Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Watch What You Start

My newspaper began during a strike; the guys and gals who walked out started their own paper for the six or so months it would take to settle their differences with the city’s gazette. (Now a U.S. slang word for a newspaper, it’s from the 16th century in English and came from the Italian. Aren’t you glad you asked?) It was a struggling existence when it started, and stayed that way for a while.

Anyway, that was thirty years ago and it’s still going strong, with no signs of stopping.

When I was a student here, in my senior year, I put together a project in communications for what looked to be an easy nine credits. Read the newspaper over the radio for people who are visually impaired or homebound. A nine-month run would be great and I did get the three A’s I wanted. It wasn’t a piece of cake, but it was a lot easier than taking three classes where there would be required attendance and tests.

That was thirty-four years ago. Again, going strong.

While I was working as arts critic for the newspaper, they started a new section and needed another column to fill some empty space. Someone asked me if I could do a piece every week. “Sure,” I said, and called a friend to see if he wanted to do a big band music column. “Couple of years,” I told him, “until we run out of material.”

In January, it will be twenty-eight years’ worth of material.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Get Out Your Skis - It Snowed Today!

On Mars.

Our spacecraft, which so often exceed their planned lifespans, did it again. The NASA Phoenix endeavour sent back the information that, “Mom! It’s snowing! We don’t have to go to school today!”

Well, not exactly in those words; scientists should be so animated. But they did equip the lander with skis just in case and this weekend, when things slow down at NASA, the little robot will be hitting the Martian slopes and then enjoying a little après-ski with whatever it can hit on.

I think the Lander-to-Earth transmitter will be turned off at that point.

From CNN.com... NASA's Phoenix spacecraft has discovered evidence of past water at its Martian landing site and spotted falling snow for the first time, scientists reported Monday. "It's a mystery; really kind of all up in the air," said William Boynton, a mission scientist.

I guess it does take a rocket scientist to figure out that falling snow is up in the air.

CNN.com again... The Phoenix recently detected snow falling from clouds more than two miles above its home. The snow disappeared before reaching the ground.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Day The School Burned Down

One day, Mom told me she was coming down the stairs, as ready for school as any little girl could be, when her mother told her there would be none that day. “The schoolhouse burned down overnight,” she said.

I’ve never been in that exact situation, so I don’t know how I’d feel about it. I was a pretty ready student (except for Day One, when I told my mother I didn’t want to go, but she was of no mind to listen to me) and liked learning things; still do.

We had fire drills all the time. One of the nuns would ring the big brass handbell and we’d all go out to the playground and line up for attendance. I would always look back to make sure there wasn’t any smoke coming from the place, half-hoping, I guess, that there was. No such luck.

Some years back, I was in a high-rise building that had a fire on a floor somewhere beneath me. The alarms went off and I ambled down the stairs to the affected floor; saw that things were well in hand and ambled, as best you can going up, back to my room. No way was I going to vacate the building when it involved walking down, then up, a lot of flights of stairs.

Once, in Anchorage, I tried the smoke alarm test button as part of my regular safety check (doors, stairways, etc.). It didn’t go off, so I called the desk. They said it worked fine, but I demanded, and got, it fixed.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yeah, We All Goof Up, But . . .

…but it’s fun to see them on tv and in the movies. That’s why we watch the “outtakes” that sometimes run at the end of films, or (as I do on subsequent viewings of shows), check out camera crews in mirrors, windows or supposedly just out of view.

As I said, it’s fun. No malice involved and the first time through I pay attention to what I’m watching; it’s only later that I’ll keep an eye out for things that shouldn’t be there.

In “The Music Man,” for instance, it took me lots of viewings before I happened to notice that the train Professor Harold Hill gets off of then leaves the station in the same direction from which it arrived.

I was a projectionist for a bit and noticed the “The Missouri Breaks” had an awful lot of inside shots which showed the microphone boom over people’s heads – and distinctly in the mirrors. “THAT is sloppy,” I said at the time. Didn’t anybody catch the mics hanging in the mirrors? The cameraman? Whoever looks at the daily rushes?

When Liza Doolittle is trying to lose her accent in “My Fair Lady,” blowing out the candles when she says the “h” at the start of her words, the paper she uses (and you can see this easily) has Rex Harrison’s lines on it. Watch as the camera swings around.

The stuff you’d see in the old days of live tv was amazing; but films can be fixed, re-shot and made perfect. It’s a fun hobby.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas

In the beginning…

There were the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates, which won Honest Abe the White House. Oh, wait a minute – they weren’t for the presidency, but for the Senate from Illinois, and he lost. Douglas spoke for an hour; Lincoln for an hour and a half; then Douglas for another half-hour. That’s three hours with no commercial breaks and nothing on the other channels. Most likely, there was also nothing else happening in town that night, or maybe on any night.

You couldn’t get people these days to watch Sarah Palin in a see-thru top for 30 minutes, let alone three hours. We’re into quick-speak and quick-reply. At least our two friends, up there in paragraph one, had plenty of time to develop their arguments. When you are running for a major office, you can’t explain your stand on an equally major matter in just two or three minutes.

It’s like cooking a roast in a microwave.

But our attention span is short and even cnn.com’s articles have the main points up top so you don’t have to read the entire short piece. It takes time to say something fully and without interruption and it takes maturity to let someone talk their idea out and not jump in at the next comma to object. Not only is there an art to speaking well; there is also an art to listening, and listening well.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The I.Q. Of A Dead Fish

Sheesh! Ke-RAP! Fer cryin’ out loud! S’matter? You got rocks in your head? Or is your head up your @?

We had Collegetown Day in Public Square with over a thousand studs and studettes. The cops not only said they would be on the lookout for underage drinking (caught 14) but would also be keeping a very close eye on The Places Of Cheer And Enlightenment. Also known as bars.

In other words, if you own a tavern, you have been warned – and specifically that there will be an underage decoy working with the cops trying to get a mug of Milwaukee’s finest. They all knew this, including the two bars that got nailed.

One would think, if, indeed, one was capable of thinking, that if the cops told you: “On Saturday, there will be a lot of college kids downtown. We will be using decoys to make sure you don’t serve underage. Got it?” Then, if you were told that, you would be on your best behaviour. You would card your mother. You would card the cop.

How hard can that be? When you return to a cruise ship from being in port, you need two forms of identification: The ship’s and your driver’s license or passport; the guard looks at both, checks the photo and then lets you back on the ship. You are obviously tourists. Is it too hard to check a student’s i.d.? Is it too hard to turn down a sale? Not being careful costs you a lot of sales.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More Sex!

Actually, it should be: “More Sexes!” as in, “More Genders.” We only have two and that’s the way it’s been since God invented “Insert part A into Part B, stir, let bake for nine months, remove from oven.”

But what if there had always been three genders? Now we have to clear our minds of the present situation. Wipe out The Way It’s Always Been. Forget the current notion of Birds & Bees. Let’s imagine a world in which the forms look like this:

Check one: [ ] Guy [ ] Gal [ ] Yart
(“Yart” is a made-up word.)

So now we have three distinct styles of people, all of whom can get along (think: bed down) with each other and produce like unto themselves. Would we have three rest rooms in public places? Or will we not really care at all and just have unisex pooperies with the usual privacy stalls?

The world has been populated with two genders since, as far as we know, Day One. The Bible says they were made male and female and who better to ask? But let’s suppose somewhere in the universe God decided to make them Guy, Gal and Yart. They would visit our planet and say, “Only two genders? What went wrong with your creation?” Or, why should we be limited to just male and female?

The universe is a big place.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Driving At Eighty

My mother worried a lot about her health. She never took any meds to speak of, wore glasses continuously only in her later years, was very active until the day when, suddenly, she was no longer here.

When she would start up, I’d say something like, “How old was your mother when she passed on?” It might have been ten years younger at that point. She would talk about some other age-related matter and I’d ask, “When did your mother get her driver’s license?” She never did. “Fly in an airplane?” (Mom would jump on any plane going anywhere, and started with some barnstormer when a teen, in the mid-twenties.) Nope. “You are in your eighties and you went to the Arctic last year.” Yup.

Can you imagine your grandmother doing that, assuming granny’s gravy years were in the range of the 1920’s to the 1950’s? Many women did not drive then; hardly anybody flew in an airplane; at a restaurant, husbands asked their wives what they wanted, and then passed that on to the waiter (manners at the time, not male domination).

While on a cruise recently, I heard some women talking about downloading a computer program, installing it, how to manage it, etc. I got a peek and saw a bunch of gray-haired not-young-anymore ladies. I don’t know if their husbands were there, or if they were traveling alone, but nothing would surprise me. The thought of sitting in a rocking chair, knitting, potting about in the garden, those days are gone. 80’s are healthier, better educated, more active and out there.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Comes Autumn

Comes the season of morning coolness, of long shadows in the afternoon. It is the time when Brace’s Orchards is selling their delicious apple cider at the the Farmers’ Market down on Public Square. Old magazine covers had drawings of football stadiums with students in raccoon coats, flasks in their pockets and pennants which usually said, “STATE” on them.

Norman Rockwell usually had a Saturday Evening Post cover which took us back to the days which never really existed, except in our imagination.

Today is the first day of autumn, and a cool one it is. In the apartment below me is a fellow from Rwanda and he’s freezing his @ off, while I’m walking around in a dress shirt. I guess it’s all where you’re from. I said, “Summer’s over,” and he replied, “I guess so.” But there’s still “God’s gift to Poland,” as they call it over there; “St. Martin’s Summer,” or “Old Wives’ Summer,” as is experienced in England. We call it “Indian Summer,” or “Second Summer” -- that last bit of nice weather before things get serious.

All the leaves who (I like to think of them as little living beings) sheltered us from the sun, cooled us through their output of oxygen and kept us less wet when it rained, are now dry and wrinkled –a foretaste of our future- and I’m afraid the kids have never learned how great it is to rake up a pile and then jump into it.

I remember scuffing my feet thru them as I walked.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It Died A Virgin, But It Was Close

Lived and died with its virtue intact, but there was one day when someone almost, almost, violated its long-held purity.

That was the day when a guy hit a ball that went very nearly clear out of Yankee Stadium but, on its way to the parking lot, it hit the façade and dropped into the stands. Nobody else ever came that close and the stadium, now done as a major league ballpark, retires with no “out of the park” homeruns.

I’ve no idea if there is any other stadium of sufficient age to make that claim. Domed places don’t count, unless the dome is open; the new locations aren’t old enough to have been given a chance.

Nor do I know if anyone has deliberately tried to aim a ball at some spot where it might fly right out on to a street in the Bronx. There have been a lot of good hitters, at least in the American League (with a few Nationals during World Series games), but none good enough, or lucky enough, to get the bat under the ball hard enough to fly through the opening and head for freedom.

Mel Allen called a lot of games in his career, shouted a lot of “Going … going … gone!” but never had the opportunity to say, “Holy Cow! That one is out of here! That’s in the parking lot!” The first Stadium so named opened in 1923 and kept its action totally in the park for 85 years.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Let's Get Back To The Good Old Days

Life was so much simpler and so much more innocent and fun in the good old days than it is now. We should bring them back. Nowadays, it’s all war and drugs and financial calamity.

Think of the Thirties; nothing like a Great Depression with bankers jumping off ledges and people being wiped out. Just before it hit, we started singing, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and that one went down the drain fast. Farmers in the Midwest were generally not affected by the Depression, but the dust storms took care of them.

The Forties, ah! The Forties. World War Two, with a maniac who was determined to wipe out an entire religious race and certainly did a good job while he was able. I saw a film of a bulldozer pushing piles of bodies toward a mass grave. Scared teenagers with rifles were shooting scared teenagers with rifles; given their choice, they’d probably opt to have a beer together, shake hands and go their separate ways in peace.

I always wondered about “The Eisenhower Years,” which were supposed to be The American Dream, the best years of our lives. All sorts of tranquilizers were sold in those days, Miltown being one of them and sold like crazy (sorry) in 1955. Russia and the U.S. had enough nukes aimed at each other to blow the two of them up several times over. No wonder people wanted to be sedated: we’re all gonna die, so why get worked up over it.

You’d never know all this by listening to the music of those days.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My Little Island House

There's an island I'd love to live on.

I’ve seen a lot of places that would be nice, but this one intrigues me. Or, it’s the latest one to intrigue me. I like places that are small, different and maybe a little isolated. That probably says something about me and any shrinks who read this are welcome to comment. Not that I will care a bit what they may say.

If you are ever on a cruise, when you dock in Halifax, Nova Scotia, look across from the dock and you'll see the nicest little island, complete with its own harbor light. Down at the left there is a house just ready for me to take up residence (assuming it's not already being used for something else, like storing explosives).

I spent some time looking at the island this last trip, figuring out how I could buy the house and fix it up. There's a dock at the north end; I could have a little boat with a 15hp motor to get me anywhere in the harbor I needed to be. Perhaps I could plant a little vegetable garden out back, maybe even have a flagpole.

You can do a lot with your own little island, even if all you have it a little plot with a small house on it and the Province owns the rest of it. They could probably use a caretaker out there. Yeah, that's a great idea.

Would you wave to me from the outside deck?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

So, How Smart Are Cats?

Someone asked that question of a newspaper columnist. Specifically, more like, “What’s a cat’s IQ?” Since there are no records of a cat actually taking the test, we’ll never know. The info guy said the test is biased in favor of humans anyway, so your local neighborhood cat would probably test out at a zero. Not only that, but it might also shred the paper and bat the pencil around until it was nap time.

He did feel cats have the intelligence of a human two-year-old. That’s not bad at all, when you consider what kids that age are capable of. Especially your precious bundle of DNA and chromosomes, faithfully combined one passionate, beer-filled, backseat night you don’t remember six months before your shotgun marriage.

Yes, kitty has all the smarts of Little Darling Leroy. It’s just that they are different smarts. Leroy can’t catch a bird to save his life, nor can he lay in wait without making a sound – things a cat must be able to do in the wild. From near-birth, kitty knows what a litter box is for; Leroy just pisses and poops wherever. When it’s time for a nap, a cat will willingly curl up; Little Leroy will fuss and cry.

Just because no cat ever wrote an encyclopedia or went to school doesn’t mean they haven’t the brains to get along. One cat, without as much as a suitcase, can survive without benefit of a residence; we can’t take a cruise unless we pack half the house.

Cats don’t kill each other over religious beliefs.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Sobering Thought Without Being Drunk

After writing the piece about Tony Brunton, I began to think about all the people I worked with at WICC.

Morning dj Bill Coddaire; afternoon dj Harry Downie; evening dj’s Reed Upton and Al Turk: all passed on. News Director Tony Brunton, reporter John Martin, same. I think our Chief Engineer, Pat Uliano, is gone as well.

They are frozen in my mind as people of a certain age, mostly in their 20’s. But that was fifty years ago and, as they pass on in their 70’s, I probably would never recognize them. Nor would they be able to pick me out of a crowd. When I look at my high school senior year photo, taken when I was already in radio a year, then look in a mirror now, there has been quite a change over the years.

The younger set doesn’t realize why the obituary reading is such an important part of the program I do for the visually impaired and elderly. You get to a certain age and you know a lot of people. You know them, or their spouses; you know them through your church, your work, your social organizations or their children.

In my case, so many of my friends are frozen at some time in the past. When I worked in a high school, there wasn’t much of an age difference between me and the students. They are now 57, 58 years old -- and I still see them as 17 or 18. They’re looking toward retirement and I see them cutting lawns for movie money.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tony Brunton, R.I.P.

Tony just left us for the broadcasting studios of heaven at the age of 76, following a heart attack. When you speak of people who are larger than life, he will always come to my mind. Larger, more outrageous, either a dreamer or someone whose imagination has run away with his reason.

Tv news anchors in those black-and-white days wore blue shirts; they photographed as white, without making your face dark as a real white shirt would. The shirts were called “tv blue,” and were standard. But not in radio, unless you were Tony Brunton and wore them all the time as you edited the news and presented it in a small booth, miles away from anything remotely resembling television.

“What’s the ‘right now’ angle on the story?” he wanted to know, through stickers put on all the newsroom typewriters. Well, what is the “right now” angle? I was doing a story on the Miss America contest, held last night, during which Miss Kentucky, or some such, was crowned. There was no “right now” angle; she was in parts unknown doing things equally unknown. My opening: “Miss Kentucky is enjoying her first day as Miss America 1959, following her coronation last night… (blah blah).”

His motto seemed to be, “When you aren’t official, then b.s. your way into wherever you need to be.” Works for me. The WICC News wagon had a blue flashing light on it and one time we had to cover a plane crash in Brooklyn; off it went, far above the speed limit, blue light flashing and cars giving way for wild man Tony.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Which Button Do I Push?

It can be surprisingly hard to re-enter a fairly fast-paced radio program when you’ve been away for over two weeks. That’s half a month with your mind completely elsewhere and not at all in the studio. When I vacation, I vacate.

When I get on the bus down at Public Square, the driver closes the door, goes into reverse and hits the horn twice as a backing signal. At that point, there is nothing I can do about anything where I live or work; I am trapped in this 47-seat rolling instrument of butt torture for the next 2 ½ hours.

When I left the radio program in my replacement’s hands, I told her, “Everything went fine, and thank you.” She knew what I meant: “Don’t tell me anything that’s already happened.” I don’t want to know things I can’t do anything about.

Ever go into a store and have the clerk tell you, “Oh, we just sold the last one of those; if only you had come in half an hour earlier.” Or you ask around the office for boxes and hear, “Gee, we threw out a whole bunch of them just yesterday and I’m sure they were just what you wanted.”

When I vacate, I don’t want to know what happened, nor do I want to speculate about what may be going on back at the office. What good will that do? I am away, whether on a bus headed to New York City, on a cruise ship going up the coast, or wandering around some Canadian town. I’m away.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back Home; Vacation's End

The party, as ultimately happens to all parties, is over. After two weeks cruising up and down the New England and Canadian coasts, including into the St. Lawrence River as far as Montreal, the time came for all that to turn into a pumpkin.

When life gives you pumpkins, make a pie and enjoy it while remembering the good times just passed. And good times they were: Leisurely days cruising the ocean and the river, evenings gazing out over the sea, waiters handing you menus, cabin stewards taking care of things for you.

That was on the “up” cruise; for the six of us who also booked the “down” cruise, it lasted another seven days. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like watching people disembarking and heading for the buses while you are standing on the back deck, mug of tea in hand, knowing you are only halfway through your vacation. Somewhere on the ship, by now quite empty, are five other people equally satisfied in their choice.

Of course, it all ends for us in Boston, but right now … who cares? The ship is ours alone, until boarding starts in another two hours.

Then along comes a steward with a bottle of champagne, “Compliments of the Captain,” he says, “for staying with us another week.” On my dresser is a plate of fine chocolates from the Hotel Manager, same deal. They will make good gifts, as I neither drink alcohol nor eat candy; a cheap “here’s something for you.”