Thursday, July 31, 2008

Never Say "No"

My parents taught me that. They also taught me to say, “Why not?” instead of “Why?” when an opportunity came along. Well, they didn’t say it in so many words, but more by their actions.

Grab the moment. Why? Because it’s there and even if you think you might not care for it, you may not get the chance when you do. Chances often come around only once and you don’t know if this is one of them. Go for it.

The Conrail train, for instance. When I was in Indiana, a friendly engineer asked if I wanted a cab ride; he would return me to where I was. Didn’t take me but a few seconds to leap up there next to him. I was supposed to be somewhere else, at a meeting, but eff the meeting; this was far more important. There will always be meetings, but this might never happen again – and, so far, it hasn’t. (I was asked later where I had been and I said, “In a Conrail locomotive, riding around; you have to go with what’s important at the moment.” They all smiled and agreed, probably with jealousy.)

The local newspaper had significant labor problems and all the unions walked. Even started their own paper, which goes strong to this day. Why should I write for the strike paper? Why not? I’ve been there 29 years now, almost since Day One, as their music columnist. It’s been a great experience, both having a column and seeing a strike paper, good days and bad, from the inside. Music, Dance and Theater Critic, big band writer, radio/tv column, and more. Why not?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What School Did You Attend?

Most of us went to The School of Hard Knocks. Our diploma says, “S**t Happens.”

We did something wrong and paid for it, sometimes more than we thought was fair: drove too fast and wrapped ourselves around a tree; cheated on a test and failed the semester; got too cozy and had a present nine months later.

Maybe our first job was horrible, the boss was a stinker, the pay was lousy. That’s part of it. Then we got fired, laid off, shifted to a lower department.

Some people don’t like this school and try to avoid it. Their first essay, every essay, begins with: “You’re doing this because I’m [fill in the blank].” That’s an easy way to get out of the learning experience. Avoid going through what everybody else has, this necessary part of life, by avoiding it through blaming everyone else.

“You’re doing this because of …” race, gender, age, religion, nationality or clothing; anything at all which will keep you from this learning experience. Why not just be honest and say you’re scared? We all were, but we didn’t have those excuses years ago. We just had to put up with it and grow to become the people we are.

When we graduate from that school, we have learned how to treat others. Not as we were treated (revenge against the innocent), but what not to do. There will still be hard knocks, but we can show how to overcome them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

He Robbed A Bunch Of People

I had another idea, and title, for today’s blog, but someone posted a reply here for something I had posted on another site, one dealing with the local media. So I’ll let the tail wag the dog and use his reply (I suppose it’s a he) shape the entry.

The topic on the other board was about a serial robber and someone seems to have mistaken the word as being “cereal.”

Our respondent here is curious about the various charges which could be brought against the perp. Serial Cereal Robber? Cereal Robber in Serial Fashion? Read the reply and make up your own mind against the day when you may be on a jury.

On technicalities such as this, bodies have swung from gallows or been set free to continue their reprobate ways. A misplaced comma can be worse than a missed period.

The bad guy in question robbed any business that a door or window through which he could enter. If the tender was legal, he’d take it. “Heroin addiction,” he later said. Needed the cash to get more “smack,” more “junk,” more “horse.” Gotta feed the monkey on his back.

People have robbed their grandmothers; one fellow even knocked over his local 7-11 and didn’t wear a mask, he was that desperate. Now, if you’re addicted to cereal, that’s another matter and far less serious.

Monday, July 28, 2008


A resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia. As in: “A true Haligonian drinks Keith’s” (short form of Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale, a strong Canadian beer, brewed exclusively in Halifax, Nova Scotia, since 1820.) This, from the online Urban Dictionary.

I would have guessed “a chemical element, in gaseous form, discovered in 1925 by Dr. Breton Haligon. Used primarily in cleaning solvents, where it is liquid at cold temperatures.” But, no, wrong again.

Haligonian. Somehow, the word came from Halifax, but my Merriam-Webster unabridged says not so; my Oxford English does not even list it, although it does mention if you tell someone to go to the English town of Halifax, it’s telling them to go to Hell.

Then I ran into Bari Pearlman’s blog where she has posted a 2-minute film by her production company ( Click on “2007” then scroll way down to the entry for 22 September 2007.

Her subjects discuss whether it might otherwise, given different circumstances and someone else at the Bureau of Names, have been “Halifaxian,” possibly “Islandgonian,” or “Halifaxer,” or even “Halian.” Or, as one fellow said, “It’s a ridiculous word, but I don’t lose any sleep over it.”

But Aussies call us ‘Merkins and we all know what THAT is.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Man Shoots His Lawnmower

Item --MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (AP) -- A 56-year-old Milwaukee man is accused of shooting his lawn mower because it wouldn't start. Keith Walendowski has been charged with felony possession of a short-barreled shotgun and misdemeanor disorderly conduct while armed. Walendowski says he was angry because his Lawn Boy wouldn't start Wednesday morning. He told police: "I can do that, it's my lawn mower and my yard so I can shoot it if I want." A woman who lives at Walendowski's house reported the incident. She says he was intoxicated.

That must have been something to see. We’ve all been there, but even though we’ve had the motive, we’ve really not had (a) the means or (b) the opportunity. This fellow, bolstered by That Courage Which Comes In A Bottle, and possessed of something which offers easy answers to life’s complicated questions, simply hauled off and let the lawnmower have it.

My guess is the perpetrator never maintained the victim to the point where the Party of the Second Part was thus unable to perform to the satisfaction of the Party of the First Part. Had the perp done his job, the victim could have done its job and bloodshed (or, more correctly, oilshed) would not have happened.

Will we hear of a march of avenging lawnmowers? Will the rotary blades of a hundred Lawn Boys tear this murderer to shreds, with little to remain except what can be found in the compost bag? Karma, Keith; Karma.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

5 Weeks And 0 Days

Today is but five weeks until my vacation and, surprise, it’s aboard Holland America Line’s cruise ship Maasdam.

Oh, you’re not surprised.

It’s my chance to be quiet, to be alone, to ponder the mysteries of the universe. And how, you haven’t asked yet, can I do that with 1,267 other people on board? Easily enough, and I’ve done it every year. Find the quiet places, which is not that difficult. Yes, there are quiet places on cruise ships, depending on the time and the location.

The Lido buffet is my main reflection spot; normally packed with people stuffing themselves like pigs, the food line is closed and it’s quiet between 8:30 and 11:00 at night. Sometimes, I’m the only person there; often there are only a half-dozen in a place that seats about 600. Coffee and tea are always available, as are tables near the window.

The Sky Deck has a protective windshield, with deck chairs. At night, when it’s vacant, I lie down, flat, and just look straight up at the stars, thinking about the vastness of the universe and the Creator who put it all together. When I wake, I head to the Lido for some tea.

It’s a cruise, it’s a vacation, it’s a retreat. It’s a time to be quiet; as I said, to ponder the mysteries of the universe and get perspective on things.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Christmas In July

July 25, nearly the end of the merchants’ “Christmas In July” sales boost month. The first time I heard of this was back around 1970. This year, I don’t recall noticing it unless it has become so much a part of the landscape it’s just there and we accept it without thinking. Well, it came into my consciousness when I was reading the Senior Citizens’ Center hot noon meals on my radio program and the July 25 menu was titled “Christmas In July.”

“So late in the month,” I wondered; “usually these things come at the start.” Then it dawned on me: “Ah-HA! The twenty and fifth! Five months until Xtemas, as they said in the Olde Days. The significantly heavier* man in the red suit is still getting ready to drop down your chimney."

*(Preferred by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, Inc.

Back to topic. Jesus is but four months old as the stores hang their Xmas July signs. He wouldn’t know it (or would he??), having only hands, feet, (uh…boy bits), vital organs, eyelids, fingernails and toenails. But no ears to hear store owners talking about Xmas July promotions; they won’t develop for another month.

So, let’s start a movement: quietly and sneakily leave a little crèche scene of some sort in the store window. Mary, Joseph and an ultrasound of little Baby Jesus still developing. That should attract lots of attention!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

That Senator Should Not Be President

I just received my weekly update from giving me the latest false rumors that have been circulating around the Internet via e-mail. Snopes, the Urban Legends debunking site, is my first-go when anyone sends me political poison, “too good to be true,” or photos that I think are impossible. I urge you to do the same *before* you forward what is possibly a fake and, probably, a damaging message.

This one included the expose of a message damaging to one of the presidential candidates. On first glance, it looks genuine; when you go to Snopes, you get the whole story, including the originator’s apology for making it up.

When someone sends me one of these, I check Snopes and then reply to the person with the site’s URL, requesting they forward it to all those who received their original false e-mail. Only fair, I say; having libeled someone, they are responsible for clearing the victim’s name.

We are so quick to express indignation, so slow to investigate. Perhaps we should ask:

Can you prove this?
No? Then why are you sending it?
Do you really believe the authority of the originator?

Find a hobby; another one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The License Plate Was "Chichlid"

A tastefully brilliant blue car, and a nice piece of work in itself, spends part of the work day outside an ad agency office just down the street from my place. As I am always intrigued with personalized license plates, I’ve tried hard to figure out what “chichlid” might refer to; having given up, I went inside to inquire.

“A type of fish,” an employee told me, on a day when the car was not there. “He likes them. He raises that type of tropical fish.”

Yesterday, Mr. Fish-Lover was feeding quarters into the parking meter and I asked him about the tag. He told me about his hobby, the large number of chichlids he has, and the 7,000-gallon tank in his house.

Seven thousand gallons. With lots and lots of fish.

As a comparison, let me tell you about a production of the Kraft Television Theater many years ago, when it broadcast a live presentation of “A Night to Remember,” the story of the Titanic’s sinking. When passengers were diving overboard into the ocean, NBC’s Brooklyn studio had a 10,000 gallon tank of water into which the cast ended up.

This guy has so many fish he needs one 70% as large as that used for a major tv presentation. You don’t keep this on a table near the dining-room window. Nor do you keep a flotation device nearby for the family cat.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Maybe Just "Mary" Would Have Worked

Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii, a 9-year-old girl, is so embarrassed by her name she goes by “K.” I’m not surprised. Nor am I surprised she’d like it changed.

Over in New Zealand they have twins named Benson and Hedges, and a kid whose parents chose Number 16 Bus Shelter. Some rejected names included Fish and Chips, Yeah Detroit, and Sex Fruit.

Locally, when they grow up, Placenta and LaPenis won’t be very happy with their ill-educated crack mommies who delivered without thinking very hard. Or able to.

We’re sort of stuck with what our parents thought would be good, or clever, or currently-popular names. Or whatever popped into their minds at the moment. I knew a high school student 38 years ago named Durward; he said his father was watching the Garry Moore Show, a popular daytime program, and staff performer Durward Kirby happened to be on the screen when he was asked what the baby was to be named.

Television and movie stars leave their names behind them when young parents become too taken by these popular figures of today.

Could be worse. Can you imagine the Landis family naming their boy after Kennesaw Mountain? Or the Royster parents choosing Vermont Connecticut for their kid? One was baseball commissioner, the other a writer.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A New Hieroglyph

My favorite Egyptian symbol, or hieroglyph, is the bird. I don’t know why; it just looks neat standing there thinking about whatever, with its tail sticking out like the back of Groucho Marx’s coat. You know, of course, you can catch a bird by putting salt on its tail and that’s what I think of every time I see that glyph. There should be another one behind it of an Egyptian with a salt shaker creeping up behind the bird.

Anyway, I was coming back from church on Saturday afternoon when I noticed a new symbol lit up on my dashboard. Square, with two projecting points on top, labeled either "+" or "-".

“Strange,” I thought. “Never seen that one before. Seatbelt reminder, ABS, other things; but not this new and unusual figure. It looks like a battery and I’m 15 minutes from home. That’s not good; more than that, it’s bad.”

I did get back safely, but that evening I found that I could listen to the radio and use the air conditioning or turn on the headlights, but not all three. Radio and air, or lights. Lights or radio/air. When I brought the car across the bridge to our service station, I noticed the speedometer take a dive as the radio cut out. You can coast with an automatic transmission under 35mph, but the engine still worked and I only had two hundred feet to go, so all went well and I made it safely.

Now I’m waiting to see how my ’98 Cavalier is doing.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

You, Too, Can Be A Billionaire

I’ve been receiving e-mails from various people in Nigeria who need money, and lots of it, transferred to the United States for other various people in Nigeria who are in various kinds of trouble. They have found me, a trusted person, to take care of this and, for my efforts, receive a bundle of these honest-to-goodness honestly earned dollars.

How they learned about me is a mystery, but I’m just so honored to find out I am on some sort of “this guy is trustworthy” list.

Zimbabwe's troubled central bank introduced $100 billion banknotes Saturday in a desperate bid to ease the recurrent cash shortages plaguing the inflation-ravaged economy. As high as they are, though, the bills still aren't enough to buy a loaf of bread. They can buy only four oranges. The new note is equal to just one U.S. dollar.

Just checking, folks, but I noticed on first glance that I have $700 billion gathering dust in my wallet. That is scary.

In a few minutes (just after midnight, going into Sunday), I have to walk over to the newspaper and pick up the Sunday edition. I’m doing this with Seven Hundred Billion Dollars in my pocket. If I stop to bend over and pick up a penny, there’s another billion dollars right there. Why do I book all those cheap cabins on the cruise ships when I can afford the absolute best? Why, I ask?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I Knew A Guy With Three Balls

Pawnshops have been in the news lately, mostly due to people stealing and trying to use the shops as “fences” for what they lifted from homes. The shop owners, for their part, should be identifying every customer and every item, then holding it for something like five days in case there is a police report filed. Keeps everything on the up & up.

There was this cluttered pawn shop I used to patronize in Bridgeport CT when I was in high school. It was right across the street from the bus stop and had just everything you would want. I loved the place.

It had the pawnshop symbol hanging over the door, the three golden balls. Ask around and you will find different theories as to what they mean. “Two to one you won’t get it back” was one of the first I heard.

A more reasonable explanation, and one which consistently showed up in my research, concerns the Medici family. You can’t spell “medicine” without “medici” and, in fact, they had a whole bunch of physicians along the line, each generation hanging its shingle in Florence, Italy.

Supposedly, these equally gifted moneylenders had, in their coat of arms, three gilded pills. It didn’t take long before the three pills also became the symbol of their trade as pawnbrokers. Or, at least, that’s what they tell me. They (the Internet) told me a lot of things, but this one seemed better than most.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Up In The East, Down In The West

I had someone from Africa staying with me for a couple of years. One fall day, I noticed him looking with some alarm at the setting sun.

“The sun is near the south, setting early,” he said.

“Yeah; we’re heading toward winter. Sets earlier in the winter and more toward the south, later in the summer and more toward the north. What’s new about that?”

“Where I live,” he replied, “we are right on the equator. The sun comes up at six in the morning and sets at six at night. It is dark immediately. It always comes up in the east and sets in the west, without any changes.”

I told him things would be ok; it was not the end of the world. In North America, as far up as we are, the 42nd parallel, it’s a lot different than when you are at the zero point. When you get up even further, above 66.5 degrees north latitude, the sun never sets in the summer, never rises in the winter. Been there; seen it.

I’ve been as far south as 18 degrees north latitude, as far north as 67. I’ve been below sea level and 42,000 feet above it, as well as having sailed over the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean with 24,000 feet of water under me.

But I’ve never had the sun rise and set in the same spot all year.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The FBI, The Bible And The Watermelon

Item --
An Indianapolis woman believes a higher power helped her and her two young great-granddaughters survive a shooting this week. Police later showed Charlotte Thompson the path the bullet took through her car. She now believes that path was guided by God. “Came through the door, hit Shyann, then it went to the Bible,” she said. The Bible was sitting on the seat between the two girls. “It went in here and come out here and it shredded my Sunday School book. The word of God slowed the bullet so that it didn’t kill anybody.” A watermelon Jaelyn was holding in her lap eventually stopped the bullet. “Right in the watermelon. Didn’t come out of the watermelon,” Thompson said. “The word of God and the Lord’s power saved. He sent the bullet into the watermelon.”

Item --
Only one of the nearly 2,000 guests who attended the FBI's 100th birthday party Thursday was alive when a handful of investigators formed what was to become the world's premier law enforcement agency. "I'm older than the FBI," said 101-year old Walter Walsh, who fought the mob as an FBI agent in the 1930s and '40s. The FBI says Walsh is its oldest living former special agent. Walsh is among the thousands of special agents who contributed to the investigations and arrests upon which the FBI legend was built. Walsh personally arrested Doc Barker, son of the infamous gangster Ma Barker. Walsh was wounded in the 1937 shootout that killed Al Brady, then the nation's most wanted criminal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Three Days Of 90+ Temps

That’s the definition of a heat wave. The official definition, at any rate; the unofficial is when everybody starts talking about how hot it is.

“Hotter’n hell.” (I really doubt that, although someone claims to have learned, in a vision or something, that if a single spark were to escape from hell and land in the middle of a frozen lake, it would immediately vaporize from the heat. You’ve been warned.)

Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. That’s been done from time to time and reminds me of the old “egg” drug message: “This is your brain; this is your brain on the sidewalk with a side of flapjacks and bacon.” Well, maybe not quite that way.

Of course, people also say it’s “cold as hell,” which doesn’t make much sense. The last time I read any of the holy books, hell was described as a place of rather high temps. “Weather tomorrow is intensely hot and you won’t care about the humidity; tomorrow night, continued horribly hot, and continuing forever without end. Temperatures will be in the high thousands and we recommend sunscreen with an spf of at least a million.”

We're having a heat wave,
A tropical heat wave,
The temperature's rising,
It isn't surprising,
She certainly can can-can.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'm Not Into Baseball, But...

…it’s too bad they can’t keep Yankee Stadium just as it is. The All-Star Game is on as I write this and every so often there is a shot of the famous façade that kept a player, years ago, from knocking one out of the park. Nobody’s ever done it and, possibly, nobody ever will – and there are only thirty-some game left at the field for someone to try.

The new stadium will be bigger and, probably, better in some ways. But B&B doesn’t take the place of stories, history, bad spots and atmosphere. Saints preserve us from the perfect ball field. Saints and angels preserve us from a league of identical ball fields. May it never happen.

Across the Brooklyn Bridge, the Dodgers Sym-Phony showed up in the New York Times last year. I just ran across the article this week.

“The first year, Dodgers management did not want us in the ballpark,” 85-year-old Danny Wilson said. He is one of two original surviving members of the Sym-Phony. “They felt we were a nuisance, but the players and the fans loved us, so we had to sneak into the ballpark. One guy paid the admission fee and lowered a rope over the side of the stadium, and we tied our instruments to the top and had them hoisted up. Then we ran into the stands and started playing.”

They serenaded the umpire with “Three Blind Mice,” for instance. “The Sym-phony was one of the things people loved about Ebbetts Field,” Jackie Robinson’s widow said.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Right Turn Signal

We have a few intersections in Our Fair City where there are two sets of lights. One set, in the normal location, is the regular red, yellow, green combination with, perhaps, a left-turn green arrow included for the deserving. Not hard to figure out; grammar school education will suffice, maybe just a few driving lessons.

Off to the right, on the pole holding our “stop, go, go faster” signals, is another set under a sign stating: “Right Turn Signal.”

Seems simple enough to this set of gray-matter cells. Light’s red, you stop. Light turns (or is) green, you make the turn. Life could not get any easier.

Except around here it appears to be if the light is green, you make the turn; if it’s red, you glance to your left to make sure you don’t get someone’s radiator in your lap and then make the turn.

At intersections where you get “Right Turn Signal” plus “No Turn On Red,” it’s pretty much the same deal, although a few drivers will stop.

Red is red, till it means green. / When told to stop / It’s in-between. / We make our turn / like it’s no stop / still worried there might be a cop.

I’m waiting for someone to get nailed.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


(I gave a quick “be right back” note here and received a reply before I even posted this blog. Not bad, readers!)

I came back to the college the other morning and noticed how many of the old buildings around our neighborhood are made of bricks. New buildings, as well. Houses, some storage and work places, businesses – you name it, there are bricks keeping it together.

How many? Not in a building, but in the world?

A billion would seem to be a small number, as it is only a thousand piles of a million bricks. A trillion would be a thousand piles of a billion bricks: quite a lot, but still you wonder if that would come close to what we’ve used over the years.

It’s not as if there is only one brick factory and it has a “McDonald’s” sign out front: “50 Trillion Sold,” or something like that. Maybe nobody can come up with any sort of estimate. If I asked around, would anybody come up with a guess? Or would they wait until I turned away and then make circling motions with their index finger around an ear?

This is not the sort of thing that keeps me up nights; I save that for the larger elements of my life. But since I am curious about everything, it’s just something to wonder about.

Heaven. Tom: “How many bricks existed?” God: “Huh?”

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Hours Aren't All That Bad

While I was filling the fountain/birdbath and cleaning the pump inside it, I got to thinking about the birds and the bees and the animals that roam the area around here.

We work 40-hour weeks, maybe 36-hour weeks, drive home, have supper, watch tv and sleep. Those are not bad hours. Maybe we have other things to do, but still, the work hours are not oppressive.

The birds and the bees and the animals that roam the area around here don’t have that luck; they are always on the lookout for, in the case of robins, worms; in the case of bears, berries. It’s work that never stops. No tv, no sitting around, no going out for a beer. They don’t get Saturdays and Sundays off, nor are there any long weekends.

I’ve never seen any of God’s good creation back their bags for a two-week vacation; they never head off for the shore or the mountains; none of them have a time share down south. The only time I’ve seen flies on a cruise ship, they were buzzing around someone’s half-empty plate on the back deck trying to grab a meal.

They don’t put out the garbage because there isn’t any. You go into the woods and it’s clean; what one species doesn’t need is valuable to another; if it sits there and rots, some little bugs will find it just right for whatever they do with it.

We’re pretty lucky creatures.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Questions & Answers I Think Of

What does a light switch do?
Turns the dark off, or the dark on.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Depends on which is smoking a cigarette.

Can cops really exchange gunfire with robbers?
Only if they keep their receipts.

Why do they nail caskets shut?
So doctors can’t try one more procedure.

How did cell phones get their name?
If you use one in your car, that’s where you end up.

How many mice does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

What’s the best way to get a person to stop wanting sex all the time?

That’s it for today, folks; thanks for all your questions.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Googolplex, More Or Less

Has nothing to do with a search engine, just so there’s no misunderstanding right at the start. You see, there is a number with the name “googol,” which shows up as a “1” with a hundred zeros behind it. A “googolplex” is a one with a googol of zeros behind it.

One googol is presumed to be greater than the number of elementary particles in the observable universe. Therefore a list of the state of every particle at every measurable unit of time since the Big Bang would have nowhere near a googolplex entries.

Since a googolplex is one followed by a googol zeroes, it would not be possible to write down or store a googolplex in decimal notation, even if all the matter in the known universe were converted into paper and ink or disk drives. Indeed, if you had an unlimited supply of ink and paper, you would need around 10 to the power of 20 universes to fully write it down.

Thinking of this another way, consider printing the digits of a googolplex in unreadable, one-point font. (Newspapers are usually 9-point.) The distance to write the digits would be about 4.7 × 10 to the power of 69 times the diameter of the known universe. The time it would take to write such a number also renders the task implausible: if a person can write two digits per second, it would take around 1.1 × 10 to the power of 82 times the age of the universe to write down a googolplex.

(This information is from Wikipedia and looks reliable.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

According To My Calendar

Between my clock and my calendar, I get these readings: It’s 1:32 on the morning of Thursday, July 10 in the year of Our Lord 2008. That’s nice; most of the world agrees on the time standard we use and the calendar is pretty much set.

It’s this “2008” business that causes a few problems, depending on your culture, your religion or your job. I think it’s nice to start the calendar running from the date of the person we recognize as our God and Saviour, especially since it’s our G&S. How would we feel if it were, say, from Confucius or Mohammed or some jungle god?

Astronomers may not prefer our choice of start dates. I doubt they have calendars hanging on the walls that say, “Thursday, July 10, in the year of 13,700,000,000. That’s when it all began: before Jesus, before Confucius, Mohammed and all the others. But it’s also an unsure date, as it’s probably off a few million years one way or the other.

I guess every so often we start over. Someone gets into office, some religious leader comes along and it’s, “Hey, let’s start a new calendar!”

What do people on other planets in other solar systems, in other galaxies, do? Maybe I’ll make it a point to find out when I have left this planet for whatever it is that awaits us. Maybe there’s a huge table with sample calendars from all over, so we can see how they did it elsewhere in the universe. It’s a cinch all those cultures in had their own ways and I’d love to see them.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The New Kitty

I’ve been busy the last few days taking care of Sitka, our new kitty, who lives with my friend (well, actually our non-adopted adopted family member) about 15 minutes away from here. She, or we, had another kitty, who was taken from us by a sudden stroke six months ago at about ten years old.

“Sitka” is an Alaskan name, after an island town in the Southeast part of the state. The previous Think You Own Me was named for the village of Kenai, on the same-named peninsula at the bottom of the state.

This one seems to have a shoe fetish. I take mine off when I enter the house; then Sitka enters the shoes. Eventually, he will be too big to stick his head all the way in, but right now, he seems to get some real pleasure out of them.

He’s also at the “still want to be held” stage. Or maybe it’s not a stage; maybe he finds us comfortable arms to be in. I do know that if he’s lying there and I stretch out the main arm he’s on, he just stays put without a bit of worry that I might drop him or he might fall. A very trusting kitty is Sitka.

He’s not very independent as yet. I like cats for that reason; dogs are all over you, licking and sniffing, while cats barely turn around to see who just came in.

We will just have to train him to ignore us and be a proper cat.

Monday, July 07, 2008

They Stocked 16,500 WHAT?

Call them rubbers, raincoats, Trojans or condoms … they’re cheaper than diapers. But in the rigorous scientific setting of Antarctica, do you really need to be afraid of mommyhood or daddyhood?

Here on Earth, the closest analog to long-term isolation of groups in space is the South Pole, where about 200 researchers live year-round. Last month, before six months of winter darkness descended over Antarctica's McMurdo Station, the research base received a delivery of about 16,500 condoms.

Holy Barnyard Term! That’s maybe 110 home runs for every guy on base, even more if you figure some of them will not be unfaithful to their wives and honor their marriage vows. Or, to quote Jason Kring, of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida:

"There's an unspoken behavior there [at the polar base] where you take a spouse for the time you're there — you have an exclusive relationship with someone," Kring said. "It's understood that when you leave, that relationship is over."

I wonder what the wives (and husbands of the female scientists) think of all this? You have to feel betrayed, no matter what your spouse says. Can you really agree that your wife can get laid during her tour of duty, that your husband can have a “wife with privileges” and it’s over when it’s over? Someone should do a study: “16,500 Strains On A Marriage: Serving In Antarctica.”

Sunday, July 06, 2008

I Can't Figure, For The Life Of Me

What difference 1/10th of a cent makes, and how we explain this to people from other countries. I mean, we are thinking of rounding off prices to the nearest nickel, and my favorite restaurant already does it, but gasoline is $4.04 9/10 per gallon. Just say $4.05 and get it over with. We’re all adults; we can add.

Does anyone really need to eat 66 hot dogs? I can get down two, maybe three if I haven’t had anything in, say, the last day or so. But 66 to win a contest (or 63, if you are in second place) is an awful lot. I hope people in Haiti aren’t watching on the village’s one tv. One hot dog a day would make some people real happy in many countries.

Lewis Black. Funny guy, excellent commentator on all things current. Thinks he can’t get through two or three sentences without using a particularly foul word that begins with “f.” I watched him one night and noticed that he’s no more funny using that word, and would not be any less funny without it. I listen to a lot of people talk and find they can get their point across just as well using proper-in-church language.

“We’re sorry, but all our agents are busy at this time; please stand by for the next available agent.” If you are that busy, then you must be prospering well enough to hire another agent or two so I don’t have to listen to what you think passes as music, along with the recorded sales pitches in between.

Do they expect us to believe those “800” ads are for things that work?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

It Was The Best Traffic Tie-Up

West North Street, going east, usually is an easy drive; seldom is heard a discouraging word, even during rush hour. This was early on a Saturday morning, when you can play marbles between the yellow lane markers. “That’s odd,” I said, in an even voice, “something big must be going on, perhaps a horrible multi-car traffic accident with multitudinous cars of cops, fire engines galore, ambulances and media photographers drooling at the mouth.

A wedding. At the stone church, whose population is about 50, most of whom are on walkers and use oxygen tanks, the rest remember President Johnson – the one who succeeded the assassinated president, Lincoln.

I doubt the wedding actually took place there; most likely they chose that spot as one of several for stunning photo locations. Another was on the diagonal stone staircase of a local lawyers’ offices (splitsville already??) with trees in the background. In front of the church was their royal carriage, pulled by two white horses and driven by a man in full livery. No wonder traffic was tied up; everyone slowed down, or stopped, to take all this in.

It looked a little bit like the marriage of Princess Diana and what’s-his-name, without the “what am I ever getting myself into” look someone captured in a photograph of her at the time. What was his name, anyway? Ah, yes: Prince Philip, already dreaming of what’s-her-name and how he can slip out of the palace tonight.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Right To Arm Bears

I was driving up Route 11 (“The Avenue”) in Kingston this afternoon, thinking of what it must have been like when the road was first put in. “Heck, what was it like when there was nothing here but trees? Before the hand of man first set foot in the Wyoming Valley? Even the hand of Indian?”

I imagined the roads not there, the stores not built, just whatever: trees, grassland maybe, deer and antelope play, where never is heard a discouraging word and the sky is not cloudy all day.

Deer, maybe; no antelope here. Bears, yes, and they still come into both Kingston and Wilkes-Barre occasionally, as do the deer. I saw one across the street last year by the prayer grotto, no doubt begging the statues that it could get back home without being hit by a car. We have 60,000 road kill deer a year and this one didn’t want to be part of it.

So, in my imagination, I’m on the West Side and there are no roads or stores. Just deer, bear and other four-legged creatures. And no-legged creatures, which I can do without. We pride ourselves as being at the top of the food chain, but when there is a hungry bear looking at you and it’s tying a napkin around its neck, you know the “top of the food chain” business is a lot of bunk.

Paving of flatlands and hillsides must be a great disappointment to kids who like to wander through them. It was to me.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Never Met A Temptation I Didn't Like

In Trumbull CT, as you head toward Bridgeport, there is an entrance ramp onto Rt.8 which is down and straight from where you are. A wonderful slope and just the most enticing temptation for me (and who knows how many more) to stick that accelerator down so far it’s coming around for the second time. When you enter the highway, you’ve got to be going, oh, 120mph, maybe faster. Given a good car, a Crown Vic or may be a Lamborghetti, you could hit it at 120 easily and maybe just as easily at 150 or better. Now that’s the way to enter a highway.

When I was a teen, I had all sorts of temptations regarding the neighborhood girls, none of which included bedding them down. But there were neat things I could have done and didn’t. Small village, uncool parents, too big into church.

I found out *very reliably* that someone at the college said some off the wall things about some people, very untrue and damaging. I’m tempted to tell him I heard all about it, but he’s retired and has a bad heart. I’d probably kill him in the telling. Not sure just how bad that would be . . . but there would be questions. You know how it is.

On a cruise ship message board, a person does mean things and hides behind her anonymity. I found out who it is: real name, address and phone. I’m tempted to ask, “What does [zip code] mean?” just to let her know she’s not as invisible as she thinks.

But they’re temptations because we shouldn’t do them and I won’t. Yet.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

All Will Remember the 2nd of July

America's independence was actually declared by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. The night of the second the Pennsylvania Evening Post published the statement: "This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States." So what happened on the Glorious Fourth? The document justifying the act of Congress was adopted on the fourth, as is indicated on the document itself.

When did Americans first celebrate independence? Congress waited until July 8, when Philadelphia threw a big party, including a parade and the firing of guns. The army under George Washington, then camped near New York City, heard the news July 9 and celebrated then. Georgia got the word August 10. And when did the British in London finally get wind of the declaration? August 30.

John Adams, writing a letter home to his beloved wife Abigail the day after independence was declared (July 3), predicted that from then on "the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival."

Most delegates signed the document on August 2, when a clean copy was finally produced. Several did not sign until later. The event was so uninspiring that nobody apparently bothered to write home about it.

(From George Mason University’s “History News Network.”)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Genuine Reality Show

I am listening to the music from what I think is on the top-10 list of “Best TV Documentaries”: Victory At Sea,” broadcast by NBC back when things like this were done and to **** with the ratings.

62,000 feet of war footage taken by military photographers and a superb score by Broadway and Hollywood composer Richard Rodgers, arranged and conducted by Robert Russell Bennett. You don’t get better than that.

The series was last broadcast on A&E (another network that has gone pretty much down the drain) a few years ago, and I never thought to tape it. I saw it either the first time around in 1952, or one of the repeat broadcasts in the early days. The program first ran on Sunday afternoons – not exactly prime time; that’s when you bury things. But when word got out through the press, the audience was huge and it won every major prize in television.

Maybe it’s time a broadcast network picked it up, to be surprised at how many people want something of this quality. You want a reality show? This is reality all right, on the front lines. Nothing scripted here, no stars dancing, no people singing on stage.

Twenty-six weeks of reality, backed with some of the finest, most expressive music you will hear (“The Song of the High Seas” is an almost visible, seasick-inducing trip in the South Pacific.) It’s still available on cd.