. But when you listen to people who actually have to wrap the infernal length of cloth around their necks, it can be an exercise in dogged refusal to reach for the scissors and create a pile of scraps for recycling in the wastebasket or lower depths of Hell, whichever is more convenient.

I used to wear a bow tie, so it can’t be that hard to, uh, clip on. Ok, so I cheated. I wasn’t exactly working at the Ritz-Carlton or something like that. Nor did anyone expect that it would be a really-tied bow. But it covered the top button on my shirt, which is (I suppose) what ties are really supposed to do. Whether a four-in-hand, the regular knot for a long tie, or a bow, guys just don’t look right with that top button showing. So the bow tie covers it up, gives a little decoration around the neck. It works.

Friday, May 09, 2008

dic-tio-nary (from dictio: word)

I bought a couple of these the other day and they just arrived. Mine were getting a bit old, as dictionaries and writers go, so they are in the process of being passed on to the deserving.

Actually, my Merriam-Webster desk dictionary is still quite good (2003), but a friend’s is a 1951 edition and woefully out of date. She, herself, is a 1960 edition and so is using a reference book for a changing language that was published nine years before her. She will get my 2003 and what I just bought, the 2007 update, goes on my shelf. Four years makes a difference to me; anything newer than fifty-seven years is just great for her.

Then there’s the case of my Merriam-Webster unabridged. I’m sure you have at least one around the house; everybody should. I have seven, almost every edition they issued since Noah Webster published his. But, for just daily use, I have my grandfather’s Second Edition, which I grew up with, and my own Third Edition which came out in 1961 and updated in 1975. That’s been a while – twenty-eight years, to be exact. Which is why Amazon is such a good place when you are looking for recent editions of books for, shall I say, cheap prices. I managed to get the 2000 edition for what I consider a fire-sale cost.

The old 1975 Unabridged, now no longer needed, will be given to someone who will appreciate and respect it. As I said to one of our profs who might know a candidate, I don’t want it used as something the recipient will use to hold his coffee mug. My atlas is renewed every ten years for the same need and on the same basis.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

You Can't Stamp Out Cockroaches

Nor, apparently, can you get rid of the New Haven Railroad. Forget the fact that it went out of business on December 31, 1968 (darned near 40 years ago), swallowed up in a horrible merger that was nearly scandalous. No, it *was* scandalous.

Anyway, the New Haven went the way of many “fallen flag” railroads, as the extinct lines are called, with one exception: New Haven-painted locomotives are still hard at work in Connecticut. These are not old relics that were never repainted, but new engines and, new or old, freshly painted in the classic colors.

Th’ heck is going on here? They got rid of the New Haven forty years (that’s four-zero, you know, four decades) ago and the NH rolling stock is still rolling in proud, fresh paint.


It’s like Conrail. The freight railroad finally bit the dust and was split up between two other railroads. There’s nothing left of Conrail now except for memories and --what? Memories and Conrail. It still exists in two little pockets, the Shared Assets. Switching yards, where two little vestiges have hung on and still function as the original company. Just when you think they have shut down the joint, you poke around and there it is, hanging on quietly in forgotten spots.

The New Haven and Conrail; they just keep on rolling along.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What's Sauce For The Goose...

...May cause us to take a gander at something. Since 1914. From the adult male goose, the dictionary noting “the outstretched neck of a person craning to look at something.” As in, “Take a gander.” We can give someone a goose, but we can only take a gander. Give a penny, take a penny; give a goose, take a gander.

“Beats me.” Beats? What exactly is beating me? And does it hurt? When we don’t understand something, will that lack of understanding start hitting us? Or is it sort of like, “’Beats me,’ said the masochist, as he whipped up something to eat.”

“Stop pulling my leg.” Ok, I’ll stop – but only if you’ll tell me what that has to do with fooling you. In these days of super-awareness over harassment issues, we don’t dare touch any part of you when joking around, much less pulling your leg. In French, we might “put you in a box”; much safer that way. Doesn’t make any more sense, but safer.

“Fly off the handle.” Huh. I’ve seen people fly off an aircraft carrier, fly off the end of a runway; but never fly off a handle, no matter how large and long it is. Supposedly, it has to do with how a loose axe head flies off from its handle, translated into someone who is really, really angry.

“Piece of cake.” For me, doing radio sure is a piece of cake; however, actually baking a cake is not a piece of cake. Why not a piece of pie? A piece of bread? Somehow, cake won out and something difficult for me is a piece of cake for you.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

They Lived In Interesting Times

Everybody has a story…

Irene Jakubiak, who used to live here; passed away downstate at 85. During World War II, she made tail assemblies for B-26 Marauders in Jersey City. All of those Rosie the Riveters are getting up in years now.

Lee Kay, born here, lived down south for many years before his passing. He was a captain in World War II, heading a Quartermaster section of a general depot for the Army, responsible for all supplies for China, Burma and Northeastern India. This was the support for the construction of the Burma Road, and even getting horses for Merill’s Marauders.

Leo J. “Uncle Leo” McTigue also left us, just six weeks before his 96th birthday. He was a bartender for more than 50 years. In 1990, he became one of the first inductees to the Heritage Bartenders Hall of Fame.

Max Bartikowsky is still with us and as long as he is, the Joe Palooka comic strip is still alive (just disregard its newspaper death in 1984). Remember Little Max, the shoeshine boy who never spoke? That was Max Bartikowsky, a shy little boy who used to go up and down the street where cartoonist Ham Fisher lived. Max is the owner of Bartikowsky Jewelers here in the city; a little long in the tooth these days, he little resembles the cute little kid of the comic strip.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Whatever Happened To Rooster Pills?

A lady on tv was happily and excitedly proclaiming the benefits of some “male enhancement” pill. It’s good for “a certain part of the male anatomy,” she says.

I wonder which one? The part that’s supposed to remember anniversaries? Nah; there’s no pill powerful enough to help guys with that. Maybe it’s the mushy part that women like, the soft words and stuff like that. Another zero; they don’t make anything that will fix that.

Oh, I know! It’s the guy’s, uh, thing. This pill will make it longer and thicker. It will make you feel more like a MAN. It will make your significant other (used to be you could say “wife,” but those days are long gone) know exactly where you are, with not a doubt in her mind. Or in her anywhere else, for that matter.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac used to have ads for Rooster Pills. As Parlance Publishing said, in an interview with an old Cajun lady, “She told me about an elderly gentleman who came to her every week for his ‘rooster pills.’ Today he would probably get Viagra, but back then, the rooster pills apparently worked.”

It seems as how, when you took these all-purpose make-it-work pills, you didn’t have to worry about the 4-hour limit. You know, “call your doctor if it lasts more than four hours”; or, as some guys say, “stand on the front porch and show off.”

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dump Ducks

We were on our way down Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, when the bus driver mentioned sea gulls. “We call them ‘dump ducks,’ he said.

True enough, I suppose. Find a dump, find dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of sea gulls. They work it over pretty well, picking away at whatever looks good to them.

At home, we thought of them as weather prognosticators. The first person to come home on the road down from Stratford, past the airport, might say, “Seagulls on the runway,” which was a sure sign of weather coming. If the gulls stayed put when small planes landed, a storm was imminent; perhaps we were in for a good one.

They were also the lowest-flying birds you would ever want to see. They skimmed over the calm water so close you’d think their wings would touch the surface. But they stayed just, and I mean just, above it. I understood it was easier for them to fly at the lowest altitude, and the ease with which they flew down there seemed to show this.

Seagulls also followed my father’s fishing boat. Being as how he was a nice guy, he would chop off a fish’s head and throw it up in the air; one of the following gulls would dive down and grab it, practically still on its way up. Then he’d chop off the tail; same toss and another gull would fall out of position and it disappeared. At the shore diner, I’d grab someone’s leftover fries and whistle up the gulls out on the beach. Standing with my back to the wind, the gulls would hold their flight into it and I’d toss the eats to them.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Driving On A Rainy Saturday Night

It’s a rainy Saturday night and I went over to a friend’s house for some popcorn and tea. I think that’s what you have on cool, rainy nights. Later, as I returned home, I dropped by the newspaper to pick up the morning’s edition as it came off the press. The rain had slowed down considerably by then, but it was still around.

Ages ago, so it seems, I remember rolling through the night to somewhere in the rain. Might have been to my aunt’s up in the hills, or it could have been anywhere. When you are young enough, all rainy night drives look pretty much the same. You’re in the back seat, it’s dark and you can’t tell where you are. Once in a while there is a street light at an intersection, or another car comes along. Aside from that, it’s just a dark, confusing ride.

Now that I think of it, things haven’t changed much, except I’ve moved from the back seat to the front and the windshield wipers keep working even when you are accelerating up a hill. The older crowd will know what I mean.

I firmly believe that if God meant us to be out driving at night, He would have given us headlights just above our eyes. Or another commandment, something to the effect, “Thou shalt not be on the road at night when it is raining, for thou canst really see whereof thou goest, nor take in the beauty thereof which I, the Lord your God, have created.”

That sounds reasonable to me. If the Vatican can come out with a list of new sins, maybe those guys over there can make a new commandment.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Pack A Sandwich; We're Going On A Trip

Astronomy has always fascinated me; I can stare at the Hubble Telescope photo of a galaxy-rich section of the sky and just be overcome in wonder. There are few things that take my concentration than the vastness of our universe, the size of creation.

When my time in this part of life has finished and I am on my way to the next segment of my existence, I’d like to take (then or later) a tour of the universe in my body-free, pure spirit state.

To go from our galaxy to the Andromeda in a matter of minutes – which takes light something like two million years – seems like an awfully good trip. Traveling from here to our sun and even entering it, going to its very core, would be such an experience. How about going to the last galaxy out there, at the edge of the universe, and seeing what is beyond the edge. Nothing, of course; the end is the end. There is no big brick wall, there is no wide empty space; just nothing.

I’d love to be taken to the center of the universe, the place where the Big Bang occurred. It’s the spot where a sub-atomic-sized particle, infinitely dense and infinitely hot, blew up one fine day and created everything that exists everywhere.

It’s still blowing up, in case you were wondering. Ok, you weren’t wondering; but it’s still blowing up, possibly (probably?) without end and all of those galaxies are moving away from each other as fast as they can.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Got Gas?

Three forty-five per. That’s a pretty high price to push all that steel up to 70mph, especially when there’s only one person in it.

Could be better, could be worse. Sierra Leone pays $18.42/gallon, which is a lot worse than Aruba at $12.03. Ok, let’s mention a country or two you actually know: Norway sells the stuff for $8.73; the U.K. at $8.38; Belgium is $8.22.

Who has it easy, and how easy? Venezuela pumps for 12 cents. Yeah, a gallon of gas for a dime and two pennies. Iran, 40; Saudi Arabia, 45; Libya, half a buck. Kuwait is up to 90 cents at this point.

I used to be a pump jockey back a whole bunch of years. Not that many for some people, but a whole lot for others. When customers asked for $2 worth, I’d lock the nozzle, clean the front and back windows, check the oil and stop the gas flow before the pump hit $2.

Those days are long gone, as are the attendants and their check of windows, oil level, and even battery acid. Them was the times when we’d go back into the repair garage and tell the other guys that we just filled a Caddy with *ten dollars* worth of gas.

We used to have red gas and white gas. All of us bought red, or leaded, gas; white gas was lead-free and had uses I never knew. Whatever were not automobile engines, I guess, and needed high octane used white gas.