Monday, June 30, 2008

The Soundtrack Of My Life

If my life were a movie, what would be its soundtrack?

Perhaps the old WNEW-AM in New York City, the standards station that radio announcers listened to, the standard of “class” to which we all aspired but never reached.

Maybe the soundtrack would come from my years on the water, the slap of waves against our boat’s hull, the surf raging against the shore as wave after wave breaks with enough strength to change the shape of the beach with each storm.

Then, it might be the sounds, the noises, you hear only inside a radio station late at night when you are alone doing a six-hour shift. Those are strange hours when ghosts of announcers long past come out to see how you are doing and if you are keeping the station’s heritage.

I was an altar boy for years and am still a faithful church-goer. Could my soundtrack be the hymns and prayers and even the silence of the place? Some kinds of silence have their own sounds, and I am convinced that church silence is one of them.

Often, I will listen to the soundtrack of an electrical storm: While I can easily see the lightning going cloud-to-cloud, or cloud-to-ground, I can hear the show by tuning an AM radio to an unused frequency and listening to the static, lightning’s sound. Watch and hear the entire show nature provides for you.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Uttering A Forged Instrument

When I lived in a small town, south of Boston, I saw the yearly report from the police department. Someone was arrested for “Uttering,” or, more formally, “Uttering a forged instrument.”

In other words: Trying to cash a stolen check, or something to that effect.

Uttering was a new crime to me. Cashing, or presenting, or putting into circulation a stolen or forged check. Or a homemade dollar bill, I guess.

You can utter a word, but not a liquid asset; you’ll get in trouble. Actually, many people have found themselves in deep doo-doo because they uttered the wrong word at the wrong time to the wrong person. Usually after imbibed too much of “that which makes us infallible,” as one writer referred to alcohol.

Anyway, don’t utter forged instruments if you stand out, like, being as queer as a three-dollar bill. I’ve known many a person who has been thus described, but never seen a queer three-spot. And I’ve been around money enough.

No, has nothing to do with being gay; at least, not directly. “Queer” just means, at least in the dictionary, “differing from what is normal.” It also used to mean money that was fake, counterfeit. And what was more queer than a $3 bill? Anybody who was really off the center line became known to be “as queer as…”

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mean As A Junkyard Cat

I often wonder what makes some people mean. Mean and nasty. Some years back, I had the most unfortunate bad luck to work with someone like that. She picked on people any way she could.

To adopt a comedian’s line: She would stab you in the back in front of your face, and spit in your face behind your back.

If kindness were poison, she would live a long, long life. I never understood what made her such a mean person. Nor did I understand a person I worked with at another place, who kept a grudge list that was as long as Santa’s list at the North Pole.

I am on some professional media message boards; radio, tv, newspaper. The sort of things I am involved in on a daily basis. They are good for keeping up with the industry and, as all but one are local, are also the equivalent of gossiping around the water cooler.

But since the vast majority of people post anonymously, the claws come out often and you post at your own risk. Too many of these un-named people are just so nasty. It’s as if being anonymous and posting on a message board is like spraying graffiti on a building.

You rush out at night from behind a bush, write your nasty comments, then run for cover so you can’t be caught and take responsibility. Pity.

Friday, June 27, 2008

26 Years Lost Out of 78 Allowed Us

So we live to about 78, the insurance people tell us. Yeah, I know: Your grandmother cashed in her chips at 96 and your grandfather made it to 93. Doesn’t matter; the average lifespan is about 78, combining men and women.

26 of those years being spent unconscious, asleep. One-third of our life is spent horizontal, eyes closed, out like a light. So your grandfather spent 31 years sleeping, granny, 32.

What could you do with those extra 25-30 years? Learn more? Do more? Or waste the time?

One of the queens of England, possibly Elizabeth I, was to have said, as her last words: “All my possessions for a moment of time.”

Sleep, however, is a necessity. From the giraffe’s half-hour per day to the cat’s fourteen hours, we need it even if we haven’t figured out why. And, no, we have no idea why it is we need to conk out on a nightly basis. All we can be sure of is the effects of sleep deprivation, which include hallucinations and, I have found out, for cats death.

So we really have not wasted that time; it’s part of life. Still, I’d rather not need to be unconscious for one-third of my life. It’s like paying for a six-day vacation but only enjoying four of them. What a scam!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mother Nature's Seizure

If you think there’s a calm before the storm, you should also think of the calm after the storm. We’ve had some wild weather here lately and, no doubt, will have more in the near future. But after each flash, rumble and drench, the violence ends and it’s peaceful again. Almost as if the skies need to relieve themselves of a built-up tension – sort of what it’s like when you have a convulsive seizure.

Then the skies clear; if it’s daytime, the clouds move out, the sun returns, the streets start to dry and it’s such a nice day. At night, the stars come out again. In either case, we can almost hear the atmosphere exhale in a mighty, “Whew!” and pick up where it had been before all this happened.

The rage is over, the seizure has passed and we are once again at peace.

Everybody has a story.
Ruth Allen Davis, age 103, died June 22. Mrs. Davis was the elder daughter of Gilbert Shaw Allen. She delighted in the knowledge that her father was born at sea as her grandfather was a sea captain and took his family with him on the lengthy voyages. Mrs. Davis loved to tell others about her yesteryear, being a member of Troop 1, the first Girl Scout Troop to be organized in the Boston area and how they made their own uniforms; watching the lamplighter work his way down the street each evening; hearing of the Titanic catastrophe right when it happened; surviving the troubles of the Depression years; being an Air Raid Warden in World War II.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Here's Your Birthday Present, Scott

Scott O'Day, who sells electrical equipment for a living, had some frightening first-hand experience with electricity. Scott and his wife Tucker went for a walk on a beach just before they planned to go to dinner to celebrate his 49th birthday. They heard the thunder start rolling, turned to walk back, and shortly after heard a loud “boom.” Scott was hit by lightning.

“When I got struck I got knocked out of my shoes and was thrown 4 or 5 feet forward,” Scott said.

Got knocked out of his shoes. I have a hard time understanding how that can happen, but I’ve never been hit by lightning. Got pretty close once, much too close, but no damage and kept my shoes on.

There’s a lot of electricity in those long, jagged lines; lots of volts and lots of amps. It’s not something I’d like going in one end and out the other. My guess is that most people literally don’t know what hit them; those who survive might not remember and just wake up later with the feeling that something really wrong just happened.

Lightning goes where it wants, but is fairly predictable. You are safer some distance from a tree’s roots, perhaps ok a bit closer to a telephone pole’s power transformers. Talking on a cellphone or cordless phone is perfectly safe; standing next to an AM radio station tower is not – they generally do not attract lightning unless it is desperate for something to hit.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


April 4, 2006: posting #1 on “Things At King’s, Life on North Franklin.”

So, here we are at posting #800, June 24, 2008.

How many topics are out there? As many as all of us together can imagine. But imagination is something we tend to repress as we get older. “Older” = “anytime after about third grade.” Sometime around there, we have to grow up and do it fast; we can’t look out the window and dream, nor can we play in the gutter while a pouring rain sends water down the street.

Someone told me their 4-year-old was immature. I said, “If you can’t be immature at four, when can you?” It’s important that we keep seeing things in a different way, that we (as I often say, when caught daydreaming) “ponder the mysteries of the universe.”

So you’re middle-aged and remember how neat it was to see things and animals in clouds. It still is. What do you say to people who catch you looking up at the sky? You tell them that, for a few minutes, you are being a little child again and happy to recommend it to anyone who is tired of being an adult 24/7.

Sure, you can do 800 blogs because there are far more things to talk about than just that number. I haven’t even thought of butterflies doing free-weight lifts to get in shape for their long trip to Mexico every year.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I Wondered Whatever Became Of ...

…well, lots of people. When I have nothing else to do, I will occasionally stick an old friend’s name into the Google search engine and see what comes up.

A lot of other people, that’s what comes up. But I can often latch onto the odd hit that puts me in contact with someone I once knew; or, at least, let’s me know what they are up to.

Happened earlier today, as you can see by the time stamp. I rather idly entered the name of a kid I hung out with back around 1960. We lived in the same village, only a few streets away. Actually, everybody there lived only a few streets away. He went off to college and I also moved away; we kept in touch sporadically and somewhat temporarily by mail. The last I heard he was earning tuition money as a studio musician, playing first and second clarinet behind then-nameless vocalists who hoped to sell lots of records. They may still be nameless, for all I know, or they may be famous; I asked Paul if he ever took one record from each group against the day when they were hot stuff, but he didn’t care. He just did the gig, got paid and went back to campus.

He’s a hot musician now, most likely on the side. I noticed that he’s playing with one of the good regional bands out of Southern Connecticut and is featured on a number of discs doing hard-playing Dixieland. I’ll have to check some of them out, as they sound very good and the word is he does an excellent job on both clarinet and sax. A photo shows him looking just as excited as ever.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Find It In The Yellow Pages

They (whoever “they” is, or are) never trademarked the phrase “Yellow Pages.” You’d think someone would have thought of a matter as important as that. Telephone books printed by the millions, the majority of them published by whoever originally put them out: White pages in front, yellow pages in back. No sense in filing for “White Pages,” but maybe, just maybe, it might have dawned on a highly-paid exec to protect this money-making thing in the back of their book. But, nooooo.

When the G. & C. Merriam brothers bought out Noah Webster’s dictionary company, they called it “Merriam-Webster,” as fine a name as ever graced our bookshelves. But they never did protect “Webster’s Dictionary,” and now we have all sorts of good, not so good, definitely inferior, as well as even trying to look the same imitators, all called “Webster’s Dictionary.”

Styrofoam, Xerox, Scotch tape and other product’s owners carefully, if not jealously, guard their trademarks. Drop the first letter to lowercase and you will receive a polite, if definite, note from the company. It’s a necessity.

I’ve heard of people who keep an eye on old films to see if their copyrights are renewed by the studios. If the owners are not on the ball and the films slip into the “public domain,” these people scoop them up and offer them for sale on tape or disc. It can be a good living for people who stay alert, stay on stop of copyright end dates, and can keep their mouths shut as the date approaches.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Yellow Backhoe Is Gone

I travel River Road regularly and, for as long as I can remember, there has been this old, worn-out yellow backhoe – a relatively large one as these things go. It resided on a patch of land adjacent to the road and just sat there, doing nothing. To anyone’s eyes, it was nothing but a piece of junk; to the eyes of anyone in coal country, it was just another way for the coal companies to screw the locals.

When you travel around here, you will see worked-out strip mines with piles of culm (worthless tailings) all over the place. Plus one piece of useless construction gear on the property somewhere. That represents the mine owners’ middle finger to us.

The owners are required to repair the land, make it look good again, when they are finished stripping the coal. They are finished, the law says, when the last piece of construction equipment leaves. So you have some junk tractor or backhoe? Drag it onto the site and leave it there as proof you aren’t done yet. You are rid of a worked-out truck, you don’t have to spend money reclaiming the land and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. You’ve got the law on your side.

The big yellow backhoe on River Road was moved two weeks ago. Means only one thing to me: the coal company found a buyer for the land. Now, at last, they are truly finished with it. Could be there is some other reason, but I could not imagine anyone who runs, or ran, a coal company having the slightest bit of compassion for the people of this area; there’s money to be had in moving that derelict.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Do Not Touch The Water. Or Let It Touch You.

It is now illegal for people to cool off in the fountain on Public Square. City council passed an ordinance making it unlawful for anyone to have any physical contact with the water from the fountain. [Newspaper article]

Once again, a group of people passed an ordinance without really thinking it out. Makes you wonder exactly where their legal heads were; not out in the sunshine and fresh air, that’s for sure.

Unlawful for anyone to have any physical contact with the water from the fountain. Ok, they and we know what it means: Don’t bathe on Public Square, keep the diaper squad away from the spray. But that’s not what it says and when you make a law, you have to write it carefully, or some cop who is having a bad day and wants to get someone can wait until a strong breeze whips the wet stuff onto his target. Charge: Unlawful physical contact with water from the fountain.

Reminds me of the anti-hippie law some city in Florida passed. No more than “x” number of people unrelated by blood or marriage in one residence. So much for that crowd -- oh, and convents, as well. “We didn’t mean convents,” they said. But that’s what the law covers and a hippie with a ‘tude could bring it to court.

I know one nasty cop in the city (who I hope is retired now) and I’m sure he would be the first one to cite a person for getting sprayed in the wind. That's the law…

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Unfinished Business

Item -- It takes time to become used to a new computer. Or a new anything (spouse, car, house, job; name it). I’m still learning about this one as I work, which is something like changing your clothes while running down Main Street. But the day will come when I will cruise along with nary a thought about what I’m doing.

Item -- Speaking of cruising, my vacation is just ten weeks and two days away. Do I know where I am going? No, but that’s not unusual; once, recently, I had no idea up until two days before sailing when I finally looked at the cruise documents and realized I was on a Southern Caribbean cruise, rather than the Eastern Caribbean. Made no difference, as the ship is my destination and where we go matters little.

Item -- Still thinking of Tom Bowe, my recently-deceased friend of a generation above me and the influence he had on my life and my family’s. I might write something here, but most of it, as happens with all of us, can’t be explained in a blog and is too private, anyway. Your families aren’t friends for four generations without really being locked into each other, for better or worse.

Item -- A young adult got into a fight with his stepfather. The kid apparently was bipolar and things got to a point where the stepfather just snapped, grabbed a nearby gun and shot the kid. As he lay on the floor, the old man stood over him and emptied the pistol into his stepson. I know the mantra, “Guns don’t kill; people do.” But in a fair fight, I doubt the kid would be dead today and the guy awaiting trial on a murder charge.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Catholics Are Named After Saints

In the Catholic Church, if not other Christian denominations, children are given the names of saints – those people whose lives were such that they are worthy of emulation. Not unlike the secular world where we put up pictures of Washington, Lincoln and others in our schools for the same reason. Except in our case, it’s mandatory; first name or middle name has to be that of a canonized person.

Well, maybe it happens and maybe it doesn’t. What’s the odds that your mother chose to name you in honor of the great St. Joan when her absolutely favorite sister is also named Joan? Coincidence, huh?

My parents told me I was to be named in honor of the saint on whose day I was expected to arrive (strangely enough, the same name as my father’s youngest brother, huh), but I came early and it was a strange African saint. So they chose their closest friends for my first and middle names: Tom Bowe and his brother.

The idea is we are under the protection of the saint we are named for. Let me tell you: I can use all the protection they have to give. I just don’t know which Thomas it is. Doubting Thomas, the Apostle? Thomas Aquinas, the fat intellectual? Some other one?

No, it’s the newest Saint Thomas, Tom Bowe, father of my grammar school girlfriend Mary Ethel Bowe. He passed away Monday after having lost his sister and brother, his son and daughter. His wife survives.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

That New Car Smell

I’m checking out the new gadgets, seeing where everything is in the new model, how it’s all laid out and generally getting used to having things in different locations.

In some ways, the old one was better; it got me where I was going, as they say, but it didn’t have the pep a new model has. I’ll be ok with it after a week or so.

Anybody who gets a new computer probably goes through this; I can’t be the only one. There are some features my old machine had which are missing here, as well as some new features which I wish were configured a bit differently.

But I went through that last time and quickly adapted.

There were a lot of icons on the main screen for programs I’d never use. I like clean screens, so I created (as I have done in the past) a main-screen folder titled, “Things I Don’t Want,” and dragged all of them into it. The five program icons I will use daily are lined up in the upper right corner. The four I am not sure of are lined up in the lower right corner. The four which must be on-screen (including my “Don’t Want”) are lined up in the upper left.

Nice and orderly. Lots of blue space without any background screen saver views making it hard to see the icons. Even the icons are re-labled from Microsoft’s multi-worded descriptions down to “E-mail,” “Documents,” and such. Live simple.

Monday, June 16, 2008

If I Can Hold Out For Ten Weeks...

It’s not as if I have some sort of terminal illness, or something like that. It’s also not a personal crisis. But I’m hoping that I can just hang on for a few more weeks, just a few days less than eleven.

Today I make the final payment on my cruise, which begins on August 30. I’ve already authorized my travel agent to charge my Visa card and I’ve been clipping undated items from the NY Times that I can read in the Lido buffet / coffee / tea room as we sail along.

But first I have to finish off June, then all of July and all but two days of August. That assumes I can hold out for ten weeks. It’s like going through Lent with a box of chocolates you know are in the kitchen cabinet; can you hold out until Easter?

The situation is a bit different. If I liked candy (which I don’t), I could sneak in and have one a day, probably get away with it. But with a cruise, you just can’t sneak one in without your employer and a lot of other people suddenly wondering where you are. Much less, short of robbing a bank, how you will finance the extra excursion.

So I’ve no choice; I have to hold out. Every day, I look at the calendar and ask, “Are we there yet?” No, we aren’t there yet; go clip more pieces from the Times, ok? Check the catalog and see where you are going, a little item which you never seem to know before the ship leaves and which always puzzles your friends when they ask. So, in just over ten weeks, I’ll find out where I’m going.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Color Me White, Or Something

Some woman of African heritage was on The Colbert Report ago giving off her opinion that Barack Obama is not a black man. Well, he is the product of a black African father and a white mother.

“No,” she said. “His father is not black.”

Surprised me; I’ve seen his picture and, having lived with Africans from both Uganda and Kenya while I was in grad school, I feel uniquely qualified to recognize people who are black as coal. (If you have not lived with people from these countries, don’t criticize my description; these people were *black*.)

“His father is not black because he did not come here on a slave boat. The only black people in the world are those who came here on slave boats.”

I guess my friends a couple doors away in the dorm must have been a dark white, or something. I sure as heck thought they were black, slave boat or not.

“It’s all political,” the a-hole continued, saying something like: “Barack’s father may be dark, and he may be African, but he’s not black.”

I’d love to see her take that viewpoint over to some of the African countries and try to convince the people of her stance. It would be fun.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

It's Flag Day

And this is a great day to celebrate the work of Betsy Ross who, pursuant to a visit by George Washington, sewed the very first American flag.

All I needed was to research her and the flag a little bit and I would have my usual 5" blog. No problem.

The only difficulty was a slight difference of opinion: You bet she sewed it and there is definite proof. Uh, no; it's a legend and there is not one shred of proof. Depends on whether you visit the achingly pro-Betsy site, or one that seems more objective.

But when George Washington visited her about the matter... Well, maybe he did and maybe he didn't. Depends on what you're reading. It appears pretty definitely that he did. Or equally definitely did not.

Ok, so all we have to do is visit her house, which we know is real. Unless it’s not, and that depends on whom you believe. Let’s hope the two million American school children were not led astray; they donated a dime apiece to establish it.

We do know that there was a Betsy Ross. Well, Elizabeth Griscom, later Elizabeth Ross, later Elizabeth Ashburn, later Elizabeth Claypoole. Apparently, the flag business came about when she was Mrs. John Ross. Ashburn was captured by the Brits and died in prison; Claypool was disabled for years, finally passing away.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Night With The Birds And The Bees

Mother Nature has her plans, but sometimes we can modify them. Sometimes, well, the birds and the bees take over and we’re powerless. We admit defeat.

Such is the case now that we have put out the little fountain in our courtyard. First the bees and little bugs went to it, buzzing around and taking little sips. Or so it seems. They seem to like the large ball where the water drains down.

Then the birds came. Or, at least, the robin(s). I rather suspect it’s one or, mayyybe, two and it just sits there looking at me when I come out of my apartment. I could almost reach over and put salt on its tail (old way to catch birds), but still it would not move. Sometime it drinks, other times it just sits there on top of the bubbler and briefly glances over at me before returning to whatever it’s doing – probably staying cool on those hot days.

I don’t know how easygoing the robin is with other people, but we seem to get along together rather well. Same with the rabbit that hangs out near my door. When I come by, he (or she) sits there and looks at me, then takes a few short hops away, then a few more. But never very far. Sometimes it just hops away and then lies down, as if I should bring its pipe, a newspaper and a snack.

The squirrels are also used to us. Some of them you almost have to kick out of the way; others will move a bit when we come along. Generally, they do their stuff and we do ours, so it’s a fairly peaceable kingdom around here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Now Just How Fast Was He Going?

We have two competing newspapers in this city, highly unusual. I think only a dozen cities can claim such, and not only do they compete, but each one’s primary goal for the last 30 years is to put the other out of business.

Normally, their police reports are identical; how much different can facts be? The way they are written, what each reporter sees as the important angle, will vary in some cases, but facts are facts.

Until today.

They agreed that a Hazleton man was trying to flee from the police. One paper went into far more detail than the other, but both agreed that it was a high-speed incident. But just how high was the speed? Newspaper #1 said the chase “reaches speeds of 183 mph,” while paper #2 reported he “sped away at a speed in excess of 120 mph.”

Well, 183 is certainly in excess of 120. But we’re not talking about the Pocono 500, which had already taken place, and this one was on state and/or county roads after midnight.

“…speeds of 183 mph, the criminal complaint says.” Yeah, but: “…in excess of 120 mph, the criminal complaint says.”

I bet they ended up doing laps at Pocono.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The OSS Lady Hosted A KGB Official

Connie O'Neill passed away May 31. She served as an officer in the OSS in WWII. While in Paris, Connie witnessed French General Charles deGaulle's triumphant march on the fabled Champs Elysee as that city was liberated from the Nazis.

Connie met and fell in love with Charles O'Neill - who oversaw the training and assigning of OSS recruited agents from various "Joe Houses" in North Africa and France. Because of security concerns, communication between them had to be through a code they concocted based on favorite poems. In the 1960s and 1970s she hosted holiday dinners for dozens of U.N. representatives at her home (one of whom later turned out to be a member of the KGB; it was unclear if he was aware his hosts were a pair of former OSS operatives).

In the 1950's she was approached by a Westport friend to invest in a Broadway-bound musical. After playing the sheet music for herself, she agreed to a show which became "Man of La Mancha."

As a 25 year-old OSS Lieutenant on a warm Paris spring day, she decided - with two girlfriends - to take a lunchtime stroll down the Champs Elysee without their helmets. They spotted a couple of senior American officers strolling toward them. Technically out of uniform, they were busted (or not, as it turned out) by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Omar Bradley, both of whom greeted the young women with proper military salutes and broad smiles.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Missed Donald Duck's Birthday

June 9, 1934. A memorable day in cartoon history and for those who need some inspiration in their lives: Donald Duck was “born” on the cartoon pages.

A cartoon duck merits this kind of adulation? Yeah, he does. A cartoon duck is an inspiration for people’s lives? Yeah, again.

His sister, Dumbella Duck, sort of split the scene and did so with no intention of taking her triplets on to whatever awaited. So Donald became a single parent with no warning, and he took it quite seriously. I never saw a single panel where he regretted it, told the boys he wished it were otherwise, or complained about the situation. He went forward and did the best he could, which seems to have been pretty good.

Unlike the wussy Mickey Mouse, Donald had a tendency to lose his temper; he also was man enough (or duck enough) to apologize afterwards. I don’t know of any other cartoon character, human or animal, who did that. He was contrite and made sure he fixed things up quickly. We should all be so honest.

At whatever job he had, and they seemed to be different in each comic book, he did them well. Never lazy, he found ways to overcome whatever problems came his way. Sure, there were occasional mistakes, but they seemed to work themselves out.

And he never slept over with Daisy, his girl friend.

Monday, June 09, 2008

They Invent Any New Places Lately?


It’s hard to find some recently re-named country in a geographical dictionary that’s twenty-five years old. Whatever happened to Ceylon, by the way? And why can’t I find Sri Lanka in that old book of mine? They’re the same place, after all.

Loads of people have achieved fame, the type of which will stand for years, if not centuries. But, alas, their names have been enshrined in our common memory since my biographical dictionary came off the press and into the bookstore.

You will remember, of course, my meanderings exactly a month ago about replacing my main dictionary due to its age; in our living language, words develop and/or change meaning, perhaps have a meaning added to them. Late night comedian Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” (“the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true”) will probably end up being one of them, if it becomes part of our regular use.

So I have sprung for four relatively new books. A 2000 unabridged dictionary; while used, in new condition. A 2007 desk dictionary, the latest edition. Today, a geographical dictionary and, perhaps, the last edition of the biographical dictionary – all published by the Merriam-Webster company. The last two are used, but in excellent condition (as are mine) and now I need to find a worthy owner for what I have.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

"This Was Just A Dusty Crossroads"

Alfred Webber was the only member of his class –or his decade- when he went back for reunion weekend. It was the 80th for this 100-year-old alumnus.

What happened since he was born in 1907, or since my mother was born in 1910? What did they adapt to and what were the changes they had to handle?

She and I were traveling down Main Street in the Stratford CT where she used to live. As we passed a somewhat major intersection, she said, “This was just a dusty crossroads.” Now it’s four lanes crossing four lanes, with traffic lights, stores and gas stations. Dusty crossroads, indeed. I wondered if she missed it, but I didn’t want to ask. She probably did.

Let’s look at her and the old guy, three years her senior. Sure, the airplane was invented before they were born, but you didn’t see them flying around for some years yet, much less taking passengers on regular routes. Not everybody had a phone in those days, although Mom’s parents did. Who had a car when she was growing up? Her parents never did learn to drive.

Your quiet roads become crowded, then enlarged, then crowded again. The quiet night skies became bright with store and advertising signs. The edge-of-town woods and farm lands turned into developments with identical houses where you used to play.

Somehow, you adapted. Probably with sadness, but you adapted.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Living Next To The Clintons

Do you live next to the Clintons? Would you want to? Well, there may come a time when you have no choice. You may be Republican and can’t stand the former President but, oddly enough, won’t be Clinton-haters. Here’s where you might live:

Clinton, a city in Alabama, home to 1,284 people. In Connecticut, near the shore, known for cosmetics. Iowa’s has two colleges in its industrial area, while Clinton in Illinois has 8,014 people and an agricultural region.

There’s a Clinton, Ontario, Canada. What’s up there? A piano factory and flour mills; that’s what. In North Carolina, they grow chickens, sell fertilizer, pick cotton and chop trees. Mississippi’s lists just a sawmill and a college. They’ve got one in New Zealand, as well, with a Port Clinton in Australia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

There’s no place with my hero’s name on it, but (close enough?) a Trumann in Arkansas, where their main industry is lumber. But you can visit a tiny little city (yes, it’s a city) of 2,008 people, Nixon, Texas, where peanuts are a big thing.

Millard Fillmore fell in love with, and married, his redheaded teacher in a one-room schoolhouse he attended. He later realized he had been "unconsciously stimulated by the companionship" of his teacher. Two counties have his name, in Minnesota and Nebraska. A city in California, as well, known for fruit and oil wells, and one in Utah which, for a time, was the capital of Utah territorial government.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Would You Like A Side Of Oxygen?

Amazingly nice drive back from Massachusetts: a little overcast, so we had no direct sunlight in our eyes, the traffic was fairly thick but fast-moving and we pretty much could not have had a better ride.

Those on the other side … well, they were slowed down or stopped in several locations. Our turn in the past, their turn now. “Let them eat gas fumes,” as Marie Antoinette once said, as she drove past the stalled peasants in her 1793 Peugeot.

That really is a problem. We went through one toll booth where the cute young thing told us she was just finishing her eight-hour shift. Eight hours of breathing in carbon monoxide and/or whatever else comes out of all those cars’ tailpipes, whatever the fumes are, they sure aren’t something by Calvin Klein.

Now if *I* were running the show, I’d make sure everyone in those booth would have the opportunity to have an eight-hour supply of oxygen, minimal level, through a nasal cannula (those little tubes you see on people, which go from a little box, around their ears and end just below their nose).

At first, you might feel funny and wonder how you look, but after a while, when you don’t have that junk going into your lungs, you might not care what people think. You are no longer breathing in the junk from eight hours of their cars accelerating and, perhaps, not feeling so ill the rest of the time.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Zymosan: Fraction Of Yeast Cell Walls

The last entry in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, 2007 version. (This has been based on the original Eleven Edition, 2003 original printing, as updated.)

A friend had, as her regular reference, a Sixth Edition, 1951 or something printing. As dictionaries go -or in dog years- this is the equivalent of driving a Model T, using an outhouse, or licking a three-cent stamp.

So I gave her my original 2003 edition and bought the newest printing from Amazon. The local Barnes & Noble college bookstore did not have one in stock and could not order it for me – you’d think the most basic school reference book would be there in heaps.

Today, Amazon send me a note asking if I would, please, review the dictionary. They did this before, with the Tenth Edition and I happily complied, seeing as how I had proved to them a previously-missing word should have been included, and was.

Writing a critique for a dictionary is not easy. Ok, the words are all in alphabetical order, or so I presume; I never really checked. They are spelled properly; again, 165,000 entries are more than I care to handle. The 225,000 definitions are, presumably, all correct, as are the lexicographical terms (did you know “gullible” is not in the dictionary?) and the dates each word came into the language. So all I can say is, “This is a well-bound book with a good typeface at an excellent price; buy it.”

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Need For Prehensile Tails

I'm writing this on Saturday, after a business-type trip to the area south of Boston. I dislike long car trips (long = more than, say, five minutes), so you can figure what my feelings were as regards a six-hour ride.

Would you like them in plain English, or the more polite-sounding French? I can do either. Maybe it’s better if you simply use your imagination; I’ll wait a moment. (. . .) Ok; you got it.

On one trip, I saw a woman of young age entering the highway; she was holding a cell phone in her right hand and gesticulating with her left. Steering? Your choice: Not at all, with her knees or – is it possible? She has a prehensile tail like a monkey and is holding the wheel with that?

God has blessed this otherwise total idiot. How many times have we said, “If only I had another hand” when we come to a door, both of ours filled and/or otherwise in use.

Naturally, we’d still have only one brain or (as it seemed to me) this person’s half a brain as she entered a major, fast, traffic-filled interstate, her mind obviously on the conversation which was far more important than such as other vehicles, the fact that molecules bond tightly and do not allow other molecules to pass between them, as well as the other fact that the sun, moon and stars really do not revolve around her. My prehensile tail could lean out the passenger window and swat her.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Move Over, Potato Chips

What have you been famous for, or what may describe/define your life?

For instance, this came over the news on Monday: Fredric Baur, the man who designed the Pringles potato chip packaging system, was so proud of his accomplishment that a portion of his ashes has been buried in one of the iconic cans. He filed for a patent for the tubular Pringles container and for the method of packaging the curved, stacked chips and requested the burial arrangement.

I’ve heard of people being buried in their cars, probably in the mistaken thought of being able to drive it forever across the highways of heaven. I don’t think things work that way; I think your soul goes into happiness, while your body rots in a car that rusts. Assuming your greedy nephews don’t dig it up in the middle of the night, and leave “you” in the bottom of a filled-in hole.

Perhaps some old-line sea captains would have their ashes put into a container on a ship, discreetly so as not to spook the crew, transferred to a newer vessel when it is retired, there to sail the seas forever. Or until a superstitious crew member finds it and over it goes.

My mother wanted to be buried after a Catholic service, but she wanted to leave this world on her favorite Holland America Line ship, the Rotterdam V. Missed it by three weeks, she did. Not ill in the least; it was quite a surprise to us, and even more to her. But she often told me of her desire. Pity.

Monday, June 02, 2008

To The Memory Of Bo Diddley

Ellas Otha Bates (later McDaniel, after adoption), passed away today leaving the “Bo Diddley beat” I first heard on the recording “Bo Diddley.” I heard it twice in a row in our car as I came across the long, long causeway through the swamp out to where I lived. The dj at WICC, where I would eventually work, said another dj came in and wanted to hear it. I suspect he had nothing else ready.

His beat, described as an African 5/4 rhythm, was adopted by many musicians. I loved it. I think the AP’s opening sentence for their article is just great: “Bo Diddley, a founding father of rock 'n' roll whose distinctive ‘shave and a haircut, two bits’ rhythm…” That probably describes his innovative style better than any other way.

He had many honors, this legendary singer and performer, known for his homemade square guitar who also played for the elder President Bush and President Clinton.

He appreciated the honors he received, “but it didn't put no figures in my checkbook. If you ain't got no money, ain't nobody calls you honey,” he quipped.

“You gotta think in terms of what people's lives is based on." He took his own advice: Many of Bo Diddley's most famous songs were about Bo Diddley. “Bo Diddley bought his babe a diamond ring…” Or these lyrics from one song: “Bo Diddley caught a nanny goat, To make his pretty baby a Sunday coat.” And, “Bo Diddley caught a bear cat, To make his pretty baby a Sunday hat.”

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Certain Maxims of Archy

Archy was a giant cockroach who lived in the newsroom where writer Don Marquis worked. In the morning, if Don left paper in his typewriter, he would find Archy had jumped from key to key to leave him a message. Unable to capitalize, it had a sort of free-form poetry to it. I have to put it in prose to fit the space I have. He collected some under the heading, “Certain Maxims of Archy.”

if you get gloomy just take an hour off and sit and think how much better this world is than hell of course it won t cheer you up much if you expect to go there

old doc einstein has abolished time but they haven t got the news at sing sing yet

time time said old king tut is something i ain t got anything but

an optimist is a guy that has never had much experience

that stern and rockbound coast felt like an amateur when it saw how grim the puritans that landed on it were

i once heard the survivors of a colony of ants that had been partially obliterated by a cow s foot seriously debating the intention of the gods towards their civilization

don t cuss the climate it probably doesn t like you any better than you like it

Things at King's goes on this road this week

Tuesday through Friday are up in the air. I might be able to post, I might not; I'll be out of state attending some meetings and, while it would bore you silly if I were to report on them, I'm not sure I can get online to keep up the daily conversation.

But check anyway.