Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Between The Lightning And Thunder

There was just enough time for the power to go out.

I was in the middle of prepping for my radio show and pre-recording a piece with one of the talent. Then everything stopped – as I told people, the power dump was so bad even my battery clock stopped. So we hung out for a few minutes until it came back on, thanks to the electric company and the voodoo they do.

A short while later, it went out again, and this time we got tired of hanging around, so I went home and the squirrels once again began running in their little round cages, giving us the electricity we needed. It affected odd parts of town, depending on which grid you sucked the juice from.

I was walking out of the tall building where our transmitting tower is located, some time back, and only heard the “fzzzzzzzzt” of lightning hitting the tower. I don’t recall hearing any thunder, which could mean I was so close I was actually inside the cone where the noise would have been created.

No, I did not see a bright light, a tunnel and dead relatives. Had I been in the transmitter shed working on something there, I might have. Lightning is pretty much at the top of the electrical “food chain,” and there’s not much you can do about it except, perhaps, distract its attention by putting up well-grounded rods or growing tall trees with excellent root systems. Even then, it’s a crapshoot.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Click Here To Print

When my cruise documents came, I put them aside until I could check online to see what cabin I’d be occupying. (I’m on a “guarantee” status, as I did not ask for any particular place in my category.) So when I looked yesterday, I found the number added to the online registration form I had filled out two months ago.

Having done that, I could then print out the entire form, as required for check-in, with my cabin number included. Although the cruise line now has all my necessary information (passport, credit card, past history with the line), it’s proof of who I am and I simply wave it at them when I arrive at the desk.

Mom and I started cruising around 1984 and they didn’t have all this stuff. We filled out sheets of paper, they found us on sheets of paper, and everything took about twice as long, if not more, than it does today. Now we pretty much sail through and, as happened last time, I barely slowed down from arrival to gangplank.

I wonder what it was like in the Olde Days when this line was new, around 135 years ago. Not only were there no computers, but I think many people spoke different languages and, as this was an immigrant line, there were most likely a good many crew members who could help them in their language.

People who complain about the short delays in boarding now should maybe watch a film about what it was like to make the crossing then.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Give Us Not This Day Our Daily Shopping

I’ve never felt right about shopping on Sundays or, for that matter, mowing the lawn or doing anything that might disturb the neighbors. It’s a combination of (a) The Lord’s Day, (b) A day of rest, (c) One day of the week to be still.

Yes, there are things to be done, but I manage to arrange them so they fit nicely into the other days, especially Saturdays with the quieter stuff saved for Sunday. Try to manage the stillness in your life so most of it takes place on that day.

Ok, so it’s not absolutely possible, but I think it would be doable in some sort of large measure.

Can you imagine the serenity in a neighborhood where nobody used a lawnmower on Sundays? Those machines do not make any kind of soft sound, unless they are electric and, even then, it can be loud.

An understanding that people with backyard pools will raise their children to keep from screaming. Impossible? Perhaps and probably, but let’s go for the possibility. Can parents start from the very earliest days to have quiet pools? Or is this something just not in the genes? Kids will scream with delight, no matter.

Well, at least these are dreams, and one can dream all one wants. There has never been an unreasonable dream, only when you force it on others.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rhode Island Wants To Change Its Name

The people who live on Rhode Island don’t care. (ON Rhode Island? Isn’t that supposed to be IN Rhode Island?). No; the people in Rhode Island want to change the name, but not the people on Rhode Island.

Rhode Island isn’t Rhode Island, but it’s part of it. Or, to be more exact, Rhode Island, an island whose largest city is Newport, is part of “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”

Plantations? Bales of cotton? The showboat comin’ up Naragansett Bay? One side says it brings up images of slavery; the other says it’s not necessary, given Rhody’s tradition of tolerance.

On Thursday, the vote was 70-3 to change the name to “State of Rhode Island.” You probably never knew, and also think Ohio became a state in 1803. Fools.

Ohio became a state in 1953, despite what the history books say. Forget that 1803 hooey; someone back then forgot to file the papers with the good folks in Washington and, not only that, but they were mislaid and, eventually, forgotten.

But! To the rescue! Some practical people raised their heads and came up with a plan: Let’s pretend it was done all proper and right in 1803. Ohio acted like a state, so we’ll just stick some papers in a file and that’s it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Things That I Never Understood

The fast-talking pitchmen on tv give us the sell and then say, “Call within the next ten minutes and we will include (this, that and the next thing).” So how do they know when the next ten minutes have elapsed when the spot is run at any time during the day or night? Suppose you say, “I heard this 15 minutes ago?” What then?

Radio and tv towers just sit there, very quiet, not doing much of anything. But they still send out programming via electromagnetic waves. The air is full of those mysterious little thingies, all vibrating at different rates and in different ways. Our radios and tvs sort it out. Would we go nuts if we could see all this stuff around us?

It’s three in the morning and you are at a red traffic light in the middle of the city. You stop and sit there until it turns green. Is it because, (a) You are law-abiding, (b) You are a careful driver, or (c) You are afraid a cop might catch you? Answer: (c). But it’s only a series of colored lights you allow yourself to bow in obesience.

Locomotives and railcars have flanges on their wheels that keep them on the tracks. Those flanges are only an inch or so tall. You are zipping along and hit a switch at 60 or 90 mph. The car bounces around but you stay on the tracks. Remember, it’s only a one-inch or so flange between you and utter destruction.

When you are cutting a piece of paper with scissors, what keeps you from splitting an atom and causing the city to blow up?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

If It Tastes Like Chicken...

My friend the cook was laying out a pan of roasted chicken. He said, “If it tastes like chicken, it better be chicken.”

Truer words have never been spoken. How often have you been urged to try something different (especially exotic that you would never dream of putting in your mouth) and told, “It tastes just like chicken.” If that’s so, then why not go to the nearest store and get something that was running around the barnyard yesterday morning?

It’s cheaper, we’re told it tastes the same, and it’s a common staple in our diet. All we’re interested in is flavor, anyway, as that’s what our taste buds are for.

Ritz Cracker apple pie is another abomination before the Lord. “Tastes just like real apple pie.” Well, then slice up real apples and make a real apple pie. You never hear anyone toss an apple to a friend and say, “Try this – tastes just like a Ritz cracker.”

God invented chickens, apples and Ritz crackers so we would have variety. There is no reason to make one taste like the other.

It might surprise some that the organ was designed to take the place of real musical instruments in churches too small to have its own group. So the organ had stops that would imitate each one and it became the instrument of worship. Tastes just like chicken, so to speak.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Bought A New Chair

Big deal, you might reply. Well, it’s a moderate deal for me as I use it two hours a day, either prepping my radio show or actually doing it. The old chair hit its swing limit anywhere it wanted, anytime it wanted; I’d turn to cue someone and it might go two inches, even though I had just checked it for a full swing. No wheels, either.

So I bopped down to the locally-owned department store where I knew they had just what I was looking for.

Let it be noted here: I deal with locally-owned businesses exclusively to the extent possible. Chain stores return something like 14% to the local economy, whereas the locals return (I think) 62% of money spent. When you buy in town, it pretty much stays in town; salaries, taxes, other needs all help us.

I digress.

After putting up with a chair which never really worked, I happened to notice one that was as close to perfect as one could imagine. The store’s website (ah, blessed websites) indicated it was there, so down I went the next day to pick it up.

I originally saw it online Sunday, but I don’t buy things on Sunday, hence the wait.

So now I’m a happy duck and the world is sunny.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What Flavor? (Flavor? What's That?)

It was a long time ago, more than 60 years, when I patronized Derling’s Dairy up the street from us. I’d get a dime from someone, go up there in the wet coolness and someone would come out and ask what flavor cone I’d like.

I had no idea what “flavor” meant, but I did know if I answered “vanilla,” I’d get a cone. I don’t know what ice cream cones go for now, but it’s got to be more than a dime.

In this upcoming Sunday’s music column, I happened to mention the now-gone College Inn, which used to be in Milford, Connecticut. My parents went there fairly often and it was, as I recall, a better-than-average joint. Classy like, tablecloths and people dressed up. Not like your typical drunk bar.

My brother and our cousin then started flinging e-mails back and forth talking about their favorite places in Southern Connecticut. Nothing anyone on this blog would recognize, except the names are so much like the Mom & Pop places you would find anywhere in the country; not a chain in the bunch.

“Aherns was great …Miller’s Hot Dogs …Skippers, Pops, Paradise Pizza (named for Paradise Green, its location), the Ocean Sea Grill, St. John’s Drug Store.”

There were hardly any chain places that I can recall. All were owned and operated by the locals and each had a definite individual look and flavor.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Let's Sit Down And Negotiate, Ok?

Negotiate. Ok, let’s negotiate. Pull up a chair and let’s see why that driver failed to negotiate the curve; we read about it all the time in the newspapers. Did the curve demand something the driver was unable to supply? The curve said, “I’ll let you go through me if you slow down,” and the driver said, “No can do.”

Exchanged. The police and criminals exchanged gunfire. The couple exchanged wedding vows. In both cases, did they need a receipt to make the exchange? Do you get your money back, or can you only switch it for a similar product? Do cops and robbers meet to do the exchange?

Executing. As in, executing a warrant or a contract. I was the executor of my mother’s will, yet no lawyers were harmed in the process. Not only that, but it’s probably still around here, showing that it might have been executed legally, but physically it’s still in pretty good shape.

Cut. Cut a deal, for one thing. Just today, a clerk at Boscov’s Department Store cut a deal with me and no blood was shed. No knives were visible anywhere. No deals were harmed in the process (uh, didn’t I just say that up above?); they made a sale, I got a discount and a slightly damaged chair found a new home.

I fixed the chair, by the way. The clerk wasn’t aware it could be done and I pretended it was busted for life. Took five minutes.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


A friend in Australia was talking to me about street signs. “Kangaroo Crossing” was, as I recall, one of them. New to me, of course, but I rather expected it, as we have deer crossing signs around here, as soon as you leave the city. Those signs mean it, although the deer cross anywhere they darned well wish.

I asked her if she ever heard of PED XING and she replied she had not. I wondered what people there, or in other countries, would think of that sign. To us, it’s quite clear: Pedestrian Crossing. Even the pope would call it a no-brainer in either Latin or Bavarian.

Then I got to thinking about DO NOT PASS. For us’n it means clearly that we are to stay in our own blessed lane and not to overtake any vehicles ahead of us, no matter how vital our trip to Stash’s Pierogi Palace might be.

But beware if you are behind a gentleperson from England. On go the brakes, squeal go the tires, stop goes the car. “Do Not Pass” means “Don’t go anywhere beyond this sign.” Could be dangerous, this misunderstanding of signs. We go single-file past the “Do Not Pass” signs in England and go off a cliff; the bloke holds up traffic here.

We use arrows in this part of the earth’s real estate for an advanced left turn; it points, we swing out knowing we’re safe. But, wait! We’re in Quebec City and environs and the green light is blinking at us. Blink, blink, blink. Horns blow, so we assume it’s our turn to take the left. When in Rome … or Quebec …

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Elsie Beebie

Elsie Beebie … a long-time radio star, so to speak, even though she never spoke a word, nobody ever played her and the general public never knew who she was. Yet everybody heard of her in a general sort of way. She was the soaper “Life Can Be Beautiful”: L.C.B.B., as she was known verbally in the business.

Shows have their own nicknames, either for brevity’s sake or the usual banter that goes on in radio and television stations. Like the entertainers’ joke, it goes no farther than studio or backstage [and don’t ask what that joke is; I don’t tell it].

Thus, the locally-produced “Call the Doctor” is known in-house among the production crew as “Call the Ding-Dongs.” I happened to mention this to an occasional (perhaps one-time) participant one time, a very serious person with a limited sense of humor and he stomped around in a high dudgeon for several days.

My show, “The Radio Home Visitor,” used to be known as “The Radio Home Duck,” but now it’s just “The Duck,” and our regular staff are known as Ducks. It’s a long story; don’t ask. One of the few which can be told in mixed company with kids.

“The Music of Your Life” easy-listening format has been, from Day One, known by dj’s as “The Music of Your Death,” because there isn’t much life to it. It’s also known in the business as “MOYL,” rhyming with “toil.” No matter how much improved the programming may be, MOYL will always be MOYD.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Great-Grandpaw Rode The Freights

An excerpt from “History, My Way,” also known as “Jim Carten’s Meanderings Over a Second Cup of Coffee.” Maybe available soon at a Barnes & Noble near you, where he drinks coffee, reads and often falls asleep.

“As kids we spent hours pouring over history in school, memorizing places, people and dates and for the most part finding it a bit dull. What did I care about the Blizzard of ’81 or the Liberty Bell, but Jim Bridger, Sublette and Lewis and Clark stirred some kind of emotion in my innards. You know, they brought an image of adventure and being in the wilderness and stuff that kids dream about during history class.

“My great-grandfather, George A. Youngs fought in the Civil War and here hanging on my wall is his discharge, the original, dating back to 1865. While on a trip I stopped by Madison, Wisconsin, the state where George was raised, and found the Civil War Museum. I ultimately was able to put my hands on a document in which all the skirmishes of his company between the dates of which he was posted were listed. They will print out these facts for you.

“George Youngs, well here is a fellow that I want to talk to sometime in the hereafter. I would have loved to have been in his tent for a three-day weekend. Know what he did? He got discharged and two years later rode freight trains from Wisconsin to Philadelphia and then somehow made it to Stratford, Ct. This is my kind of history. What a great afternoon we could spend together discussing his life from 1862-1921.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Class Reunions, Or, What's Your Name?

You haven't changed at all.

(Well, that’s very nice of you. If the truth be known, I haven’t the faintest idea who you are and you can’t remember me. It’s been 50 years, you know, and you’re no longer the handsome, well-cut high school senior you once were.) Thanks; nice to know I’ve still got it.

Yep, haven’t changed a bit.

(I think this is the blowhard who ran for office based on his good looks and reputation for getting good girls into his bedroom, and bad girls into trouble. Never could trust him; I wonder what racket he’s into now?) Good genes, I guess.

What’ve you been doing these days, old pal?

(Avoiding you, for one thing, you empty-headed, girl-bedding slob.) Working in the communications industry. And you?

Well, between jobs right now. I’ve been doing this and that, and I decided to take a break to consider several options that came my way.

(Ha! Got fired from every one, I’ll bet. There’s always Kelly Temps.) That’s good; take time, look for the best. Think I’ll mingle around now; take care.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How Can I Get So Far Behind?

Not only this blog, but putting laundry away, cleaning my room and getting to bed on time. I’ve promised someone I would put my closed in order many weeks ago; it’s still the same old mess. I’ve got clothes that haven’t quite made it to a hangar. This blog still runs late, despite my best efforts to keep it up to date.

It’s not because I watch too much television; I’m committed only to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Maybe it’s because there is too much to do.

The closet; the clothes; the blog; a lot of other things – I come to my room and they are there: monsters staring me in the face, from one side of the room to another.

Luckily, with a change in my position, I can get rid of a lot of stuff previously assigned to me and that clears up two desk drawers, a box under my desk and a growing pile of paper next to it. (I do a lot from my room, rather than having to trot down to the office; there are good reasons for this.)

Is there a blog in this series called “Butt First” or “Going Through Life Butt First?” It’s when we have something to do, but first … and before we can do that, but first. There are a dozen things to do “but first” before we get to the task at hand.

I have to finish this piece, but first I need to prep my radio show, but first my mug of tea needs to be warmed, but first I gotta visit the bathroom…

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It Rained As I Went Up The Avenue

I was going out to church on Sunday, two days ago, when it began to rain. No big deal; I’ve seen rain before, we all have, since my earliest days.

Some of my neatest memories are of being on my grandparents’ full-length porch as the rain poured down, safe in our “outside-inside” viewing box. One other is being out on the upper end of the street in a black slicker raincoat (with a yellow streak, probably picked up from a newly-painted fire hydrant), always overly-warm in it, but happily dry underneath its hood. Still another is rain water bubbling up through the holes in the manhole cover nearly in front of our house during a real downpour.

Well, that’s what Sunday’s rain turned into: little drops, those thick and heavy drops that make you wish you had brought an umbrella because it’s gonna get worse fast. I was in a car and knew it would be double-fast wipers inside of two minutes.

It came down. Like a fire hose it came down. Underneath a waterfall it came down. The yellow lines on the road disappeared, as well as the traffic more than one car length ahead of me. I felt like a fly under a cow’s tail when it lifts and the water cascades out.

There is a spot where the two lanes merge into one and it is customary to drive on top of the lane divider lines for a hundred feet if you are going straight or staying to the left if diverting to the upcoming left lane turnout at the traffic light. It’s safe enough until the weather gets really nasty…

Monday, June 15, 2009

He Looks So Good Lying There

Always makes me want to laugh, but I’m in a funeral parlor and The Guest Of Honor is up front with mourners to the left, right and in the chairs.

Someone comes along; someone always comes along and says, “Oh, he looks so life-like,” or, “He looks so good.” The fact that he has been carried by the angels to everlasting life in heaven seems to have been lost for the moment. No matter how good he looks, he’s still deceased.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t do an awful lot to bring him back. The best we can do is admire the mortician’s craft in suspending our disbelief that The Guest Of Honor isn’t going to get up after the place closes and go out for a quick beer.

I sometimes wonder if that’s their real job: Not the comfort of the people, not the closure of a life lived among us, but the somehow denial of lasting death. The hairdresser comes in, someone colors up any skin that will show, loads of cotton fill out the face if necessary. They aren’t dead; they are just sleeping.

It doesn’t have to be gruesome; there are nice ways to send someone off to their reward. I don’t go for the crucifixes, but would prefer a sketch of a laughing Christ welcoming a person into heaven.

Then an after-funeral meal where we tell the best stories.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Money Is Honey, My Little Sonny

...and a rich man's joke is always funny.

I’ve seen prostitution in this city; just go south on Main Street and pick your prize; it’s illegal, but no more booming business ever flourished here than the girl under the lamppost with the “come hither” look.

But the prostitution as people open their legs to the rich – it’s amazing. Happens everywhere: big offices, business clubs, verandahs of large homes, golf courses. People lying there in the “take me” position while the rich and mighty gloat over them and chuckle with condescension.

Money is honey, my little sonny. Here’s a stupid, infantile and demeaning joke for you to laugh at as if it came from the brilliant mouth of Bill Cosby. Laugh, you stupid, worthless piece of crap; I can buy and sell you.

Yes, boss, that was a funny one about the, uh, uh, Hispanic person and the, uh, uh, person of color. I will definitely have to remember it.

The rich man’s joke is always funny. You don’t laugh, you don’t like his depiction of minorities, you might as well pack up and check Wal-Mart for a job. He knows exactly what he is doing. You just got screwed without a rubber, he’s not going to pay you and there’s no one to whom you can complain.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Where Is There Land For Free?

“Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, / Don't fence me in. / Let me ride through the wide open country that I love, / Don't fence me in.”

I want to move somewhere that’s not owned by anybody. Be there such a place? Doth there exist in this Fair Country of the US of America a plot of land upon which a deed has not been drawn?

“I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences / And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses. / And I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences. / Don't fence me in.”

What acre of land can I build my house without having to fork over pictures of dead presidents just to buy dirt? Is there anyplace in the contiguous 48 that’s still there for the asking?

“Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze / And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees. / Send me off forever but I ask you please, / Don't fence me in.”

In Monopoly, you buy everything from the bank. In America the Beautiful, do you buy everything not already claimed from the gub’mint? Or can you still drive four stakes into the aforementioned dirt and claim it for the wife and kids?

Let’s get in our Cayuse and drive out there.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mom & Pops

Pop opened, Mom worked afternoons, Pop closed; that’s how it was in the first Mom & Pop store I knew back in Lordship, Connecticut. It was a small place (actually, a tiny place) that closed for three hours on Good Friday. Tom Burns had the key to the church across the street from his house; when the first pastor arrived and found that out, he told Tom to keep it and open the place in the morning and close it at night.

Mary Burns held down the fort in the afternoons and generally ran the place. If you wanted it, they usually could locate it in the store, somewhere. There was a homemade sign on the scale that read, “The Three-Wonder Store. You wonder if we have it, You wonder where it is, You wonder how we find it. But it it’s made, we can have it for you within 24 hours.”

I worked there for two years, until I was old enough to legally work in the drugstore next door. Tom and Mary had this practice of hiring underage kids who were too young to get working papers. It was the Penquin Food Store and that because the previous owner couldn’t spell, or something; the later owner broke the delightful tradition and spelled it right. It wasn’t right; the old spelling was “right” in our eyes.

Why that Antarctic bird? Nobody really knew, but it might have had something to do with whatever food company furnished the sign years earlier. It, too, was lost in the mists of history. They eventually sold the store to a guy who, also eventually, went bonkers and had to be locked up.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The First Word; The Millionth Word

The first word? Sorry; we just don’t know. I claim it was “huh,” grunted around a campfire one prehistoric evening. It meant: “More meat.” It also meant: “Tastes nice; you good cook.” Or, quite possibly, it might also have been something like, “When kids in bed, we make whoopee in back of cave.”

Maybe the Geico Cavemen might have it in their oral history. They invented language, so they might know what that elusive first word was. Those ancestors of theirs certainly didn’t sit around the fire, sipping chardonnay and discussing the finer points of philosophy.

Tom Utley, writing from London, laments: “We wait 1,500 years to welcome the millionth word into the English language, with the champagne on ice and the fatted calf slain and oven-ready for the newcomer's arrival. Then at long last it appears, and it turns out to be an outrageous impostor: 'Web 2.0'.

“On Wednesday, a Texas-based internet company solemnly announced that at precisely 10.22 GMT that morning, this wretched expression joined the language to bring the number of English words in common usage into seven figures.”

The self-proclaimed Global Language Monitor sweeps the Web and decides when a word is worthy, in its opinion, to be added. Their stats tell us English grows at the rate of one new word every 98 minutes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hang 'Em High

Dwabba, the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association, is attempting to bring our downtown into a coma, which would be a forward step from death. They actually have done a pretty good job and it’s more like critically ill rather than a coma.

I’ve got a solution that most people think is sick. Have public hangings.

Really. Look at all the advantages they would bring:

Social: People would come out and mingle with each other. This city is divided into sections and that is not good.

Business: It’s a sure shot for the ice cream, pizza and pierogi trucks, plus walk-ins to the brick-and-mortar places. A business boon!

Overcrowded Jails: A little less jamming prisoners in like rats, thus avoiding riots and the misery that comes from those tensions.

Pickpockets: Always a lucrative business for the boys.

Deterrent to Crime: Probably not; anyone who does something wrong, whatever it might be, always thinks they can get away with it. But for a pleasant Saturday or Sunday afternoon’s day out, I’ll meet you in Public Square.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sex With Ducks, And Other Videos

From the film “Carefree,” (1938), Fred Astaire shows us how to use a driving range *and* do a tap dance at the same time. Try that, Tiger Woods. It’s not his most amazing piece of work, but it’s a lot of fun and supposedly among his favorites.

The Lindy Hop or Swing Dancing: The Hellzapoppin’ Jam from the 1941 movie “Hellzapoppin’.” As poster PeteyHop said: “Back when Swing dancing was a full contact activity!! One miscalculation and somebody could get knocked out.”

The Nicholas Brothers in “Stormy Weather.” Fred Astaire, who certainly knows a thing or two about dance in the movies, once called this performance “the greatest dance number ever filmed.” Those words are from the master himself. A poster adds: “The Nicholas brothers are by far and FOREVER! will be the greatest dancers of all time.”

“Sex With Ducks.” TV evangelist Pat Robertson (is he still around?) made some comparison between gay marriage and sex with ducks. So a duo under the name of Garfunkel and Oates (Riki "Garfunkel" Lindhome and Kate "Oates" Micucci) made this screamer which has had 400,400 views so far (6/21).

Monday, June 08, 2009

Two Weeks, At Most

I visited a friend Monday afternoon. He had been treated for cancer of the throat and, while it was very serious, things were going well: a combination of chemo and radiation was working well and there was hope for the future. Scoreboard: Meds 1, Cancer 0.

Then the disease rallied and it was Cancer 2, Meds 1.

Monday, it was Cancer 10, Meds 0 and less than two weeks to live. The person who had been an ordinary, healthy and happy person was now bedridden, barely able to talk (and just about impossible to understand), most likely holding on until his children could arrive from Wisconsin on Wednesday. Then, all bets are off.

Recognize him? Not a chance. Not by looks, not by speech, not by mannerisms. It was hard to look at him, to speak with him and talk about the elephant in the parlor: his imminent death. You don’t say, “How are you doing?” Or, “You seem to be looking a bit better today.” He knows what’s going on. “I hope your passing is peaceful.”

I’d have stayed away, except he asked to see me and be comforted by my words. I went because I don’t think loyalty is a big thing in my life; I went because I think loyalty is the only thing in my life. You stand by your friends, in good times and bad. You go when called if they are injured, sick or dying.

If not, you never were a friend; just an acquaintance.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

You'd Think They Might Know

So there I am, driving down the only worthwhile street in the borough of Parsons, a remote section of Wilkes-Barre. I guess it has more than twenty streets, most of them short, and the only two which matter are George Street (the aforementioned only worthwhile street) and Austin Avenue, a far second which, at least, comes out to the main drag which passes by on the north end of “town.”

I’m headed to Austin Avenue and I’ve a pretty good idea of where it is, but just to be safe I roll down my window and ask a lady who is walking by across the street.

She isn’t sure. “Up the street a few blocks and to the left, I think.” Not much help there.

I go further and there is some old coot sitting on a bench; I’ve hit pay dirt this time. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s over there,” he says, pointing somewhat leftward.

So I go to the end, take the left I think is the way and two (2) blocks over is Austin Avenue. Two blocks and neither person knew where it was. How can you not know when it’s that close and there just aren’t that many streets?

On the West Side, the boroughs melt into each other without much in the way of signs telling you where you are. Yet, the residents can tell you to the inch which is which. You hear a street name (Charles) and anyone knows it’s Luzerne. But in a small burg like Parsons … I don’t know.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Keep To The Right

The Chinese do not have the tradition of driving, as we do here in the States. We’ve been doing it for ninety years, as a fairly common thing (well, at least “not uncommon”), while the average person over there still has not had the opportunity.

Witness any tv shots of their traffic protocols. There aren’t any. Or, what do exist don’t seem to be observed and them what are there don’t seem to mean much.

We instinctively know what to do from our earliest years on this planet. Any person old enough to think knows that cars keep to the right, that traffic lights are in certain positions and the colors have important meanings. Streets have lines for a reason and it’s important to wear seat belts and/or child seats.

We have almost a genetic predisposition about these things. But a country where it’s all pretty new will have problems for a generation while they sort it out. Right now, it’s confusing, based on the way it’s been done for ages past; when the little children get old enough to drive, things will be better; their children will be as instinctive as ours are now.

We’re instinctive about our language, but the “English Only” faction doesn’t realize that their grandparents had a learning curve, as well, when they came over from the Old Country. It took a generation or two before they completely assimilated in speech. First, only Polish; second Polish at home, accent at work; third straight English. Cars, speech, air travel all have the “third generation” factor.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Things I Didn't Know

These appear to be real. From listverse.com/lists

March 3 – If Pets had Thumbs Day
Don’t you ever wonder what the world would be like if your dog or cat had thumbs? At least I wouldn’t have to get up at 5am in the morning to feed them!

March 13 – Ear Muff Day
When the next time you put on a pair of these, you can thank the big-eared Chester Greenwood for creating them in 1877. He called them the Champion Ear Protectors. Thankfully the name was shorted to the ear muff.

March 18 – Supreme Sacrifice Day
Ok… so not a wacky one, but nice to have. This should be a better celebrated holiday. This day is to recognize those who have given up the most for others. This includes: fireman, policeman, soldiers and of course Jesus.

March 20 – Extraterrestrial Abductions Day
So I had to do a lot of probing on this one… Only in America would we have a day to celebrate something like this. So keep your eye on the sky!

March 28 – Something on a Stick Day
It’s a holiday to celebrate anything on a stick. Popsicles, corndogs or jalapenos.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Peaceable Kingdom

Edward Hicks created the “Peaceable Kingdom” painting, a child in the midst of various creatures which would not mind eating him, or each other, without a moment’s thought. But they don’t; all are gathered about, happy as can be.

I’d like a situation of that nature, where nothing runs from me, nor do I run from anything else. Mama bears and her cubs are friends of mine, wolves come up and see if I have any treats for them.

The best I can do is our campus, where the squirrels look at us idly as we walk by and the robins may or may not glance at us as they peck for a noon meal. Maybe that’s as peaceable as it’s going to get: the occasional lost deer keep their distance and the only bear we’ve seen was lost and just needed directions to the nearest wooded area.

We do have a statue of St. Francis, leaning over to pet a wolf. Whether or not the wolf sees his fingers as fingers, or as sausages is up to one’s interpretation, but I’d be darned careful if I were he.

But St. F. hasn’t even attracted a pigeon. At least, not one which has left the typical pigeon calling-card. I wonder if pigeons don’t like to land on bronze? They are naturally attracted to crags and stony hills, which is why they head for statues and tall ledges in buildings. Maybe God, or Mother Nature, or something gives St. Francis a pass and pigeons leave him alone.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Red Smoke, Black Smoke

When a pope is being elected, the ballots are counted and burned. They are fried dry, producing white smoke if a winner is found; with a little water to make black smoke for "nobody at this time." As some reporter at the Vatican, during such a time, observed during a long, and perhaps contentious, election: "There is no such thing as gray smoke."

But why not Red or Blue smoke from the White House? Tim Russert made up the color-party connection while he was covering the 2000 presidential election and it stuck. So let’s cut out all the speculation, the intense speculative programming wipe-out stuff the networks feed us in favor of the ages-old Papal practice.

The White House will announce the victors in the manner that the Vatican indicates we have a new Pope: Colored smoke from a special chimney.

Blue smoke = Democrat. Red smoke = Republican. Gray smoke = Third party. Simple as that; we can watch our regular programs on election night and, after all the country has had a chance to vote (with early hours for Hawaii and California), the networks switch to The Chimney Which Smokes.

Breathlessly, the commentators watch as the floodlights show whether or not Barack Obama wins a second term, his competition will be President, or whoever leads in the third party race gets elected. Of course, the ACLU will object, but we’re not establishing a church; just copying an idea that’s worked for a long time.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Best New Meds Are Here

Hey, great news! There are some new meds out and while some are by prescription only, others are over-the-counter and will help with a lot of our health problems. Everything can be solved!

With a few side-effects, to be sure: May cause dizziness. May cause sleepwalking with no memory of the event. May cause internal bleeding. May cause depression. May cause seizures. May cause death. May cause suicide.

Someday, when things are dull, I’ll have to write down all the “may” effects on a few of these meds and post them here. A friend of mine says, “Who would ever want to take these things with all the bad stuff that could happen to you?”

Well, here are the warnings with just one of the meds I have to take twice a day from now until whenever:

Dizziness; Fatigue; Drowsiness; Mental and physical slowing or delays; Nervousness; Upper respiratory infection; Coordination problems; Taste changes; Confusion; Difficulty with concentration or attention; Nausea; Diarrhea; Memory loss; Anxiety; Language or speech problems; Changes in gait; Insomnia; Mood problems; Decreased sense of touch; Abdominal and joint pain; Mood problems; Erectile dysfunction; Hair loss; Hemorrhoids; Depression; Aggressiveness; Chest pain; Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; Hallucinations or paranoia; Vision problems; Blood clots; Suicidal thinking or behavior.

Monday, June 01, 2009

So, Here I Am, Pondering...

Pondering the mysteries of the universe, as I have done 1,118 times before. There are a lot of mysteries in this universe to ponder.

…Is there an up or down in the universe? Where is the top of the universe and where is the bottom? Can planets and stars fall down to the bottom?

…How many toothpicks can you make from the average telephone pole? How do they make clothespins, the kind without a metal spring? Have we really paved over an area the size of South Carolina to make our roads?

…Nome, Alaska, has a tree; one tree, growing in an area where trees cannot survive. Someone brought it there and carefully tends it. Can I make my backyard look like Pitcairn Island, or import breadfruit trees?

…Christmas comes but once a year, unless you are on Christmas Island barely north of the Equator this side of the International Date Line and are talking with someone on the Christmas Island barely south of the Equator on the other side of the IDL. Then it comes continuously twice a day.

…I wonder why we don’t confuse letters and numbers. Do they look that much different? Are numbers more rounded than letters? Speaking of that, how did the Romans multiply numbers?