Saturday, August 30, 2008

Closed For Vacation

"Things At King's" is on vacation until September 13. The staff and management of this blog hope you will rejoin us at that time as we continue to ponder the mysteries of the universe.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Seven To Ten Days

Years ago, all color film was developed in one place: Kodak headquarters. At the drugstore, when someone brought in a roll of color film (“when” is the operative word here, as most film was b&w), we would say, “You should get it back in seven to ten days.”

The person who picked up the envelopes would send these to Kodak hq in Rochester NY and the processing was done there. Many years later, perhaps the late ‘60s, I had a friend who ran a photo shop in a small city. He sprung for a small color developer and did his own work – probably a few years behind the larger places. But even there, film did not have to take the long trip back and forth.

Film, for those of you in the younger set, was on a small reel with paper at each end. When you ran it out, you would remove it from the camera, lick the glued label and make the reel tight. Into the drugstore envelope it went and, days later (depending on color or b&w) it was back.

My grandfather had a Kodak 620 camera with large negative film. Made great photos, although you can do the same down with much smaller film. You opened up the camera and it had a bellows; there were settings for aperture, time and, I think, something else. It was a work of art and precision. I took many fine photos of it, including inside with no flash and outside into the sun. It’s in the hands of a trusted friend now, on long-term loan; a person who can appreciate an excellent product.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cow Thoughts

I lived on a farm for a while and got to wondering what the cows thought during all those hours when they’d be out in the field. You just don’t sit there without some ideas floating through your brain.

Unless a cow brain doesn’t process much beyond eating, pooping and passing large amounts of water. And occasionally ending up on the business end of a bull.

Naturally, they aren’t going to write The Great American Novel, but I sort of wish they’d do something with what’s between those horns. I guess not a chance.

Horses. Do you think they race with such determination because it gets around the stables that if they keep coming in last they will take that one-way trip to the glue factory? It’s got to be on their minds; they are no fools.

As for chickens, you have to wonder what’s up there between those beady eyes. No much, I’d say; I think they are made to scratch around the barnyard for feed and lay eggs, six per week.

Cats think; they think long and hard. But they never let you know what it’s about, nor will they deign to scribe those thoughts. Cats are, have been, will be and remain a mystery. In this, they delight. A cat gazing out the window is pondering the universe, become one with it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mad Dog Tree

We have this tree which appears to have a lean greater than the Tower of Pisa. It starts fairly well at ground level, but quickly starts heading toward the street. By the time your friendly neighborhood squirrel gets to the top, he is halfway across North Franklin Street and we hope the added stress doesn’t cause the tree to fall.

One of these days, we will have a storm with sustained high winds and a tree horizontal on the asphalt. We will most likely find that it is fairly hollow inside and looking forward to giving it up.

Two days ago, I noticed it seemed to be frothing at the mouth, if you consider frothing stuff coming out of a large hole way up on top. There are bees in there, a good many of them, and even a beekeeper could not locate the queen bee so they would all come out and not other any of the locals who, as it turns out, are allergic to bee stings.

What I thought was sap, but looks like a mad dog with a trunk and branches, is some sort of foam designed to take up the holes inside the tree and force the bees to find another home.

There are great globs of it on the street, not unlike magma that has spilled out from a volcano. Great off-white globs, as if some gigantic bird dropped piles of poop onto the street. The tree has turned into a tall glop dispenser in the world’s largest ice cream stand, needing only chocolate sauce and a cherry on top.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Things You Shouldn't Buy Used

I would not want to buy a used parachute. I’m sure a properly packed and inspected ‘chute on the used market will be just fine, but I think I’d have a funny feeling going up with one. Should anything go wrong and I’m trying to get it deployed, I’d be thinking, “For just a few dollars more, I could be celebrating my next birthday.”

A used car from a dealer near the pier in New London CT. I was there once and saw a sign that said, “Hey, Sailors! Cheap Cars!” Not sure if I’d want one of those.

Nor would I buy a used car that did not have a VIN plate in the front window.

Speaking of cars, I’d avoid the aisle that was stocked with “Used Oil.” Or “Used Fan Belts.” Or “Used Timing Chains.” Not good.

I think a used sex toy would also be out of the question.

If a single guy wanted to sell me some used women’s clothing, I might pass on that, as well. Unless I knew his sister was having a closet sale.

I would not want to buy a used black & white tv that’s full of tubes, has a rotary tuning knob and only gets channels 2-13.

Or a slightly-used tube of Preparation H.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Drilling For Oil Right Here In Town

ExxonMobil was outside my studio this morning doing exploratory drilling in hopes of tapping an as-yet-undiscovered oil field. Or, so it seemed. When I looked out the window, it was only a crew from Pennsylvania Gas and Water, an air compressor courtesy of Ingersoll-Rand, a jackhammer and three guys with hard hats and thick gloves.

“Dig we must, for a better New York,” was the slogan many years ago. Probably as a sop to the residents and drivers who were getting tired of the jackhammers and blocked roads. Roughly translated: “It’s for your own good.” Or, as the pavement might be saying, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

The dentists of the street, cutting out rot, performing utility root canals, with no Novocain for either asphalt or eardrums. Soon enough it will be over, the pain will end, the work done, the patching material laid down and all will be forgotten.

We have a pretty good cavity out on Union Street. It’s been patched in a rather sloppy manner, or manners, over time and there’s quite an open spot near the curb. That one requires some good DPW dental work before it spreads and needs six guys with hard hats and thick gloves, an air compressor and maybe two jackhammers.

I was thinking of having it stocked with, maybe, trout or some other sport fish. At least on rainy days; the rest of the time we could get old tires from the riverbank and stick them in the hole as a recycling project.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Lady From Haiti

We have a lady at my church, fairly new, who is fairly dark. Well, more than fairly. On occasion, she will have a young person with her and it’s never happened that we’ve been able to chat.

This Sunday, we did for a few minutes. She had a number of kids with her. “Three from Brooklyn and one from Toronto,” she said with an accent I couldn’t identify.

I mentioned this to an educated person in my circle of friends, including that she had once worn a shirt with the name of a local college.

“That place is hiring people from Haiti,” he said. “Brooklyn has a lot of people from Haiti, and so does Toronto. They have a lilting accent.”

That seems to make sense; when I get back from vacation, I’ll have to ask her. She is a friendly person who appears open to questions such as that. It might be interesting to hear about the children who visit her from New York and Ontario.

I’d also love to know what brought her here. The school where she, perhaps, works? Or is she an adult student, working days and going to college nights? I’ve been there, going to a community college around the corner from the radio station where I was working. I think they used to be called “junior colleges” in those days: the two-year places that got people like me launched.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Getting Serious About Packing

It’s getting late – only four real packing days to go and I’ve sort of started, but not with any real vengeance. (“Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.”) Ok, but the Lord is not packing; let’s settle for “not with any real determination. Is that ok with the Bible thumpers? Nothing heard, so I guess I’m safe.

There really isn’t much to pack for a 14-day cruise. The ship has a self-serve laundry right down the hall, so all I have to do is be selective as to what I bring with me. People have often said, “Half the clothes and twice the money.” I say, “Half the clothes, half the money and a good credit card will see you through most anything.”

Mom and I went through a lot of Alaska, including near-nameless places in the interior, as well as the Arctic, on little more than $100 in Travelers’ Checks and a credit card each. Even above the Arctic Circle, they honor Visa cards. No fools, they. Pipeline workers don’t run around with wallets full of the tender that is legal.

Necessities: Tickets, passport, credit card and some pictures of dead presidents. Should have: Clothes. “Should have?” Yeah; if you forget them, you can pick them up at any port. Nice things: Binoculars, reading material (although there is a well-stocked library on all the ships).

Gotta get a bus ticket, too, although the 4:00am out of Our Fair City should not be much of a problem. Also, an online ticket on Greyhound to Boston.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Watcha Doing This Weekend?

You don’t own a cat; you may have a cat in your house, you may feed it, brush it, flush its poop down the toilet, but you don’t own it. The cat owns itself.

My friend, who has a cat which owns itself, has been away for several days and I have the job of (industry-speak: I have been tasked with) taking care of the little one until such time as its owner ha-ha gets back.

Our little boy kitty is starting to approach what I think maybe the age at which it starts looking lustfully at little girl kitties. We’re not saying anything, but in a few weeks, it will have neither the equipment nor the desire to do much more than anything but frolic around the house, watch sports on tv (loves them) and sleep.

The church I belong to is pretty hung up on things sexual, whether done, thought of or planned. So I don’t know what the teaching is when it comes to keeping kitty from increasing, multiplying and filling the earth. Maybe there are exceptions for our four-legged friends. At any rate, this kitty isn’t about to multiply.

I’m going over now to take care of him. Ignore the time this post went up, as I put the title online at some odd time. It’s really 1:13 in the afternoon, a sunny day which will turn rainy later this evening. That will make no difference to me, but kitty will probably look out the window and wonder where all the water is coming from. They seem to do that a lot, whether it’s clouds or faucets.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Move-In Day

Move-In Day can be fairly horrible, as far as the new families see it. Cars, people and Necessary Things all over the place, with a side order of confusion and frustration.

Used to be. Ain’t no more.

Each year, we get closer to that perfection found only in heaven. (Slight digression here: Speaking of many people moving in at once, which you also see on embarkation day for cruise ships, I wonder how God handles the personal judgements when, let’s say, a large airplane hits the ground suddenly and everyone is killed at once? Is there a line? Do you take a number?)

We’ve gone from chaos to orchestrated confusion to a fairly smooth and orderly way of welcoming the new people and their families into a campus which has practically no room for all these cars to park, unload and move in.

Next thing you know, we’ll have valet parking, “coffee and”, plus students bringing their Necessary Things up to the dorm rooms. Hmmm… I think we have almost valet parking, or the next best thing; students do help with the goods; for all I know, there may be some sort of legal stimulant in the lobby. Have to check that one out and make a suggestion, if it’s not done already.

At least the new people don’t have to wear beanies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Five Seven Zero On The Maasdam

My cabin assignment arrived for next week’s cruise on the Maasdam. It didn’t arrive so much as I went online to my reservation and found it listed, after another passenger told me his had shown up.

Both of us booked “Guarantee,” which pretty much means we get what we get and we’ll find out somewhere between two weeks out and at the pier. I have learned my cabin assignment at the pier, which is like having a baby and not knowing its gender until it comes out. This time, it’s ten days away, a typical time.

I’m near the self-serve laundry and not far from the elevators; that’s a plus. One deck up is the wrap-around Lower Promenade Deck; a nice place to wander, especially at night when we kick up a little spray. You can’t beat being on the Lower Prom at night when there are shore lights, passing ships and the moonlight.

The two decks above that are where all the action is (shops, theaters, dining rooms, library, Internet café). Next two decks are the rich people, followed by the Lido buffet and restaurant; that’s where I hang out a lot, reading with my endless cup of tea, and pondering the mysteries of the universe. Falling asleep, too.

Next deck up is the roof of the ship, mostly a running deck and above that, in front, is the Sky Deck. I lie down on a deck chair at night and look straight up at the stars above me; when I wake, I head to the Lido for some tea.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What About The Class Of 2012?

For the new class of 2012, born in 1990:

GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available.
Coke and Pepsi have always used recycled plastic bottles.
Gas stations have never fixed flats.
Electronic filing of tax returns has always been an option.
WWW has never stood for World Wide Wrestling.
Films have never been X-rated; only NC-17.
Clarence Thomas has always been on the Supreme Court.
Wayne Newton has never had a mustache.
IBM has never made typewriters.
The Tonight Show has always been hosted by Jay Leno.
Caller ID has always been available on phones.
Living wills have always been asked for at hospital check-ins.
They never heard an attendant ask "Want me to check under the hood?"
Moscow residents have always been able to buy Big Macs.
The Hubble Space Telescope has always been eavesdropping on the heavens.
Authorities have always been building a wall across the Mexican border.

Thanks to Beloit (Wisconsin) College’s annual Mindset List. “It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college,” according to the site’s page. And makes us feel old, as well.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kitty Loves Sports On TV

Our new kitty is named for Sitka, an island in the southeastern part of Alaska, generally referred to as part of the Inside Passage. He is fairly young and the runt of the litter, as was the last cat – also named for a small town and peninsula in lower Alaska, Kenai.

“Our” has a custody meaning to it. Sitka Kitty isn’t really mine, but someone has to take care of him when his owner is away. Until such time as cats learn how to operate can openers, we are their indispensable friends; when that happens, all bets are off.

Russia can invade its former satellite Georgia; the current administration can go down in flames and corruption. Kitty cares not. But let the news anchor introduce the sports guy and Sitka sits down right in front of the tv, watching every move.

The Olympics coverage has been unending orgiastic pleasure for this furball and the flame itself drives him crazy. Swimming has gone over well, but the track meets are especially his favorites. He has occasionally jumped up to grab at the racers and even the pole vaulters are lucky he can’t reach through the screen at them.

Maybe that goes with being a guy; I don’t know. I am, and have not the slightest interest in sports. Sitka is and can’t tear himself away from the tv whenever there are two or more people in competition.

He’d be worn out if his prime house had ESPN.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Writer's Block

Never had it, for which I am grateful. Let me say, right up front, that I take no credit for being free from that worst of illnesses; I have a newspaper column due today and this could be the time I strike out.

It has to be a terrible thing to be sitting there looking at a blank sheet of paper (or virtual paper on your screen), with a deadline hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles.

We digress here: Dionysius overheard the young man Damocles envying his good fortune. "Very well," said the ruler. "If you think my position is so enviable, you may change places with me for a day." As Damocles sat feasting in the palace, he happened to glance upward and was horrified to see a sharp sword hanging above him by a single thread. Dionysius said, "I came to power by violence, and I have many enemies. My life is in as much danger as yours is at this moment." To feel that the sword of Damocles is hanging over you is to have a sense of anxiety, of impending doom.

I was just reading an obituary in the NY Times about Bill Bonanno, the #2 member of his family’s crime operation, who was always just one bullet away from The Judgement Seat, not a very good place to be when you have been, well, the #2 member of a crime family. That’s the ultimate sword of Damocles.

He got three columns; no writer’s block there.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Science News, one of several scientific magazines that arrives in my humble digs regularly, mentioned the loneliness of the number “one.”

One car on a long, monotonous and deserted highway out west. One person at what was going to be a large reception. One person staying after school, alone in the otherwise vacant building.

You can take away one or more people/items from a larger quantity and there isn’t much difference. But if there is only one to begin with and that disappears, there is not only nothing left, but it doesn’t even have a memory of itself. “One” is the barest of existence, very nearly nothingness, which is what will be should anything happen to it.

We are social people; that’s how we were created. So much so, that a recluse is somewhat of an unusual person. People who are crabby and want nobody around them are pitied. The Shirley Temple movies were full of cranks like that, people she eventually melted by the end of the last reel.

We pair off, guy and gal; sometimes two guys or two gals (statement of fact, which I won’t get into here). It takes two of us to make a third; it takes two of us just to tango, for that matter, and Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar didn’t write “Tea For Two” because “Tea For One” didn’t fit any rhyme pattern later in the song. I don’t mind being alone – for a while. Then where is everyone?

Friday, August 15, 2008

That Old House

Lady next door never could bring herself to admit she had a hearing problem. You could hear her television out on the street and she was always complaining that people talk too softly. She has a problem? No; other people have problems, but not her.

Her house was not in the best of shape, either. As far as I know, the roof didn’t leak, but I don’t think you could balance a coin on any part of any floor. The place was being held up by the good graces of whoever takes charge and looks out for old widows.

She’s gone now and, on Monday, her house joins her. The main implement of residential euthanasia was unloaded Friday afternoon and sits there in her driveway like some prehistoric creature waiting for its prey to come out from behind a bush.

Actually, in front of its scoop is a garbage can and lid, looking for all the world like the famous scene in Tiananmen Square. “No,” her garbage can says, “you are not going to take down this old house. As it was written: ‘Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag, she said.’

“Flatten, if you must, this old gray bin,
But this widder’s house we oughter win.”

Resistance, by Chinese student or dented garbage can, will ultimately prove futile. (By the way, I prefer “few-tile” to the more common “few-till.” The latter just doesn’t have any class.) More on Monday.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I saw quite a lightning blast this evening. It seemed to be a double shot, actually, but I was driving and wanted to watch where I was going and let the lightning watch where it was going.

Anyway, there I was on Route 11, coming around a bend with the mountains in clear view and this really thick bolt came out of the clouds and ZOT! something got creamed. Right after it, far less than a second, was another bolt in the same area.

The gods were angry with the people who lived on Penobscot Knob. A double play to pick off Sinner 1 and Sinner 2.

Or maybe it was just a couple bolts of lightning hitting something like a tree that would complete the path to ground. The gods get blamed for so much and neither they nor the One True God really get that much involved in exactly where lightning strikes on a certain planet revolving around a certain star in a certain galaxy. There are so many of each and what’s another electrical discharge among friends?

I’ve been twenty feet horizontal and two hundred feet vertical away from a lightning strike. Close enough to hear the spitting hiss. You don’t forget that sound very easily; it is a reminder of just how close you came to being a statistic and having your name in the newspaper along with the day and time of services. I’ve been in the eye of a hurricane, but I don’t want to be in the way of lightning.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Heck Of A Lot

The way I figure it, there being approx 300 billion stars in the average galaxy (some more, some less) and there also being approx 300 billion galaxies (an estimate; there could be lots more, as astronomers just discovered two million they hadn’t noticed before), there are approx 90 quintillion stars.

That’s 9 with nineteen zeros behind it. That’s a big number, as you generally don’t have 90 quintillion of anything around the house or in the garage.

The universe is unimaginably large; we don’t even have a word to describe how big it is, so we go with “unimaginably large.” That’s like saying “there’s some water in the oceans,” or, “there’s some sand in the desert.”

We're in a galaxy we've named the Milky Way, only because when we look through the middle of it, we see a while band across the sky like spilled milk. I don’t know if other people elsewhere in our galaxy have their own names for it, or if those elsewhere call us by some name (we have done such with the Andromeda Galaxy, some two million light-years away).

So here we are, walking around the outside of a spinning planet that revolves around a star. We are not alone; we can’t be. Of those 90 quintillion stars, many must have planets which support intelligent life of one sort or another. Someday, somewhere, I’d like to meet those people. I’m sure I will.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Numbers From The Far East

From an article in Sunday’s New York Times magazine section, “Beijing by the Numbers.”

$40 billion: Amount spent on stadiums and infrastructure ahead of the Olympics.

14,901 residents relocated to make way for Olympic venues, according to a Beijing municipal official. Or: 1,500,000 residents evicted, according to a human-rights group.

2,008: Bus shelters with ads for Coke, the official soft drink.

4,104 Chinese children given the name “Aoyun” (Olympic Games).

12,777: Population of Tuvalu, the Olympics’ smallest nation. OR: 1.3 billion: Population of China, the largest.

300,000 high-tech public surveillance cameras in Beijing during the Games.

6: Types of foreigners prohibited from visiting Beijing during the Games. This includes those suffering from mental disorders or insanity.

4,500 drug tests that will be conducted.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Every Four Years

The Olympiad, as I suspected, does not mean the games which are now in progress. It’s the four year period between the games. We are in the (whatever number of years) Olympiad, which starts with the games and continues until the next games four years from now. It’s a good excuse to keep celebrating.

Speaking of which, the fireworks you saw at the start, the “footprints” in the sky, were fake. All computer-generated for the tv audience. There were real fireworks for the people in Beijing, but the People In Charge felt it would be too difficult, if not downright dangerous, to televise from a helicopter, so they spent the better part of a year making the computer program which included a bit of Beijing smog. Fooled ya.

Everybody marked into the stadium dressed in rather snappy fashion. Far as I know, there were no uniforms the first time around, many centuries ago. There wasn’t much of anything. In fact, there wasn’t anything; the guys (no gals allowed back then) were as bare as the day they were born. If they had tv, the FCC would have been fining stations for showing stuff we all have seen in the mirror.

We praise and spread palm leaves ahead of those who win gold medals, but those who return with nothing more than memories soon fade from ours. We have no room for those to whom we say, “Nice try.” I hope, at least, they keep all the clippings and photos, to show their children and grandchildren; “I was in the Olympics! I represented our country in this greatest of contests!”

Sunday, August 10, 2008

East Of The Sun, And West Of The Moon

Everybody is east and west, north and south, of everybody else. Unless you live at the North and/or South Poles. Then everybody is only south of you or north of you; there is no east or west. There are no East or West Poles, either, and there aren’t going to be.

Who lies on the east/west line with Wilkes-Barre? Beijing does, same as Istanbul, Turkey, and Madrid, Spain. Naples and the heel of Italy are there, as well as Greece’s Agean Sea. We just touch the southern tip of Mongolia; didn’t realize that, did you?

Not too many islands in that part of the Pacific, but our straight line around the world does bring us above Reno and right through Salt Lake City (now those are opposites!), but landfall closer to Eureka, California. Continuing on, we pass a little above Denver, right through Akron and home to The Valley.

We are south of Ottawa and not much else, unless you count the very western tip of Greenland.

But what’s south of us? Quite a collection, including two major oceans: The Atlantic and Pacific, in one straight line. We leave the States somewhere around Virginia Beach, then tip our hat to Christopher Columbus when we cross San Salvador, thumb our nose at Fidel Castro when we pass Gitmo, keep our hands in our pockets when we go through the drug capital of Medillin, Columbia, drop down the east edge of Ecuador, continue somewhat east of Lima, Peru, then out into the Pacific until we hit Antarctica.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Digging A Hole To China

They always said (whoever “they” might have been) that if you dig a hole deep enough, you would come out in China. There was even a car commercial recently that showed a vehicle dropping through the center of the earth and eventually ending up on a street populated by Asians, presumably Chinese.

According to my trusty globe, the auto would have been dropped from Santiago, Chile, if they wanted it to land in downtown Beijing. You just can’t get there from here, but you can from there. (Note to Old Timers: Remember when it was Peking? Remember when it was Peiping?)

Ok, so where do you see daylight when you take your little beach shovel and pail, start digging and don’t stop until you get to The Other Side?

Probably water. But you may be close enough to land, maybe some small island way off southwestern Australia. Start rowing northeast and hope the winds are with you.

When I was really young, China seemed to be the farthest place there was, the other side of the world. As much as I liked reading my grandfather’s atlas, I never really realized where the other side of the planet was. Maybe I should have asked him; he was a very intelligent, if self-educated, person and I’m sure he would have put his pipe aside, taken out his steel measuring stick and figured out, fairly exactly, where we would have come up if we could dig our way through.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Paddy Power, You Bet

Paddy Power, Ireland’s largest bookmaker, is legal and unlike our bookies over here, a publicly quoted company on the Irish and UK stock exchanges. Its job, aside from making money without fear of being raided by the cops, is to make what they call ‘risk-based’ entertainment “more accessible and fun.” It lists bets on almost everything, including some quirky novelty bets. In 2002 and again in 2005, Paddy Power hit the headlines for offering betting on who would replace Pope John Paul II.

Now the odds are listed for the Papa after Benedict XVI, sometimes referred to as B16. The leader is Cardinal Angelo Scola at 6 to 1. Coming in last is Bono, 1000-1.

Where will be next Olympics be held? Gentlemen and ladies, place your bets. Chicago is a 10-11 favorite, with Tokyo right behind at 9-4, Rio at 4-1 and Madrid at 7-1.

For U.S. President, it’s Sen. Obama at 2-5, Senator McCain at 7-4 and Paris Hilton at 1000-1. (You have to admit she did a good “fake” campaign ad.)

Want to bet who will be in the Super Bowl? Check with Paddy Power to see who is betting on which team. Patriots 3-1; Chargers, Colts and Cowboys all at 8-1; Dolphins 125-1; Falcons 150-1. Not much confidence in those last two.

So that’s our look at the biggest gambling site online or by phone. I’m not a gambling person, not even a church raffle, so I’ll pass on this.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

They Earned Their Wings Already?

Somehow, during a conversation, the “Jeopardy!” theme came up. I mentioned how Merv Griffin gets paid a royalty fee if it’s played for longer than thirty seconds. My friend said, “His estate gets paid.” I was surprised and replied, “I think he’s still alive.” So I went to “” to check. Pushing daisies.

In the last six months:

Bozo the Clown. Well, not the original Bozo, but Larry Harmon who was the best-known and the person we will always remember as The Clown.

Dody Goodman. I think she was on Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show,” which will let you know about how old she was. A gentleman never tells.

Cyd Charisse. Our younger readers will not know this dancer. Our older readers will not know Tula Ellice Finklea, her birth name.

Bo Diddley, early r&r performer with the square guitar and inventor of the “shave and a haircut” beat. This blog site has something on him., if you will look back at the entry for June 2 and comments made by readers that day.

Harvey Korman, second banana forever, best known for his work on the Carol Burnett Show. Great skit artist.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Birth Control Glasses

I had heard of the phrase “Birth Control Glasses” some time back and knew it meant some sort of dorky frames that made you look equally dorky. Then, while researching for my Sunday music column, I ran across it again, this time referring to the glasses worn by the pianists Ferrante and Teicher (the latter, a local native, just passed away).

Turns out it originated with low-cost, durable glasses issued by the military; those of the Air Force being thick, black horned-rimmed frames described as so ugly “they make the person wearing them equally unappealing to the opposite sex, so there is virtually no danger of the person impregnating or getting impregnated,” as someone said.

The Navy’s explanation for the name is, “it would be impossible to get a date while wearing these glasses.”

“Think Drew Carey, but worse,” one person joked. Another called them “Clark Kents.” In civilian life, it’s said they are for those nights that you want to absolutely ensure that you will sleep alone.

This is, of course, not to be confused with a “birth control haircut,” says the Urban Dictionary. “When a person has a haircut so bad, no one will want to have sex with them, hence it makes good birth control.”

And those are two methods we know the Church will approve.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Family Store

Fowler, Dick & Walker, “The Boston Store,” as it was known for many years here in Wilkes-Barre. Later, a retailer named Al Boscov bought it and, although he retained “The Boston Store” on the side of the building, it quickly became known simply as “Boscov’s” and we learned it was part of a family-owned chain of, oh, a few stores based down the line in Reading PA.

Things have been hard on retailers and Boscov’s chain just had to seek protection while it arranged its finances and such, planning to come out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in six months. Most of us were unaware that it had grown to be the largest family-owned chain of retail stores in the country, with 19 outlets, ten of which will be closed.

Not ours, luckily. It’s been the anchor of downtown through times good and back, thick and thin, bull market and bear. In the not-so-distant past, it was rumored, the store was either at zero profit or actually losing money, but Al Boscov realized its value to the city’s well-being and hung in there hoping for the best. He’s always been very involved in what have been the city’s best interests and someone should put up a statue of him.

Most retail department stores are owned by companies which buy and sell them as you might buy and sell properties in a Monopoly game. Who owns Macy’s now? Not R. H. Macy, of happy memory, or his family; I think the big Dayton Hudson group is now Target. S. S. Kresge is K-Mart. Federated Department Stores owns a bunch of Big Names, but Al Boscov owns Boscov’s, all of them.

Monday, August 04, 2008

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Break It

My favorite radio station was sold recently and the new owner seems to want his own very clear stamp on it. He even changed the call sign so it would include his initials. Well, it’s his candy store and he can do what he wants, but it doesn’t sound good to me.

He’s also making some programming changes that don’t ring right with this long-time dj (and at least one of the management people who I spoke with). The station has its niche audience and serves it well; trying to hold that demographic and also reach out to another can be a disaster.

I remember an instance which involved me, an internal publication I wrote and laid out, plus my boss and a friend of his. It had to do with something that wasn’t broke and which they proceeded to break. You can do that when you’re the boss.

It was a very successful, informative, well-read piece of work, with graphics used here and there, white space enough to keep it from being too visually heavy. People snapped it up as soon as it came out and some weeks you couldn’t find a leftover.

Boss & Friend decided it had to be done differently so people would want to read it. From the jaws of victory, they snatched defeat. Gone were the graphics, the layout, the bright writing. Instead of not finding leftovers, you found almost the entire run laying around the distribution points. I was just the writer and layout artist; it wasn’t broke but they went and broke it. My new place is much better.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


The City Fathers (and maybe there were a few City Mothers among them, although I sort of doubt it) discovered, re-discovered, found or remembered a large ballroom that somehow lay forgotten on the 14th, and top, floor of the city’s highest building.

It’s one flight up the stairs from the 12th floor.

That’s a tradition in this country, possibly in others: No floor is to be the unlucky 13th, as foolish as that sounds and as foolish as that is. I visited a Catholic hospital, run by nuns, in which, on every floor, room 12 was followed by room 14. I noticed that one day, when I spotted 612 next to 614. “13’s aren’t done here,” I was told.

All those triskaidephobianists have left their mark on the world – by not leaving a mark. Most of us leave something behind: a building, a business, a family. But the triskers are evident only by an empty space that’s not even empty. It’s the nothing between 12 and 14. It’s the nothingness of non-being, the elephant that’s not in the parlor because we removed the parlor … only out of fear.

Before we smile at the Chinese affinity for their lucky number 8, we might ask ourselves what’s to fear in the number 13? It is so ingrained in our society we don’t dare cross it lest we have something horrible happen to us. What might it be? Almost anything and let’s not even think of what it might be. It’s just better to avoid it “just in case.” Unless, like me, you were born on the 13th and had no choice.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

From An Australian, About The USA

"An American is English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek. An American may also be Canadian, Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Australian, Iranian, Asian, or Arab, or Pakistani or Afghan. An American may also be a Comanche, Cherokee, Osage, Blackfoot, Navaho, Apache, Seminole or one of the many other tribes known as native Americans.

"An American is Christian, or he could be Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim. In fact, there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan. The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them chooses. An American is also free to believe in no religion. For that he will answer only to God, not to the government, or to armed thugs claiming to speak for the government and for God.

"An American is generous. Americans have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need, never asking a thing in return. When Afghanistan was over-run by the Soviet army 20 years ago, Americans came with arms and supplies to enable the people to win back their country! As of the morning of September 11, Americans had given more than any other nation to the poor in Afghanistan. Americans welcome the best of everything...the best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best services. But they also welcome the least.

"The national symbol of America, The Statue of Liberty, welcomes your tired and your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, the homeless, tempest tossed. These in fact are the people who built America.

"Some of them were working in the Twin Towers the morning of September 11, 2001 earning a better life for their families. It's been told that the World Trade Center victims were from at least 30 different countries, cultures, and first languages, including those that aided and abetted the terrorists.”

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Peaceable Kingdom

We refer you first to:

While I was walking up the street after midnight, I saw the neighborhood possum crossing from one side to the other. It went up a few stairs in front of the house across from mine, then through some trees and to what seems to be its favorite place. We do our stuff and the possum likewise.

In the daytime, as I go down the hill, there are some squirrels up here, as well as on campus, who are quite accustomed to us. They, too, scurry around tending to their business with nary a thought about the many people who go hither and yon. Mostly yon, because we have been hither already.

Most of our birds don’t seem to mind us. They will check us out briefly, but that’s about it. The chipmunks are a little more cautious; the deer will frighten and the bears tend to take things in stride.

The deer and the bears? Yeah; we’re a long city, but not very wide and on either side there are miles and miles of wooded hills. It gets rural very fast around here and it’s not rare for wildlife to come into town, mostly lost. The bear ended up on the street that divides the campus and downtown; it got tranked and hauled to the hills. The deer was across the street from me and found its own way home.