Saturday, October 31, 2009

The E'en Of All Hallows

Hallow… Holy. The holy ones in Heaven. All of them.
E’en… Evening, the evening before.
Hallow E’en: The evening before All the Holy Saints’ Day.
Halloween: Costume and candy night.

It’s a long way from children going from cottage to cottage in Ireland, dressed as their favorite saints, with lighted turnips, begging for soul cakes –to- children in the USA dressed in pirate costumes or the latest movie characters ringing doorbells and holding out bags for candy. The centuries and the cultures have made big changes.

Has the holiday gone out of hand? Is it a case where the children (and, if they are small enough, their parents) no longer have any idea what it’s about?

Ok, Labor Day. When is the last time you thought about the working class, the people who dig ditches, build bridges and haul the garbage? Nah; it’s just a three-day weekend, the end of summer, a time for picnics. Ask anybody, even those for whom the day was invented, and see what they say. The holiday is long forgotten.

Fourth of July. Can anyone tell the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights? Ask anyone when the D. of I. was actually sent out to the world (July 2, in case you wondered) and how long it took for everyone to sign it (quite a while, and not all at once as you might think). It’s just fireworks and picnics now.

Friday, October 30, 2009

No Armored Cars At Cemeteries

“He’s the richest man in St. Michael’s Cemetery,” my father said to me about Old Man Ryan. The guy owned some rather important land, which had been sold to a rather important developer for some rather important money. But, sorry to say, Old Man Ryan found he couldn’t take it with him. There were no armored cars at the cemetery.

I don’t begrudge someone having money; I certainly don’t mind *me* having a little stockpile of dead presidents on green pieces of paper. The coin of the realm is always welcome in my little home by the side of the road. Like Dolly Levi, in the musical, snuggling up to her cash register, “It’s a little lumpy, but it rings.”

Yet, I wonder about these rich people whose wealth is measured in far more than they can possibly spend. Money is meant to be used, like food.

Maybe it’s a million dollars, maybe more, maybe lots less. But there’s no sense at all in having $50 million late in life when all you can do with it is have your accountant tell you how much you have. Scrooge McDuck was like that: large buildings full of money, but too cheap to have fun with it.

H. L. Hunt, the billionaire, went to his grave having never given a cent to charity; he was afraid it might somehow benefit the communists. Others worked hard until they died and I wonder if they ever thought of the vacations they missed because they put everything off in search of that extra million.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Production Studio Arrived

You don’t always do radio from a “live” studio. I prefer that way, mostly because it reminds me of how I did the magic for so many years. But sometimes it just can’t be done in real time, or portions need to be done in advance; that’s where a production studio (or booth) comes in handy.

My radio program is done essentially “live” in terms the FCC accepts: recorded in one take and broadcast the next day. A show 60 minutes long, done in exactly 60 minutes.

So I have the regular studio, which had to be moved due to renovations in the building it shares with another office. That’s in a location which is ideal at night, but very loud during the daytime. The new production studio, where people who can’t be around at night, do the pre-records, is in a different location – my room.

It works well, but I needed to equip it professionally; what I had been using was hardly fit for more than one person. There would be three of us in the new setting. So I bought a new mixer and two new microphones. The MiniDisc recorder was already in place and we were pretty much set to go. It all worked, and worked well.

Cheaply, too: even a professional mixer comes in at quite a reasonably price these days. This one provides for three mics and two “line” inputs (for tape or cd’s) and has a bunch of features included. What they’re able to build, and put into a small package, these days is amazing. Forget the good old days.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Maybe, Just Maybe, It's Too Big

The new ship, Oasis of the Seas, is five times as long as the Titanic and is designed to stay afloat regardless of hull damage. It will be its own lifeboat and make it to shore safely. I don’t like those words; we’ve heard them before nearly 98 years ago and the ship’s luxury back then lulled people into complacency.

What have we got here? 2.7 million square feet of deck space, 26,000 seats of various types for passengers. An average of 6,000 passengers and over 2,100 crew. There are 16,000 sprinkler heads connected to the water supply by 62 miles of pipe. And more than 81,000 cubic feet of water in the ships 21 pools and whirlpools.

The ship has what they call "neighborhoods." Different parts of the ship, totally separate and separately themed. One is named Central Park, which features a square with boutiques, restaurants and bars, including a bar that moves up and down three decks, allowing customers to get on and off at different levels.

With a ship such as that, would you be better off at a resort? Do you really benefit from the cruise experience, where you hang out on the decks, look at the ocean, lie on a deck chair at night and just look at the stars? There is much to be said when the water is occasionally a bit rough, when you can easily see outside and know you’re moving.

It’s a cruise, after all, not a day at the mall, an afternoon at Disneyland or some exquisite watering-hole after you’ve dropped the kids off hundreds of feet away.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Those Lovely Autumn Leaves

It’s Autumn and the colors are delightful up here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. When I lived in Vermont, it was much the same but I was on the side of a mountain and we saw far more trees from our house; the valley and the mountain on the other side was as full of color as it was with tourists and their cameras.

Years ago, in grammar school days and earlier, we walked through the deep piles of leaves (deeper then than now, as was the snow, the beds and the tables). We didn’t really walk through them as much as swish. Some trees dropped more leaves than other; some were more swishable; a few were just skinny, rather quiet, leaves.

I wish we could have made leafballs, like snowballs. They would have a whole different set of throwing (and packing) characteristics, but it still would be fun.

Now that I’m older, I still enjoy swishing through the leaves, but I also realize how the tree I park under has its ways. It keeps me and the car cool and dry in the summer, but it sheds an awful lot of leaves in the fall. I think it sucks up leaves from other trees just to drop them on my car; it couldn’t have that many on its branches.

Other trees, on other cars, drop their missiles as “donk … donk … donk” on the roof. Mine doesn’t, but if leaves made a noise, it would be intolerable. Theirs have no lasting proof of the falling nuts, as the squirrels carry them off; no known creature cares for the leftovers from my vehicle except, perhaps, my rake.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What's The Difference Between . . .

Q: What’s the difference between Yankee Franks and Fenway Franks?
A: You can buy Yankee Franks in October.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, and it’s not very likely that I will be in the future, a follower of any kind of sports. Neither a follower nor fan am I. When a bunch of us from the radio show went to a Triple A game up here, one of the crew had to explain to me what was going on.

And this for a person who was an enthusiastic sports announcer for the evening news and I was often the guy giving the results and summarizing the plays. Did not give a rat’s *** and, when I left the studio to attend night school around the corner, people were amazed at how gung-ho I was. I just read what the AP sent and faked it.

But I’ve always had a special, if hidden, place for the Yankees. I don’t know why; they shared much of the same real estate as the Dodgers, the Giants and, much later, the Mets. But those three teams never made it with me. The Yankees, most certainly. They had, in my mind, the sparkle that was major league baseball.

Maybe it’s because I heard Babe Ruth’s memorial program on the radio. Or some such thing about him. I think he retired before I started showing up on the planet, but there was some other event and I remember writing his name up in the attic circa 1947. He was the Yankees, and the Yankees were baseball.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

And To Further My Remarks...

Continuing with yesterday’s thoughts, even though this is also being written on the 27th, here is the second part of “Oh, no … I have to move the studio.”

The program I do for the blind is actually done in two separate “takes.” One of them is put together in the morning, when my daytime readers drop by to record their inserts for the show. I have already cut up, and pasted onto scrap paper, each item they will read. Then we go along and lay down maybe 15 or 18 tracks.

Once or twice a week, there can be a night-time reader who comes in when I am actually putting the show together. The daytime person does seven cuts, the night person does seven and I pick up what’s left. The inserts already done are fed into the show with what I hope are seamless joins, as if they are actually there.

The pre-records are done in a “production booth” in my room. It’s not really a booth, as such, but a mixer, three mics and a MiniDisc recorder on a desk. It works well and is quieter in the daytime than being in the regular studio (which is quieter at night). We make the best of both situations and it works well.

I’m waiting for a better mic mixer, due any day now from a new supplier just a few miles up the road. A mixer, another mic stand and a couple of connectors. I could use a better mic for one of the readers; my new supplier might help, or I could always go to Radio Shack for one of their $35 models.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

As I Was Saying...

This was actually written on the 27th. Why am I behind when there was a whole weekend to catch up? Ah, there is a story, at once dreadful and renewing.

The building where I did my radio show for the blind is being renovated and, since they can’t work around me, the crew politely informed me that (not in these words), “You are outta here, fella.” So I had to find another place that wasn’t a tent in the park so I could continue broadcasting … and had to do it rather quickly.

First item of business was to tag all the inputs and outputs of the wiring; each wire to be identified on each end. I was also trying to find a new home for the studio; none of the ideas seemed to work. The last resort was the storage room in the basement of one building; it was, indeed, the last resort. I’ve worked in worse.

With all the plans in place, I did the last show in the old studio and less than ten minutes later, one of the staff and I were disconnecting and stashing everything in our cars for the trip up the hill. That was about 8:10pm; I finished setting up and re-wiring in the new studio around 12:10am. From old to new (and working) in four hours.

Planning was, and always is, the key to making an efficient and workable move. Marking the cables and identifying them completely; having the equipment color-coded to match the control board inputs; moving the non-essentials as soon as I knew where we would be: all made the situation much easier.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dear Mr. Expert (Part Two)

Q: Would Paul Revere get everyone together if he had the Internet?
A: Sure; a message like “One if by c:\ and two if by LAN.”

Q: My Vermont friend needs more RAM. How can I help?
A: Check with the Sheep Breeder’s Association.

Q: What’s the difference between F1 and F12?
A: About 11.

Q: I am a born-again Christian. When I push “S” on my machine, it says my mail is saved. Does that mean I will meet it again in the next life?
A: Look in your folder and see if you really want to see those messages again. I’d recommend more use of “D.”

Q: Had any unfortunate experiences on e-mail?
A: Yup. I hit the D key, lost my E mail and said the F word.

Q: Those porn sites are awful, and so many of them!
A: Yes, I spent lots of my time looking them up, too.

Q: I like using lots of typefaces in my letters. I think it’s great to have all of them.
A: Be careful; you don’t want your letters to look like ransom notes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dear Mr. Expert (Part One)

Q: Are there any permanent economic principles?
A: When your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.

Q: Did you ever have dyslexia?
A: Yes, but thank better I’m goodness.

Q: If turkeys can’t fly, why do they have wings?
A: So they can crash gracefully.

Q: About premarital sex: I can’t see how our young people will risk a lifetime of shame for an hour of pleasure.
A: How do you make it last an hour?

Q: What was your biggest food disappointment?
A: I put French bread in the toaster and didn’t get French toast.

Q: Sometimes my computer tells me to hit “any key.” I don’t have an “any key” so what should I do?
A: The “any” key is between the “caps lock” and “enter.”

Q: Is there any defense against flaming in chat rooms?
A: Yes; just hit CTRL-F-U.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Well, This *Is* Northeastern PA

Things aren’t helped up here by the fact that it’s often overcast, which it is today. We’ve had a few days of drizzly rain; rain and overcast. Depressing.

Two president judges have been convicted of corruption, one of them having railroaded kids thru the juvie system and wrecking their lives for the most minor offenses (shoving another kid in school, for instance), just to fill a new prison he had built and for which he received millions in kickbacks. Plus, I think, a finder’s fee for each kid.

Our bishop got fired, which is a very exceptional thing in the RC church. Ok, he stepped down for health reasons; he wasn’t fired. But as soon as he stepped down, he got better real quick; do the math. He ruined the diocese, turned everyone against him, Catholic and Protestant alike, and treated all with the same distant arrogance.

The FBI has been roaming around here because, after pulling two judges off the bench, they found an entanglement of roots which reached out widely. It’s hard to describe how deeply and how far the corruption in this county has gone. Theft, bribery and other offenses have shaken the citizens deeply. It’s been a bad six months.

We had an event in Public Square and the Powers That Be decided it would be ok for that day to allow beer on the Square. The PTB also warned tavern owners about underage customers and carding everyone. They sent in decoys and, sure enough, several bars served the kids. Some people just never learn – and this was the second time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I’m listening to AM740, a flamethrower out of Toronto. (“Flamethrower” = a radio term for a high-power AM station that covers a huge distance.)

They run old radio shows in the evening and right now “Dragnet” is coming out of the speaker. It is, of course, in no particular order, Joe Friday, a murder, odds and ends of realistic conversation having nothing to do with the plot and all the rest left to our imagination. It is theater of the mind.

We make up the sets, the faces, the actions. I just heard the cops run into the moll’s apartment, locate the suspect, get into a gun battle and shoot him. It was an actual case with a wrap-up giving the status of the gal’s sentence. By the way, they had just been married two days ago. “The honeymoon’s over,” Friday says.

I think what made Dragnet so successful was, among other things, the chatter between the characters. Much of what they said was quite incidental to the plot: picking up a prescription from the drug store, not wanting to take his last cigarette, got any aspirin, etc. It’s the stuff of life, what we do all the time at work.

Is this sort of thing still around? Every Saturday afternoon, when “A Prairie Home Companion” comes to you live on your local Public Radio Station. “Live,” by the way, meaning literally “right now, on stage, no recording.” When you listen, you make up all but the spoken words. It’s really theater of the mind.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Driving Through A War Zone's Roads

Well, actually it's just a few of Our Fair City's streets, but it looks as if a few mortar shells landed here. Some days it seems as if it’s Berlin after the war.

It’s hard in this economy to bring things back to the way when we had money coming out of the storm drains. It was hard enough in the prosperous days here in town, a run-down burg with a pride level of +1 on a good day. Everything was going down the crapper, partially due to a crazy mayor, but also due to what happens to cities everywhere.

We elected a new mayor whose big announcement was, “We Believe.” Sounded weak at the time, but he tied into what people wanted: Let’s start believing in ourselves. Make our houses, lawns and street gutters look good. If people open stores, then get out and patronize them; don’t just automatically go packing off to the mall out of town.

Very slowly, roads are being paved. The process uses oil products, which can be expensive, depending on the Arabs, the Western Hemisphere producers and the general costs of doing the job. Some roads here are in good shape; some are fair; others look as if they have been patched too many times and need real fixing.

Oh, to be the Mayor: Which streets get fixed? Who will complain about their road being ignored while someone else has theirs done over? Union Street is being done, but what about that multi-patched section near the Turkey Hill Mini-Mart? Who knows who, that their street gets done first? Huh? Huh? Sleep tight, Mayor.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Diocese of Wilmington Went Under

The Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, just slid beneath the waves. In their case, “Chapter 11” is not part of a Biblical book, but the bishop’s attempt to keep his miter above water. Too many abuse cases, on one hand, and too many people with large baskets grabbing at eggs laid by the Golden Goose.

Fellow named Anderson, a lawyer by trade, claims to have been abused by a priest when he was young and uses that to justify his full-time practice of cracking down on clergy abusers. All well and good, I suppose, but he has been quoted as helping other lawyers get in on the business, saying, “There’s plenty of money for everyone.”

And indeed there is. I forget the ballpark (or, to be more accurate, the bank account) figure, but he has made perhaps $20 million in fees just for himself.

I’m never sure just how much healing a lot of money can do. It can pay for the services of someone in the healing professions, a person who can help the victim achieve some peace of mind and go forward with his life. But can a large judgement heal, or just keep up the anger level? Does cash bring peace, or bad memories?

Are the lawyers interested in bringing the victim back to life, or collecting the 33%, 40% or sometimes 50% contingency fee? You sue for $1 million in a slam-dunk case and the barrister walks out with $350k. You have $650k, enough for college, a trip to Disney, a few cruises, new car, fine restaurants. Hey, Father, rub me again; I’m broke.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My In-Car Tea Mug Quit On Me

I have an out-and-back ride twice a week, each segment being fifteen minutes. Not anything to write home about for you people, but I hate being in a car. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. So to make the trip enjoyable, I bring along a heatable mug of tea. It plugs into the cig lighter and stays hot for the trip up and, an hour later, the trip back.

Got all set for the return trip last week and it just didn’t seem to make speed. It was connected to the lighter plug ok, but it was only warm and didn’t get any better all the way home. Tried it again this week with the same results, which worried me as I look forward to sipping the only beverage that God invented. Or so I hear.

The thing has got to be busted and I’ll have to check out the stores and see where it came from. I didn’t buy it, so it’s off to K-Mart and other equally fine stores. I don’t patronize W-Mart because of several practices they have, so I’ll have to poke around elsewhere. It’s a “Totes,” which is a good brand of anything and I don’t want junk.

“Creature Comfort” or “Anti-Anxiety” drink? “Memories of Being Eight with My Own Pink Cup” or “Oral Gratification”? I’m not that deep; I just want some tea in the car.

I also like some little bit of a thing to chew on. Now, that is something for a shrink to discuss with me: Maybe a fear of the car breaking down between here and Exeter (I could walk back, honest to goodness, as Mom would say), being lost in a snowdrift and not being found for days, or being eaten by a bear.

Friday, October 16, 2009

On The Road Again

They found mold in the building where my studio is located (not the main radio station). We're on the road again, folks. And that, pretty generally, is why this blog and several following are late. There is nothing like getting the news on a Friday morning and trying to move out on a Tuesday (which is tomorrow, Oct. 20, in real-life time).

First, I had to locate a space, which is not easy in a college where there is not a whole lot of spare real estate hanging around with a roof overhead.

Then I had to cadge that sheltered space out of whoever is in charge. After that, I have to start moving things out, leaving only the most essential until Facilities can dig up a 6’ table for the operating equipment. At that point (which should be Tuesday the 20th), with everything else in place, I do The Big Move between programs.

It’s pretty much like changing your clothes while running down Main Street. The difference is: while you won’t get arrested for lewd behaviour moving the station, you won’t get electrocuted by streaking down the road. There are certain trade-offs, as you can see. I don’t look good changing my clothes; better with my hair standing on end.

I think everything is planned out fairly well. I’ve moved several times before and with each journey you learn from the last. This new place is far from perfect (how far can you get from perfection is about where we are) and I’d love something better, but there just isn’t that “something” in the cards. Except outdoors in a tent.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I've Got This Photograph

One of my relatives mentioned Stratford Center what, for us, was the absolute center of town. Those people who lived up north, in Paradise Green, were just a bunch of Uptown People who weren’t really Stratford folks as far as I was concerned. (No offense to the PG people who might be reading this, but that was years ago.)

We had trains in the Center; we had a library, which I haunted; we later had the Connecticut Turnpike, which pretty much tore the Center apart.

There was Lovell’s Hardware store, older than the USA itself; some chemical company I can’t remember, but it did have a witch on a broomstick in the front window. Dobby’s Men’s Shop. Dahl’s Variety Store. The Post Office. Some building with a men’s club on the second floor. A florist with a parrot in a cage.

My relative said Dobby’s is now a tea room (and I saw it on some tv show); Lovell’s is one or two restaurants, possibly one of them Mexican. The post office is long gone and the turnpike took its place. I think the chemical company’s offices are a turnpike casualty, as well. I don’t know what happened to the florist and its parrot.

“Would you like to visit?” she asked. No, I replied, I want to keep it in my memory as it was. “I don’t blame you.” What good would it do to go back after all these years? I have no business there at this point and would just be looking at the ghosts of all the stores I knew and patronized. Let it be, let it be.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

So This Squirrel Dropped Out Of The Sky

The ordinary days are defined by those during which the unusual happens. The unusual varies according to how you live, what you do on a regular basis, what is common.

For me, it is highly unusual (that is, once in a lifetime so far) for a squirrel to drop out of the sky and land at my feet. That sort of thing doesn’t happen; never did until this morning, as I crossed the courtyard in the school. It was a “huh??” moment, a full-stop, let’s check this out moment. A true “wtf” moment.

The sky it fell out of was a tree branch about twenty feet above me. Maybe fifteen at the very least. “Plop” went the critter, then it re-established its bearings and ran off into some brush. I looked up and there was another such up on the same branch, looking down; could have been just as surprised as I was.

Had I been just three feet further, I’d have been wearing a squirrel hat. Warm, yes; but its little claws would not have done my hairdo any good. As it was, two coeds started laughing at the sight of a squirrel plopping down out of nowhere and me with a surprised look on my face. You just don’t see this every day of the week.

We see squirrels climbing up trees, jumping across the courtyard from branch to branch and even crossing busy streets on electric, telephone or cable-tv wires. They do it with the greatest of ease. How this one managed to fall from a sturdy branch is beyond me. Unless the wife threw him out of the house, or something.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lots Of Things Happened On Oct. 13

1949: I turned 7 ½ years of age, as this planet notes its turns around the sun, far out near the edge of our galaxy. Three hundred billion or more galaxies with at least, perhaps more than, three hundred billion stars in each and, in one galaxy, circulating one star, one particular little boy notes his half-year birthday.

1949: We move into our new house. From “up here” to “out there.” And it sure was “out there” when we moved in. Not a whole lot of people, lots of grassland, plenty of swamp, two roads (both subject to flooding, depending on tides and storms) and one brick, apparently weather-beaten, Catholic church.

1983: My father passed on to glory. Note to younger smokers: Nothing happens to your lungs for years and then, when it catches up to you, it’s far too late. Many years of three and four packs a day kept him on oxygen for the last seven years of what you could call his life. Eventually, you quit smoking one way or the other.

1983: My father’s watch was either on his wrist or the table next to his bed in Milford (CT) Hospital. When he passed on, it stopped. I never believed those stories before, but I sure do now. We noticed it had started up again after his funeral. Find your own reason, draw your own conclusions; it stopped and it started up.

October 13 has been, to an extent, an interesting day for me. As days go, I can’t think of any other that has had four meaningful events.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What The Indians Saw

A bunch of lost Italians on the beach who thought they were halfway around the world, that's what. It is reliably reported they said, "There goes the neighborhood."

The National Geographic Magazine once published an issue simple titled: “1491.” It was an attempt to tell the story of this part of the earth’s real estate before a bunch of Europeans went off-course, landed on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean (we’re still not sure where) and really messed things up for a civilization.

Children these days are being told more of the truth than we were. Maybe the teachers are going a little overboard on the “villain” side and omitting some of the nicer aspects of his discovery. After all, Chris may have introduced smallpox but the Indians gave them lung cancer in return when the explorers brought tobacco back. Tit for tat.

Anyway, some boats appeared approaching the shore and the Indians quickly set up a Diamonds International store (that's a joke which cruise ship passengers will laugh at with a knowing smile). Chris waded ashore with banner flying and a priest ready to baptize the heathen savages. Or beat them until they accepted the loving Jesus.

Then he grabbed a few, brought them back to home port and displayed them for all to see. It’s not recorded what the Indians felt about all this, but I’m willing to bet they weren’t too happy about being grabbed, tied up, tossed into a boat and taken away from family, friends and homeland.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

2 Guys Drive 300 Trucks At 70mph

So there are these two guys, going cross-country at 70mph, with 300 semi’s all at once. Well, truth in advertising forces me to say that it’s not quite that easy and I’m not being quite that honest. They are actually driving a locomotive (several hooked together) in a train that might be a mile or so long. Possibly longer if the land is level.

You can figure pretty accurately that a mile-long train can hold the equivalent, in each boxcar, of three semi-trailers. Trucks aren’t that big and rail cars aren’t that small. So there are three hundred loads rolling along at a good speed. The Missouri Blue Streak goes to Los Angeles at 70mph and has priority over all other trains.

I’ve heard people say trains have gone out of style. They should take a trip out to the Midwest where the lines are triple-tracked and each one carries a mile-long freight every twenty or thirty minutes, 24h/day. You just don’t have the local puffers with a string of cars going from Toonerville to Red Rock with the daily freight and passengers.

The Ringling Brothers circus train pulls about fifty cars (there are two such trains traveling around the country), sometimes with six locomotives on the front. The Alaska railroad may have twenty-four cars: its own, plus those of several cruise lines, the longest scheduled trains in the country.

The most scheduled trains? Metro-North in Connecticut and its affiliates around NYC. 556 trains every day with a 95% on-time rate.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

International Metric Day: 10/10

We stand in great company, with other significant world powers, in resisting the efforts to make the metric system a world-wide means of measurement. Let us battle! The United States rallies with its allies, Burma (also known as Myanmar) and Liberia. We shall overcome the rest of the world, when Jesus ice skates through Hell.

What’s the big deal here? We’ve got these two little peashooter countries, mere specks on the map, and the giant US of America which should have been out there leading the rest of the world. Instead, all we can do as our part of the change from quarts to liters is when buying soft drinks. Coca-Cola is doing a better job than the U.S. Senate.

God created us metric: ten fingers, ten toes. You’d think we might take the hint and use ten as the multiplier or divider for things in our lives. Nah; not a chance.

So in an instant, as you drive north from Vermont, 55mph becomes 100km. Let’s see, how do we keep to the speed limit? Divide 100 by 17%; no, that’s the current rate of exchange. Uh, 9/5 times 100 plus 32; no, that’s temperature conversion. Maybe 1.056; no, that’s liters to quarts.

I’m no good at math, but I certainly do well when numbers end in “0” and lengths aren’t confusing, as multiplying 12 inches by 7 times to find out how many feet you have. But don’t you worry about it; with the support of Burma and Liberia, we can bring things back to the way they were in the Old Days.

Friday, October 09, 2009

113 Million Web Logs

A blog (a contraction of the term "weblog") is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Personal bloggers usually take pride in their blog posts, even if their blog is never read by anyone but them. [Wikipedia]

Simple enough. So here we are, but not with an audience of one. Maybe just a few people who feel like leaving comments, but I’ve learned many more are out there.

I’ve learned that if you concentrate on home matters, it’s called a momblog. For legal matters, it’s a blawg. This little spot on the dial is “Things At King’s,” which has nothing to do with King’s College, subtitled “Life On North Franklin,” likewise chronicling nothing that happens on North Franklin Street. But it sounded good.

Dutifully, I try to update each day. Ha. Sometimes that works, but all too often I get caught behind and either put up a teaser (which is actually a reminder to me about the topic I was thinking about) or just fall behind. I’d rather be on time, but only Mussolini made the blogs run on time and even that wasn’t true.

So here I sit, 11:03pm on Sunday, October 11, hoping to catch up with a few more observations on the passing scene. Between this and being a columnist for a local newspaper, I manage to turn out quite a few words every week. Right now, it’s time to leave and take care of my vacationing friend’s cat.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

You Say MonROE, I Say MONroe

In broadcasting, you match how you pronounce localities to how it’s done where you are. You may claim the locals are saying it wrong, but you definitely mark yourself as an outsider if you try to teach them how to say it right. Their grandpappy said it that way, everybody says it that way, and that’s how it is. Period.

Marilyn MunROE may be built just right, but that’s not an issue in MONroe County over here. But then there’s San Souci: “San SouSEE” is without worry anywhere French is spoken, but here in Northeast PA, you have to ask for directions to the “San Sooey” parkway or nobody will know what you want, even though it’s spelled correctly.

Listen to the CBS all-news station in New York City as you drive your vehicle (the “h” is silent), while CBS’s station in Chicago calls it a vehickle (the “h” is noisy).

“Fat,” in PA means overweight; south of Boston it just isn’t nice because of the accent those folks have: “Did someone just fat”? Likewise, a Downeasterner complains that he needs some rest because he is “tyad”; it’s the same sound as Theodore’s nickname if he’s from Texas. I know, because I asked for Ted and got Tyad.

I say “toh-mah-toh” and you say “toh-may-toh”; you say “poh-tah-toh” and I say “poh-tay-toh.” You say “ee-ther” and I say “eye-ther”-- let’s call the whole thing off. But, oh, if we call the whole thing off then we must part and oh, if we ever part then that might break my heart. So let’s call the calling-off off. (George & Ira Gershwin)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Shop On Hancock Street

There was this shop I was just talking about, Bowe Brothers Surface Grinding, located across the street from the main line of the New Haven Railroad. I could have stayed there all day, watching passenger trains at 60+mph, or freights at speeds up to 50. The tracks were busy, all four of them, and they were peak years.

There was a viaduct a few blocks away, under which pedestrians could safely cross the tracks. I guess you can see where I’m going with this.

A fair amount of people (those with a death wish or “it can’t happen to me” attitude) crossed the tracks as they pleased. I was never one of them; people may think I’m crazy from time to time, but they never have thought I’m dumb. Well, let me tell you about some guy who really was. Terminally dumb.

One day, the guys were busy in the shop when there was a flash of light -- something you’d expect at the Second Coming. Turned out not to be that, but some poor fool who wanted to cross the tracks when a freight had stopped. So he climbed up a car’s ladder and crawled across the top, too close to the 11,000-volt overhead wire.

They called the cops, ambulance, fire and priest; the latter said there wasn’t enough left to anoint for the Last Rites. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,” as the poem goes, could do nothing but shovel up the remains. The guy knew what hit him on his way up to the Pearly Gates. More power to him, I say.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

My Father Worked For CBS Records

My father was on the edge of the entertainment industry, producing records for Columbia. He didn’t actually work IN the industry, and nobody, absolutely nobody knew him. But without Jim Carten, Columbia Records would have stood still with nary a disc being shipped to your local record store.

Dad worked for Bowe Brothers Surface Grinding. Columbia kept several piles of 16” discs over in one corner of the shop. On occasion, Tom Bowe would get a call telling him to deliver maybe 50 discs over to CBS in Bridgeport, where they actually made the records to send out nationwide from the master tapes.

He had to surface grind the discs down just a few micrometers on his massive Blanchard grinder; when he hit the magic number, they would go off to Columbia.

They were etched and made into the “mother disc,” which, in turn, would be pressed down onto the vinyl disc. Tom is gone; Dad is gone; the shop is gone; the big Blanchard grinder is gone. (Two people are enjoying life in heaven, a building was recycled, and there is a really big machine out there making lots of money for someone.)

In another blog, I’ve got to tell you about that shop. It’s too long for the few lines I have left here and it doesn’t deserved to be crammed into a story about my father and his tenuous link with Columbia. The shop also made ground parts for a gun company and Dad claimed he worked on the gun (part) that killed John Kennedy. Well … maybe … perhaps…

Monday, October 05, 2009

I Don't Think They Really Meant This

Item: The Firwood United Methodist Church will be honored Sunday when Rev. Horace King, pastor of nine years, will deliver his final sermon.
Ok, we all know what they mean, but they could have phrased it differently.

Item: Hottle’s Restaurant. Crab Cakes, Maryland Style, Delicately seasoned Jumbo Lump Crap served with a light mustard sauce.
The last time I had a jumbo lump crap, I needed a plunger.

Item: Isaiah Pritchard of Plymouth died at Mercy Hospital. He was a member of St. Stephen’s Church and served as a sextant.
That congregation will never lose its way.

Item: “Project Rachel” is for women who have had an abortion each Monday evening at 7 o’clock.
I can’t even imagine a woman having an abortion each Monday night. Must have the gestation period of a fruit fly.

In many Catholic and Protestant churches during Holy Week, there are two ritual services: Washing of Feet and veneration of the True Cross.
Item: St. Clement’s Church. Holy Thursday, Washington of Fleet. Good Friday, Relic of the Truce Cross.
That’s in Philly, where I guess they do things differently.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Hands, And What To Do With Them

What should you do with your hands? You are standing there with these two things hanging at your side; do you just let them hang, in full view of everyone? Do you stick them in your pockets? Hold on to each other behind your back? Cross your arms? Just what are you expected to do with them?

Go into any formal setting and just watch the guys. (I’m not sure what the gals do, so I can’t speak for them; it might make for another blog some day.) Do they have enough self-confidence to just let them all hang out? Most of us look uncomfortable that way and would prefer to hold a book, just to have them look as if they were working.

Radar O’Reilly, in M*A*S*H, did just that. One hand was damaged somehow and he kept a clipboard, or anything, in it so none of the viewers would catch on.

When I’m on the radio, I often work with my right hand over my head and my fingers touching my left ear. I don’t know when I started it, or why, but it does give that hand something to do, while my left hand operates the control board. At night, I sleep with my arms together at a 90-degree angle, like a cat; gives them a place to be.

Almost never in my life have I leaned on my elbows, thus preventing any calluses there. It also means I have to lean in other ways that keep the aforementioned elbows slightly off the edge of the desk – and find a way to keep my hands occupied, since they won’t be under my chin. I still wish we had a prehensile tail.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Indy 500

We have this bridge, two lanes each way plus a turning lane going east. It’s wide and it’s made for racing because the street on the west side is straight, a mile long and at night the lights are green. That long patch of black with yellow lines has been a weekend favorite for people with cars to show off and the rubber to get them rolling.

For some reason (Can you spell “cops”? Can you spell “enforcement”?), the activity has become fairly non-existent in recent years. Perhaps not even existing at all. I seldom see any of that; Old Men Wearing Hats are free to cross the bridge at 20mph or, roughly, 15mph below the limit and 20mph lower than most people go.

The aforementioned Officers of the Law still run little operations on the city side of the structure once in a while. I’ll be listening on the scanner during the business day, when regular folk are out, surprised at the speeds these mom & pop drivers are doing as they race across the structure to the very real possibility of a red traffic signal.

“55,” says one cop. “45 this one… here’s a 50 … this one’s going 55.” Unless it’s a big red truck with lights and sirens, they aren’t going to a fire.

It’s not as if the bridge is breaking apart behind them; that only happens in disaster movies. Well, it might come to be on the 8th Street Bridge in Wyoming Borough, which I use fairly often. But other than that decaying pile of iron, our bridge is sturdy and there’s no sense in screaming across it. Unless you’re in a big red truck…

Friday, October 02, 2009

Autumn, by Jim Carten

Once you have accepted the idea that the good days of summer are over, it does get pretty exciting. My wood is in, the berries are picked and put up. My ancestor Jean-Baptiste Deschênes did not do berries, nor did he chop wood either as back then these tasks belonged to the wife, Anastasie in his case, and their kids.

Truly exciting this season. Back when land clearing was of the utmost importance, wood was no big deal. Today I use selective cutting to preserve the forests, using only broken and dead trees. Ah yes, while scouting wood and just getting out in the woods, we salted a stump for the deer and have begun to bring in apples.

Other days, after dinner (we still call “lunch” dinner) there might be a crown of an old and sickly maple which has fallen and just too good to let rot there. It’ll burn good in my stove next winter. Our wood is stacked in four foot lengths and with the first snow we will skid it out.

If the wood is green, as is the case when we find an uprooted tree like the sugar maple I spotted two weeks ago it will be cut late and stacked in a convenient place so as it will be next to the dirt road which is closed and convenient to get out come next spring. The reason is simple …

This is “moonwood”; there are no leaves on the trees and anyone can spot us. Our wood will be stacked the day before a storm and will be hidden for the season.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Oct. 1, 1910: They Went Different Ways

Wilda Vail; Bonnie Parker. Happy Birthday in heaven to one, Horrid Birthday in Hell to the other. What went right and what went wrong?

Willie Mae, born and brought up as a High Episcopalian in a Norman Rockwell New England town, had been married just short of two years when she was 23. Bonnie, married at sixteen and an honors high school student, had two dozen bullets in her when she was 23. Born within hours of each other, they sure went different ways.

Wilda Mae Vail Carten lived, at least on the surface, the most ordinary of lives: housewife, mother, popular neighbor, churchgoer. Below the surface, eh, you know how things can go in families. At the age of 74, with the cat dead and her husband in the great beyond, she began twelve years of traveling.

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, at least on the surface, was the ideal high school girl. She excelled at creative writing and performed a “Shirley Temple” warm-up act at stump speeches of local politicians. Just before she was sixteen, she hooked up with a loser who she separated from but never did divorce, wearing his wedding ring at the end.

On May 27, 1997, Mom attended Mass as usual, took her tap dance lesson then picked up her cruise tickets. She came home, fell over and was gone on the 29th. On May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde returned to their hideout as usual with a car full of guns. The cops fired 165 rounds; she took enough lead to stop an elephant and was instantly gone.