Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reflections Of A Dump Picker

Between our village and the main town was an unused, former swamp, piece of land. As the story goes (handed down by my mother), a husband and wife aeronautical team, “The Flying Mollisons” landed at Stratford Airport one fine day, causing the good citizens of Stratford to promptly re-name the strip “Mollison Airport,” in an effort to bring themselves some fame.

“They didn’t actually make it to the airport,” Mom said. “They sort of crash-landed short of the runway.” I think that means they landed in what is now, and might have been then, the town dump. Not really sure about that.

The town could have called it “The Mollison Dump,” if that were the case. You get your publicity where you can, because these days it’s a rather handsome park, although there are vents all over the place to release the methane being generated underneath.

I spent a lot of time there in my wasted youth. People threw out all sorts of usable things which went very well in my part of the cellar. You just never knew what you would find and my parents never knew what I would come home with. But it was good junk and I held onto it for years.

During the day, it was filled with seagulls; at night, the eyes of a thousand rats reflected my headlights. Occasionally, a cop would be at the top of the hill trying to catch us picking, but I’d outfox him every time.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Whatever Happened To Skirts?

Not the kind girls wear, but the style that covered the rear wheels of cars. I don't remember having seen any of them lately, or even for years.

At one time, they were pretty much the standard modification for cars driven by teens. When I go to Google Images, the cars seem to be from the mid- to late-1950’s and they have that stand-out look – at least to these eyes.

Of course, these eyes came of driving age in the mid-50’s and, although I did not have my own car, I could admire those of my approx age who did. They were the cool crowd, but friendly, and I admired anyone who had their own wheels.

Maybe excepting Bill Decker. He used to park at the seawall and just stare out at the ocean. Ok, I was a loner from Day One and kept to my shortwave and Amateur Radio sets in the cellar, but at least I wasn’t sitting in a car staring at the water for what seemed forever. He’s probably still there, in the same car, still staring.

Billy Klosek had a Bermuda carriage bell in his car, a black straight-line Ford. The button was on the floor and it sounded a high/low “ding-dong” when he wanted it. That was neat and, for a small village, stood out in the stillness.

Me? Nothing more than riding back from the general store on my bike, no hands, against the sparse traffic, reading the New York Times.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Good Old Days (They Were Terrible)

The good old days … Eisenhower was president and all was right with the world, mothers stayed home with their children, people smiled a lot … except we seemed to always be on the very edge of being blown up by Russia.

Ah, for the good old days, when Grandma and Grandpop lived on the farm and the meadows were green. Cows were milked, sheep were sheared, hens laid eggs and the swimming hole was right nearby. Except the hole was polluted, their bread had alum in it to whiten it up a bit, the cops in town were all corrupt and the farm itself was pretty dirty.

From Amazon’s reviewers: “Otto Bettmann's ‘The Good Old Days - They Were Terrible!’ is a real kick to the head in terms of establishing reality with folks who think everything was so much better and more simple in the ‘good old days.’"

“The book features wonderfully drawn illustrations that bring life to the world of our grandparents and how we should be glad to have clean roads, safe food and laws to protect consumers from fraud and deceit.”

“Grim photos and illustrations from the famous Bettman archive accompany the text. The images of opium addicted women, polluted beaches, and homeless children are all contemporary, silencing anyone who might be inclined to accuse the author of exaggerating. City dwellers had their health and safety threatened by uncollected garbage, industrial pollution, and slum-bred criminals.”

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Just A Hit Till The Coroner Came

Things were hopping along as usual at the house across the street. It’s a pretty weird place with some strange people hanging out, hanging in, visiting, passing through.

Then the rescue truck and the ambulance pulled up. Residents and visitors began holding each other and the crazy guy in the cellar came out and began running around hysterically. The cops arrived and started talking to the regulars, including the cellar resident. After a while, the coroner showed up, then an undertaker.

It began not looking good about the time the guy in the cellar dashed out and ran around like the chicken we all talk about. The coroner sort of nailed it and the undertaker left no doubt at all. Someone overdosed more than his body could stand.

I’ve never had experience with non-prescribed drugs, so you will hear no lectures from this blog site. It’s easy enough to condemn what you don’t have to deal with and I have no idea what that poor soul might have been chasing him during his life.

So, about 2:00pm on this street, someone’s life on this planet came to an end. His body was no longer able to sustain its existence and finally stopped functioning, leaving his spirit free to leave this universe and head off to a place where it may be cleansed of its problems, and restored to eternal life.

A mind, and a life, are terrible things to waste.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Keep Your Fingers Off The Dots

Seems amazing to me how a bunch of people can get together and decide to pass rules designed to tell others how to run their lives.

Those who are blind and their own means of reading, for instance.

People who consider themselves well-meaning (which I think can be argued) decided some years back that it’s all in the best interests of blind people if they not be allowed to learn Braille. In other words, keep them illiterate in the one way that can keep notes for themselves and communicate in a different way.

It was done with the intensity of the Final Solution: Wipe out any use of those dots now and forever. Mainstream these kids and make them conform to the sighted world and use its technology exclusively. Unfortunately, things don’t work that way and the stats show people who are Braille-illiterate fall behind in society.

Someone obviously made up an agenda and a solution without asking those who are most involved, or checking with those who have gone before them. They are denying independence in communication skills through this mad rush to conformity and the perceived horrors of the blind person’s second language.

Down through history, we’ve seen efforts at suppressing languages and cultures. When dots are outlawed, only outlaws will read dots.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On The Superiority Of Pencils

Somewhere in the maze of this blog site is a rhapsody on the manner of sharpening a pencil. The correct, and only correct, manner of sharpening a pencil. At least, in my opinion, and that matters a lot here on North Franklin.

My grandmother kept two pencils above the front-loading Bendix washing machine. They weren’t my first love, but among the first loves of my life. I decided there was absolutely nothing better than two freshly-sharpened pencils on what passed for a shelf, thin as that might be.

One could do much worse with any other writing implement, even the Schaeffer reservoir ink pen and matching lead pencil that came in a box at Christmas. The pens got messy, the lead broke. But the yellow hexagonal pencils! They stayed put on the table, they did not need leads nor ink refills, but merely a sharpening (unless you knew enough to revolve them while writing and thus kept the point clean).

They denoted thoughtfulness, exactness, and drew fine lines for my grandfather to illustrate things for me. A jar of sharpened pencils is much like a quiver filled with arrows, ready for the battle against illiteracy, ready to put my thoughts on paper.

You never need to make lots of circles to bring the ink in, as with a ballpoint pen; it will write through anything that’s on the paper. It has pardon for our errors on the other end and it (or two of them) keeps a fine beat while we’re humming a tune.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Dark Side

George Weber, “the news guy,” died the other day. He was an acquaintance of mine, but no condolences are necessary; we barely knew each other, if that, and it was only through the New York Radio Message Board.

He worked at WABC in New York City, and then went with ABC Radio Network News. The George Weber we all knew was the greatest guy you would want in your life. The George Weber we did not know was into the most violent, sadistic, drug and alcohol, age-doesn’t-matter gay sex. Nobody knew, or suspected, a thing.

“He died the other day” really means he was stabbed at least 51 times, as best as the police were able to count. The other details are best left for the newspapers and not here. It was a tragic end, especially using the classic definition of tragedy: The fall of honorable men.

George was honorable, but somehow his demons caught hold of him. How and why will always be a mystery. Mark Twain, or maybe Frederick Nietszche, said every man is like the moon and has a dark side no one ever sees. We neither see, nor understand, when one of our friends goes haywire – you notice it on tv all the time when people say what a good person their axe-murderer neighbor turned out to be.

Maybe there was a fundamental fault in their brain wiring, some neural pathways that crossed the wrong way. We’ll never know.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Now That I Think Of It

Sometimes I wonder about the people who brought me to where I am today. The list is flexible, depending on “where I am today” means at the moment. It’s who influenced me, who put up with me, etc. I’m excluding family members here.

Terry McMahon comes to mind occasionally. He was my boss at Sikorsky Aircraft back when things weren’t going too well for me. I think of him from time to him and hope all has gone well for him. He was a good person.

Joe Dubee, our village barber, always treated me with respect, no matter my age. He taught me this and I have never forgotten that all people are equal, regardless of age, status or whatever.

Ray Rackiewicz was my Amateur Radio friend, who lived on the far side of the village, right next to the swamp. He got me into the hobby and I always thought he was the coolest guy under the sun while I was not.

WICC, my first radio station, had many people who helped me break into the business. All of them took an inexperienced kid who picked up on things really fast and gave him the foundation for who he is in radio.

Marty and Nina Plukas at the drugstore (later the general store) who were good when things were bad. That’s the definition of a friend.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Take This Memo And Shove It

You’re important: You issue memorandums “eyes only,” and “shred after reading.” You’re very important: Your letters to the staff are “Do not file; do not copy.” At the end of the day, you feel very satisfied with yourself. You have written some very sensitive documents, perhaps equally worthless, which must take the ultimate power trip to the shredder.

You sit back, unaware that the truck outside, which is re-shredding what has already gone through your own office machines, is eventually going to deposit its product up everyone’s ***.

As your office machine chops up the vital, secret, eyes-only pieces of **** (just to keep it in the same ballpark), it goes outside to the ShredDoc truck, which chops it into even finer pieces.

Then to the finer chop shops, then the companies who bleach and bleach those most important words into oblivion.

After that, the ultimate degradation: The last ride, the trip to nearby Ransom, home of P&G’s big paper-products factory. This load (again, keeping the image), ends up in the toilet-paper building.

“For your eyes only” now becomes “For your *** only.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Piano Marm

Usually it's "schoolmarm," but this time there's no school. Just a house and a musical instrument.

You see, my grandmother "gave piano." That’s what they called it back in the day. Mom used that term to tell me what she did.

I don’t remember Grandma actually doing it, although I do remember the upright snuggled in tightly in a rectangular space right next to the stairs (they made a sharp left turn halfway up in this old house). I also remember Mom at the keyboard, but don’t recall what she was playing.

Then the day came when the piano was taken out the front door. I was on the lawn watching this, not quite knowing the significance. Was it the time my grandmother no longer gave piano? Did someone else in the family need it? I’ll never know, because I never thought to ask.

Many years later, about 18 of them, I taught myself how to play. Some time after that, I met this dear old lady who gave piano and she tutored me for two years before I moved. No upright this, but a Steinway model B, it was.

Are there any small towns left where one might find a sign that says, “Piano Given”? Where you might find wheat pennies in your change?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tossed On The Interstate Train At Age 4

When I was four years old, my parents gave me a one-way ticket, stuffed me on a train to somewhere and took off. Trains became my first love from then to now. The lure of the tracks, the mighty couplers, the EMD locomotives.

Well, it wasn’t quite that way. Yes, I was four and, yes, I did have a one-way ticket from Bridgeport, Conn., to Brattleboro, Vermont. But I wasn’t alone; my eight-year-old brother was there and we had relatives waiting for us at the other end.

And I also think that’s when my fascination? love? obsession? with trains began. It has never ended. I can still sniff out a creosote-soaked tie half a mile away – further, if it has been baking in a hot July sun. My memories of the now-gone Victorian Bridgeport railroad station are as clear and vibrant today as they were when I hung out there with my mother 50-55 years ago.

When are the biggest and best memories imprinted? At four, perhaps? An important age for the imagination, for new and exciting things, for escaping the backyard, the neighborhood, even the safety of the parents. They stick you on the train and you have the confidence that comes from their faith in you.

“Cousin Clyde and Mil will be waiting for you at the station,” they say. “We’ll join you tomorrow.” And on that day, or the day after, my father took a photo of us (one exposure) that has wowed people for decades.

Friday, March 20, 2009

4,5,6 -- 7,8,9

4, 5, 6 --- 7, 8, 9.

More precisely: 04:05:06 on 07/08/09

My brother tells me that:

At five minutes and six seconds after four a.m. . . .
On the eighth of July this year . . .
The time and date will be 04:05:06, 07/08/09.

This will never happen again. (At least, not for a thousand years, so we can assume it will never happen again and if you are there when it does, then prove us wrong.)

A lot of peculiar number combinations are floating around out there and if any of our readers want to add their favorites, feel free.

One thing that used to amuse me when I was in college here was how my mailbox number used to pop up around town. It was 1611. So across the street was a commercial place for rent, phone number ended in 1161. Radio station I listened to had a phone 1611. Some other joint had similar numbers.

My new address is “123,” which sounds like an example.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Cat That Watches

When I visit my friend’s house, her cat is waiting for me. Reason? Don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have some fish for him, perhaps it’s playtime, even companionship while I fall asleep on the couch and he can snuggle up with me.

Or some other reason that only cats know. I dare not ask.

When I show up at night, he’s been warned I’m coming. So there, in the window, is a round object with two pointy things on either side. “Either the cat is waiting for me, or some strange being has taken over the place,” I think. So far, it’s been the cat.

I’m taking care of the cat for a week and, when I went over last night, I saw the same apparition in its second-floor window as I pulled into the driveway. Faster than you can say, “Friskies,” it appeared in the living-room window as I got out of the car.

The first cat, in the first home, would also go to the window when my friend said, “Tom’s coming.” I told her the cat really didn’t understand the words, but just the tone of voice. She disagreed, but said she would go along with an experiment. I suggested, “Penelope’s coming.”

She did as instructed and the cat just looked at her, strangely. Then she said, “Tom’s coming,” and the cat ran for the window. It’s too bad we can’t deal with sign language like Koko the gorilla; that would be real fun.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Honk If You Love North

One of the better bumper stickers I saw was in a cartoon. A bird hunter was sitting, rather despondent, on a box next to his car; the sticker said, “Honk If You Love Jesus,” just as a flock of geese was flying by.

We’re not doing that here. Whatever my feelings about Jesus (definitely positive), I’m not into making a lot of noise and disturbing people just to let them know. Apparently, based on that qualification, there must be an awful lot of Christians in a traffic jam.

Maybe my lack of horn-blowing, even out on the open highway, indicates a lack of love. After all, I’m one of those people who don’t send on the, “If you love Jesus, forward this message; if you don’t, then delete it.” Sorry, Divine One, I’ll take my chances.

Anyway, a large group of honkers (no, not that kind, you perverts) was heading north the other day. Several groups, from what I could hear. It was fairly late at night and they were squawking like you’d hear drunks at a party.

It’s to keep them together, I am told. Well, there are quieter ways: You’ve seen day-care kids out for a walk with little coiled lanyards from one to another. Catch a bunch of geese as they are headed north, stick these on their feet and tell them to shut up. They can be pretty loud over the outlying areas around here.

“Are we there yet?” “No.” “Are we there yet?” “No.” “Are…” “Shut up.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Seagulls Really Do Fly Backwards

I lived near the ocean for my formative years, later just during home visits, but always because you never can get the sand out of your shoes.

We have a nice little diner near the water. It used to be further away, with a little concession stand about halfway between it and the surf’s edge, but Mother Nature and her tendency to send hurricanes our way took care of that section of beach.

When I’d be home and having one excellent meal at the diner, Marnick’s (Marge and Nick, the retired truck driver), I’d grab someone’s discarded fries on the way out, much to Mom’s disgust. She later got over it, or just put up with it; either way.

If there were no seagulls around, I’d whistle and a couple would show up. With my back to the wind, I’d single out one bird and toss it a fry. Zap. Then the next. Then there would be a dozen birds up there, and each one got its own spud, droped out of formation and I’d keep on going.

On a stormy day, the birds would work the surf, sometimes flying into the wind, sometimes holding just enough to keep zero groundspeed and, just as often, slowing down and letting the wind push it back. I’d tell the mainlanders, “Look at the seagulls flying backwards!” They saw it for themselves, they did.


Monday, March 16, 2009

My Time As a Conrail Engineer

How can you tell apart a little kid who’s really, really interested in trains from one who thinks they’re fine only at a distance? Take them up to the Bridgeport railroad station, where you are at track level and wait for a nine-car diesel-pulled train to come roaring past about twenty feet from where you are standing.

The little tyke who is a genuine fan will not pee his pants.

So there we are, Mom and I; every time we go over to Bridgeport, I’m allowed to hang out at the railroad station for an appropriate length of time and hope a train comes roaring through on the express tracks. Perhaps one would stop on its way to New York or Boston, while the rest would speed through in a rush of overhead wire sparks and leaving dust devils of sand and dirt in its wake.

So, later in life I was taking post-graduate level courses at Notre Dame University and, during a break, a Conrail train came by our out-of-the-way building. The school ran its power plant on coal, delivered by a Conrail local.

“Want a ride?” the engineer shouted. He hardly drew his next breath before I was sitting next to him. As we pushed the string of cars across State Route 31, a trucker waved up at me and I wondered why. “He thinks I’m the engineer!” So I waved back, with the slow, easy manner of a working railroad engineer. “Well done, Mr. Trucker, and we of the railroad fraternity salute you.”

Sunday, March 15, 2009

St. Paddy's In Wilkes-Barre

From downtown Wilkes-Barre comes the cry of “Faith and Begorrah”! Of course, hardly anybody (if anybody) knows what it means, so let’s go there before talking about the people in the house across the street, even though they are more interesting.

“Faith!” was used to precede some strong assertion, as in “By my [Christian religion] Faith. “Begorrah!” was an attempt to circumvent having to say “By God.” So they said, “By Gor,” or “Be Gor,” which became “Begorrah.” We say, “By gosh.”

What meaning does the old Irish exclamation have these days? None whatsoever.

Across the street is a house owned by some fairly young guys who have a day job, whatever it is, and a weekend job of celebrating the holiday of the week – and I understand they are currently four years ahead.

Anyway, the city noted St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday and the kegs came rolling in. Maybe one kegs, maybe two. They are quiet partiers, to be sure, but you can always tell then there is an occasion to be noted, a birthday to be celebrated, a game well-played whether won or lost.

Maybe I could offer the idea that these folks, with their green beer and typically-green outfits, are better behaved and more in the spirit than the raucous bar-hoppers who show up on tv hoisting their mugs of foamy.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

128, 84, 115

Well, you could put a buck on them and maybe win some money on your state’s lottery. It happened here in a very unusual way and, as much as this sounds like baloney, I myself read it on my radio show from the local newspaper and it happened locally to the funeral director in the next town. (We’ll get to the main topic in a moment.)

Seems as how this fellow lost his wife and the undertaker, George Strish, gave him a good cut on the funeral. It was still too much for the widower and, as they traveled to the cemetery, he was not only terribly distressed over the loss of his wife, but how he could possibly raise the extra $1000 he owed George. As he looked at the hearse’s license plate, he decided to play the number, which came in at $1,000.

Topic: 128, 84, 115 are all highways. They all end with startling finality and only one will not kill you.

I lived on 128, very close to the end, and if you blew the last traffic light, you ended up in Gloucester Harbor. Score one for Neptune, king of the deep.

84 runs from the Mass Pike to nearby Scranton. If you miss the exit to the connecting highway, you run smack into a huge, and I mean huge, boulder.

115 is nicer. It comes down the mountain with two runaway truck turnoffs and ends with a sign saying the road numbering has just changed to 309.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dancing With The Squirrels

It’s a week before the start of Spring, the end of Winter. The weather has been just fine these past days. May I quote from the Rubaiyat (Persian poetry) of Omar Khayyam? It has several of my favorite sayings, including this one:

"Come, fill the cup, and in the fires of Spring, your Winter garment of repentance fling."

Yea, we made promises many during that dread period. But the sun doth shine again, the bird is on the wing, rabbits are doing their multiplication tables and squirrels chatter in the trees. How can one repent at a time like this?

It is time to frolic with the squirrels, to toss peanuts in the air and watch them bat the nuts around like players in a beach volleyball game. Robins brace themselves against the worm’s efforts to spend the evening with the wife and kids, rather than flying around the city, experiencing a view they’ve never seen before.

Meanwhile, I’m in the backyard dancing with the squirrels, hands in paws, welcoming the coming nice weather. Will it last? Short range, probably not; there will be cool, if not cold, days and nights. Long range, most certainly.

Our little garden-wreckers may little understand, nor long remember, the earth’s angle relative to the sun’s position in the sky, but they do know things will get better and it is time to rejoice.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cheapskate On The Loose

I love bargains and, except for a few snooty acquaintances, almost everybody I know is more than happy to snap one up. A few of us may worry too much about what They may think, but They probably may be down at Sally A’s Discount Department Store (better known as the Salvation Army) just as often as you.

Is my preference more pronounced than the vast majority of the second-hand denizens? Or am I just less secretive about ut?

Occasionally, a friend will get me something, say a book, and not only will it be used, but he will point out that fact. He says I will get even more enjoyment knowing he received a major discount from buying it at a yard sale. Indeed, I do. He’s thoughtful that way.

Another friend bought me ten dress shirts for Christmas. “Guess how much they cost?” she said. “Twenty dollars for the whole lot of them! I got them down at the Volunteers of America Thrift Store.”

It’s not for everybody; most people I know would prefer to have their gifts new and from someplace other than a thrift store. That’s fine with me and I’d not spoil their expectations by giving them a shirt with someone else’s monogram on it.

But if you can get it, and get it on the cheap, don’t worry about me. And don’t even worry about telling me how you did it; share the fun.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lighthouse Comments In The Newspaper

I was raised in Lordship practically ''under the shadow'' of the light. As a kid back in the 40's & 50's we used to fish often there, very often. My first flatfish was taken at the age of six right next to the big rock there on the west side. Even today at 70 when I get back ''home,” I go out there, still fish and paddle my canoe around The Point.
(Jim Carten)

I, too, lived down the street from the lighthouse and, when I was very young, thought everybody had one nearby. The view from the cupola was just great; you could see all of Lordship from there. The lighthouse and the buoys always had a calming effect on me, like loyal friends who were always there for you. (Tom Carten)

How important was Stfd Lt? I'll tell you. Back over a half century ago my father had a 14' Semi-V sea skiff, custom built in Devon. We would fish out to Middleground and most often return using the lighthouse as our guide because it was too dark to see the compass. We'd pick up the light at Middleground. It has been awhile but even today I remember putting the light on our stern and steering 180°; the old foghorn let us know how close we were to shore and when the mouth of the river was near. Our ''light'' was a friend and how we depended on it !!
(Jim Carten)

After moving there in the early 50's, the foghorn and light were, in time, something you got used to. When visitors commented "That's annoying!" the usual reply was "Wut??" Waves, foghorns and Remington gunshots were the Lordship Point symphony. (Centerfield)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Former North Franklin Speedway

That indicates there used to be a North Franklin Speedway, and you can bet there was. A darned good one, at that. Thinks of cars racing down your residential street, with drivers noticing the red light changing to green and, doing some quick mental math, knowing that it will go red again unless they hit the gas.

Which they do. Foot down, engine noise up, front bumper moving faster and faster with the rear bumper and everything between them straining to keep up. The green flag is waving frantically, cross traffic is held by the constantly-aging red light and you’re banging through the intersection like an express train crossing another main line with its trains being held for yours.

As you scream through the cross street, you are invited to meet The Hill, perhaps the steepest in the city. It ends as the high point of three streets, making a T and you are at the base. At the top? A stone wall with pieces of glass embedded in it, because others before you have made a “Hey – watch this” decision.

You are going too fast to stop.

As you pass an apartment house, someone on the porch mutters, “Ain’t gonna make it.” You hit the brakes at about 55mph hoping they and the rest of the hill will come to your aid. The car squeals as it pulls out across the cross road and ends up just short of the stone wall. “Shouda hit it,” I think, heading inside.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Being Well-Dressed For The Party

My late friend, George “Jazzbow” Rihan showed me a type of zoot suit he wore many years ago. It wasn’t the classic: reet pleat, thigh-length jacket with padded shoulders, high waist pegged pants, and a long watch chain from the belt down nearly to the cuffs and back into the front pocket.

Nor was it something I’d wear to a dogfight or if I lost a bet. The suits somehow reminded me of The Discovery Channel’s multi-part “Planet Earth” programs which showed male birds deep in the forest displaying their plumage and dancing around the females trying to impress them with how they were arrayed.

Malcom X described the outfit like this: "A killer-diller coat with a drape shape, reet pleats and shoulders padded like a lunatic's cell." (Oh, where has the poetry gone in today’s advertisements?)

George Sanchez recalled that the zoot suit was a symbol of that generation’s style. “This was to really assert that we are here,” he said, “we are here and we want to make a statement about the fact that we’re here. Man, they wore a big hat and a feather and a chain dragging down there.”

It sure was a statement. You could be blind and three blocks away and still see the statement. Reports say the zoot suit was inspired by authentic Civil War garb worn by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind.”

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Oh, There's Another One

My apartment is two rooms and a bath, plus a small kitchenette. And thirteen clocks, not counting the watch I seldom wear.

Twice a year this becomes problematic. “Problematic” is an Old English word for “why do I have to change thirteen clocks and a watch I seldom wear?”

Three of the clocks are RadioShack clock/timers that are handy for radio and audio work, but since I’m not in the recording for the blind business anymore (except for my radio show, which is basically live), three of those timers have decided to camp out in my room.

My clock radio isn’t set to anything because I can’t see it at night, whereas my alarm clock puts out a beacon somewhat on the scale of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. You can balance your checkbook by it. There’s a wall clock I rescued from dumpster damnation (its sin was having a fallen second-hand) and it looks kinda nice at the foot of my bed where I can see it without, forbid the effort, turning my head to look at the alarm clock.

VCR, microwave, computer, bathroom … all tell me the time, along with my cordless and, when I figure out how to do it, my cellphone.

But when I am late for some important meeting or an appointment and someone says, “Do you know what TIME it is???” I can’t get way with “No, I don’t.”

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I Gave An Atlas To A Friend

One of the regular guests on my radio show was looking through two of my dictionaries, the Merriam-Webster Biographical and Geographical. I have the newest editions in my room, the second-newest on the reference shelf in the studio and these were the oldest, from about 1974.

I asked if she wanted them and I got this look as if I were Santa Claus just come down the chimney. So now she has two valued reference books and I have passed on two outdated (for my purposes) books to someone who can use them. Both sides are happy. Her family is studious, on their own, and they will be put to use.

My grandfather impressed on me the value of a good dictionary and a good atlas. He did this by having one of both; actually, two of one: the Unabridged Merriam-Webster and the Collegiate desk dictionaries. The Rand-McNally atlas was the best at the time and I still have it, although I use the latest National Geographic.

He felt you should know where places are and not just “over there somewhere.” He also felt you should know what words mean, and where they came from, how we got them (sometimes more important than the meanings).

My guests now have the Oxford New Concise World Atlas. Rather inexpensive, but the reviews are good and it’s probably a great family atlas. They will know where people live, the size of countries. Use it well.

Friday, March 06, 2009

My Good Friend Zout

I bought a new what we used to call a Thermos jug. Showing my age, perhaps, but that’s what we had in grammar school in our lunchboxes. Anyway, these don’t have any brand names on them, but they have handles and are insulated. (Insulated beverage containers, or some such word?) I used them when I’m on the air.

The Dial Corporation probably loves these things because they tend to dribble when used. Or, I dribble when I’m using them. It doesn’t seem to matter how I do it, but after a while the tea ends up on my sweater. As does the Zout.

Zout (registered trademark for a laundry stain remover) is concocted by those folks I just mentioned over at Dial, who make the only soap I can find in the shower with my glasses off. Funny what qualities you look for when you choose a product.

This Zout stuff is as subtle as a mugger holding a meat cleaver when it goes to work on the stain. And, not only that, but it’s got the Queen of Clean seal of approval. “Big Deal,” I thought to myself; another in a line of ten billion gimmicks. Then I just now spotted an asterisk, which I know can always lead you to something interesting, like small print.

*Trademark of Linda C. Cobb, it asterisks. Her website (queenofclean.com) is full of information, looks good and even has a bobble head doll of her Queenship for sale. Moral: Eat neatly or use Zout.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Breathing In Photosynthesis Poop

It’s like this way: Everything gets recycled, whether we like it or not. There is a grand circle of things in the universe, where stuff goes round ‘n round.

One fine day, quite a while ago, a star blew up, really bad. All the stuff that got ejected, which is all of it, started blowing out into the universe and we are made of whatever ended up in this part of it. We are that star’s recycle bin, if you want to put it in those rather stark and unromantic terms. “Stardust” might be better.

Down here on Planet Stardust, we have lots of green plants which exist courtesy of photosynthesis. Sunbeams drop down from heaven, plants raise their little leaves up in supplication, take in carbon dioxide and donate oxygen, which we breathe.

“Donate oxygen”? You mean they eat co2 and crap o2? And we breathe that stuff? We need to inhale 21,600 amounts of plant poop in order to live just every day.


Of course, we’re also drinking Columbus’ pee, if you figure the guys took a leak over the edge of the boats and, all these years later, the stuff mixed in the oceans, was evaporated and then came down to fill our reservoirs. You don’t think there’s been an unending supply of fresh water coming down from outer space all these years, did you? Now go and fertilize your strawberries.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Waiting for July '10 Even Before July '09

July '09 is come and gone, and I’m waiting for July '10 in another month or so. This is not a symptom of mental confusion but something well-known to those who take a yearly cruise: The July trip has been planned, the deposit made and the final payment set aside. As far as I, and others, are concerned, it’s come and gone – we just have to wait for the cruise to actually take place.

And we do this with growing anticipation.

Now we are looking forward for the July 2010 schedules to come out from Holland America Line so we can make advance plans. That’s necessary in cruising because, despite what some people think, prices do not drop as the departure date nears. More often, they rise as bookings roll in. “Load management,” it’s called; “all the traffic will bear” is another accounting phrase.

There’s a nice discount for booking early and how long it lasts depends on how the reservations come in. If you take a single-share (bunk with some stranger, which is fine with me), there are only so many cabins in that category, so you can’t afford to wait too long for that lower-fare booking. Your fare is protected: It can’t go up, but it can go down if your category’s price decreases, so it’s best to get in on it as soon as you can.

So for this cheap New England Yankee, 2009 is over as far as the planning is concerned and it’s time to check the 2010 schedules.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I Did It For The First Time In High School

Bought me a typewriter, I did. At least, I think it was high school; might have been eighth grade.

When the pediatrician listened to my in-utero heartbeat, it had a slow, steady rhythm similar to someone hitting keys. Even at that age, I was pounding out a story about what it was like being in there and listening to conversations on the outside.

It had been 24 weeks and my brain-waves had started to kick in; I had to do something and writing an article seemed to be the best outlet.

Anyway, back to the typewriter. It was an old Underwood standard, cost probably $5 and, if I had kept it, I could bring it to an antiques store and pocket a cool $5. I used it all the time, pretty much daily, and was a fast hunt-and-peck. Later, I took a class in school (high school didn’t go so well for me and I was in the “he’s going nowhere” level, so they taught typing).

Thanks to playing piano, I was able to type amazingly fast. It’s a function of how quickly you can make your fingers run over a keyboard, whether piano or typewriter, says a musical friend of mine. “People who play piano are also incredibly fast typists,” which I did not realize.

I put a string on some existing button so I could ring the bell manually, for no good reason.

Monday, March 02, 2009

A Parade Of Lions, A Parade Of Lambs

That’s March.

In like a lion, roaring and throwing around all sorts of weather, then leaving some weeks later as gentle as can be imagined. Or so the folk wisdom says, and you can bet this bit of wisdom doesn’t come from the United States Weather Bureau.

March may, indeed, roar in and it may, just as indeed, gently depart. Between those dates, however, you may see most anything: sudden warm weather, a bad snowstorm, unseasonably warm and/or cold temps, flowers blooming, heavy rains.

It’s a strange month, if I may say so without insulting those 31 days and making the time even worse. You can expect everything during this period, almost as if Ma Nature decided to throw all her leftover scraps of weather into the wastebasket and decided this would be a good one.

Little bit of cold weather here, some snow there, warm days later, sleet, then overcast for a week, three days of sparkling clear nights. All of this into March.

It’s a furious month, a witch’s caldron of atmospheric changes and sudden, unexpected storms. A few days ago, it was 50 degrees when I got up, dropping quickly as the sky clouded over and the rain began. As stride pianist Fats Waller would say, “One never knows, do one?” No, one never knows.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

We Can't Cruise To Quebec City

Really could handle a cruise right now. Anywhere would be nice, although I don’t care much for the Caribbean – been there three times and staying on the ship was a whole lot better than walking around the villages.

New England and Canada … now there is the cruise I could handle with just about a day’s notice. Yes, it’s March First and terribly cold out on deck, but I would prefer that over going down close to the Equator.

Trivia: Do you know the Equator spins faster than up around these parts?

Anyway, my brother sent me a photo taken across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City, right about where the ship would dock. The river is in just the greatest shape, if (and only if) you are either a polar bear or a White Star Line ship about to make history and several films. Just avoid the ice breaker opening up the channel.

I doubt a cruise ship would be planning on docking there, or continuing upriver (compass south) to Montreal. They are not known for their ability to do 22 knots through pack ice. Just because the Titanic tried it doesn’t mean we should.

As I write this, it’s but 14 weeks and 6 days (or, as I write it, 14w, 6d) until I do end up in Canada. I don’t count, or give note of, the month’s name. “14” I can handle; it’s a comfortable number and can only go down.