Monday, November 30, 2009

Oh, Deer

It has been said there were more hunters in the woods of Pennsylvania today, the first day of deer season, than were in Vietnam at the height of the war.

Here’s how it works, at least locally (and, for all I know, across the state): The Monday after Thanksgiving Day, when the season opens, the schools are closed. There is no reason to be open when a great percentage of your students will not be there. They’re all out in the woods trying to reduce our bulging deer population.

We have plenty, too. There are 60,000 roadkill a year in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The surviving deer spouse sees the accident, turns to one of the opposite gender and says, “This is awful; what are you doing tonight?” A few months later, out comes the little potential windshield-breaker.

You see, in its last moments on earth, the deer often get some measure of revenge. At the least, the car gets some pretty good dents; sometimes it takes out the windshield and smashes up the hood. There are times it totals the car, by itself, or causes the driver to run off the road into a healthy tree.

In the woods, you wouldn’t believe how many hunters mistake a guy wearing hunters’ red for a deer. Bambi looks out from behind a bush and shakes her head in wonderment. Maybe they think the deer is wearing camouflage for the occasion and you really don’t want to miss a good shot, even at six feet away.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy New Year, Christians

New Year’s Day comes before Christmas in the Christian religion. For those of you not of our tradition, let me explain; for those of you who are of our tradition and never knew this, I’ll bring you up to speed, as well. It’s all very simple and goes along with all other religions that I could find.

We do ours on the First Sunday of Advent, pretty generally around the end of November. Four weeks of waiting (the meaning of Advent), which ends up with, religiously, the birth of Jesus Christ and, secularly, someone coming down the chimney with a pack on his back and reindeer pooping on your roof.

The Jewish people had their new year about three months ago, followed quickly by their days of repentance. Kick it up, repent fast. Our days of repentance come much later, maybe in February, March or April; since the Christian new year isn’t party time, we can tie our repentance days onto the secular New Year, I guess.

I think the Mayan new year starts on December 22, 2012. They have this long-term calendar which happens to be scaring the daylights out of everyone. It ends 12/21/12, but that’s just New Year’s Eve for them, same as 12/31 is for us. But if you believe it’s the end of days, send me your cash for safekeeping, because I’m skeptical.

So on this Christian New Year’s, toast it in with a glass of altar wine and wait for the civil New Year’s when you can have something more effective.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Stan Freberg was on the money, so to speak, when he recorded "Green Christmas." It was a scathing denunciation of the commercialization of Christmas in story form with cynical adaptation of seasonal songs and hymns. When radio stations began playing it, merchants forced a boycott of the recording. They did a good job of it.

The season used to start, as I recall, after Santa Claus passed Macy’s at the end of the famous Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. He would give out with the laughter, wave at everybody and it was time to hit the stores. I think I once took the train down to F.A.O. Schwartz, the toy store, but never to Macy’s. That’s been a while.

At one time, FDR moved Thanksgiving Day up one week to give the merchants and extra seven days for Christmas shopping. The electorate did not like that and Franklin was smart enough to listen; turkeys were safe for another week after that. I’m sure Eleanor had something to do with it, as well.

One time, I was down in Freeland (the highest point in PA, by the way) and, strung across the main street, was a holiday banner – at the end of September.

Usually, I will try to notice when the first Christmas commercials come on tv. Often, they are not obvious: Sears might have some tool, some new hair dryer, some kids’ thing you never noticed before. Then it starts kicking in and fat men in red suits appear with just the right thing for husband, wife, kids and the family pet.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Spending Thanksgiving Outside Best Buy

So there they sit, some in small tents made for beach use or out in the woods, freezing their @ off, and I’m glad they do. It’s cold, they’re cold and good for them.

It’s Thanksgiving Day and they are scooping food out of a tray, camped out in front of Best Buy, Toys R Us and other manifestations of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ coming hence on the 25th of December. Thanksgiving Day, memorialized now and forever in that famous painting by Norman Rockwell on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

They have to be at the front of the line so they can be among the first to be in the store when it opens on Black Friday. Poop on their family, Poop on the glorious tradition of giving thanks over the turkey and dressing, Poop on the glories of grandma and gramps visiting the grandkids. Gotta be first in line.

I wonder what for? Even the Wise Men showed up late for Christmas. Six days late, as I remember. Maybe the stores were out of gold, frankincense and myrrh, so they had to wait for them to be restocked. I wouldn’t be out there even if a woman from Poland was doing a Pole dance. (sorry)

Actually, at least around here, “Toys” opened at midnight instead of the usual B.F. time of 5:00 or 4:00 or, no joke, 3:00. I haven’t heard of anyone being killed this time, as did happen last year. Nor did I run into any real knock-out fights, as we had up in Pittston when two women got into it over a Cabbage Patch doll. That was something.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Hmmm. Things to be thankful for; sometimes we really have to search for these, because the bad stuff seems to be more prominent.

For instance, I have an incurable physical disorder; not good. But I’m thankful there are medications which pretty much control it.

My car should have a bumper sticker that reads: “This is not an abandoned vehicle,” but it does get me where I’m going and back home again. No complaints there.

So I graduated from high school at the bottom of my class; things were lousy for me during those years. But I found my soul in radio, still do, and it’s been 50 years.

Thirty years ago, I was in a comfortable position and took a chance to chuck it all and start out in a totally new direction. I’m very thankful I took that leap.

My parents quietly encouraged me to do things without their presence. Sitting on the beach in the eye of a hurricane; taking a train trip at age 4 with my 8-year-old brother; getting a job at a major radio station, with zero experience, when I was 17.

I am thankful Mom took me on nature walks when I was a tot, because I learned how to really see the small things, to look for the miniature, to appreciate what others don’t see in their hurry. It helped make me a strong writer.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't Complain When Your Mouth Is Full

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Happened on the ms Maasdam last time out, during one of our wonderful suppers and I wanted to hit the woman with a fish.

“We have no rights in our country any more,” she said. “We have absolutely no rights at all.” Then she went on and on, sounding as if she had been listening to Rush Limburger too much, maybe Glenn Beck or one of those other people who can’t understand the reality of our country even if they stepped out of their studio.

Rights? Lady, you didn’t have to have your papers examined as you went from state to state on your way to the ship. Nobody asked why you wanted to leave the country for your vacation. You could bring any book on board to read without being questioned and you could even make that statement without being arrested.

Just yesterday, there was an article in the newspaper (which is not, nor can ever be, under government control) saying how some guy gave the finger to a cop. The ACLU argued it was protected free speech under the Constitution and he won the case. In many countries, he would have been shot on the spot.

We just had a huge judicial scandal here, which extended in many directions. The judges are on their way to a long term in jail, the juveniles whose rights were trampled had all their cases dismissed and expunged. The citizens are enraged and have voted out of office anyone connected to these crimes. Yes, we have rights.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Two-Cent Letter

Some of you will remember the two-cent letter; others may not want to reveal their age that way. No problem; you don’t have to reply to this blog if you prefer privacy.

Once ‘pon a time there was the penny postcard (legally, first-class mail) and the three-cent stamped envelope (also first-class mail). The cards were nicknamed “the postman’s privilege” because the mailman could read them as he walked his route. They were short letters to friends, “wish you were here” from vacationers.

Second-class mail went for two cents and the envelope was folded inside, not sealed. It was second class in every respect: handled after the first class stuff was set up and, presumably, fair game for any nosy post office personnel who had nothing better to do than snoop in your mail when nobody was around.

Ben Franklin had his mug on the half-sent stamp. Haven’t seen one of them in ages, maybe several ages, nor can I do anything but wonder why we had those at all. I do remember they were orange and I had a few for some reason. Of course, that was back in the day when a half-cent was worth a half-cent.

When we lived way far from the ocean (four miles, a far piece than later, at one block), the mailman came twice a day. It seems there was more correspondence back then, of whatever sort, or fewer vehicles to leave the second half of a route in the olive-drab “relay boxes” along the route where the rest of his mail would be left.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Waiting For A New Map

An atlas, a major unabridged dictionary and maps; with these, you can conquer the ignorance of the world. At least, my grandfather thought that and he was a wise person.

I’ve probably mentioned his firm belief in a Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary as a basic tool for words, with the current MW desk dictionary as a suitable back-up. The best atlas of the time for a world view. But maps: they were stored carefully in the dining-room desk as mine are now in a thick cardboard box. Or on the wall.

Go east from my front lawn, long enough, and you will be walking through downtown Beijing. Or, judging by his maps, Peking or Peiping. I rather suspect “Beijing” was its maiden name and the Chinese chose to return to it; the maps show the gradual change over the years. Go south, through both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

When I have a moment or two, I will turn around and study mine, both in my room and in my radio studio. It doesn’t take long to realize just what is where, and its relationship to us and the other countries. Try looking up St. Helena Island to see how much the French hated Napoleon when they exiled him there. Where? Put on your bifocals.

The WW2 battles in the Pacific; just take a look to see where all those familiar-sounding island names are. It was a long trip trying to liberate them from the Japanese, these vital specs of land, spread over huge areas of water. The History Channel ran a series recently of never-before-seen military on-scene films; it was a rough conquest.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Someone Gave Me A Kerosene Lamp

It’s a cute little thing, about eight inches tall with a copper-plated bottom and a suitable glass chimney, a wick and a little place for kerosene.

I guess it’s a good thing to light and find your way to the bathroom at night, as long as it’s not too far from the house. Aside from that, I guess it would be the best dust catcher you could be given; nobody would buy it except someone with a lot of window ledge space or a mantle if they don’t expect any Christmas cards to put on it.

We used to have Hurricane Lamps at home. Partially because we had a lot of hurricanes there and the lights came in handy; but mostly because they looked nice and, really, had no practical use. Candles, little crystal things hanging down from the elevated “base,” with the requisite chimneys. Much nicer than this kerosene thingy.

I don’t have too many dust catchers here. At least, I don’t think so – but what’s a valuable trinket for me is nothing more than one more thing to find a place for in your house. I have a lot of “oh, you’re going to just LOVE this” hidden away in my closet. And long may it stay there, out of sight and forgotten.

What will people to with my small, dented tea kettle? Don’t know, but it’s what we used at home and it means much to me. Not to you, of course. Nor do the small containers of sand here and in my radio studio; they are from the beach down the street from our house, the last and biggest reminder of where we used to live. Dump it out when I’m gone.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Ultimate Global Warming

There will come a time when we might look back at global warming and laugh. “What a bump in the road that was,” we laugh. “A degree here and a degree there.”

Well, we won’t actually be laughing because the sun will have blown up and it just reached the earth. We, meanwhile, have long since been incinerated and the inner two planets are now part of the sun – as ours will soon be. We’re up in heaven watching this take place as the glaciers vaporize and rocks melt.

Our sun probably won’t blow up as such, but will only start expanding and turn the first three or four planets into ashes. The next few will be terribly hot and Neptune might be a good place for a summer vacation. Other stars, well, they tend to make quite a scene when it’s time to pack it up and go home.

Supernovas and I think the extreme is a hypernova, but don’t take that one to the bank. Either one of them is worth viewing, if not being a part of. A supernova is when a star runs out of gas, but has just enough in its collapsing self to blow up in a most spectacular fashion. You don’t want to be there or anywhere near it.

We just discovered one of those extreme big ones. It happened a while ago and was very big. “A while ago” = 7.5 billion years and the light just reached us. The universe is big and that particular explosion was only halfway out to the edge. The guy in the Verizon Wireless ads is still asking, “Can you hear me now?” with no answer.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The House In Halifax Harbor

I would love to live in some unusual or out-of-the-way houses. Some different places that appeal to me in, perhaps, odd ways. The house in Halifax harbor.

That’s in Nova Scotia. It’s near the harbor light and it’s most likely not a real house, but I could fix it up nicely and keep a boat handy for trips to town. I think it would be a neat place to live, what with all the water traffic going back and forth. My own little place with a lighthouse next door, small as it might be.

One time, I lived in a cow barn (long since vacated); I’d like to do it again. How many people can say they lived in such a place? It would have to be on a road that had no name, because everybody else has a named road. Maybe just call it “Tom’s Lane.” I lived in a real cow or horse barn once and on hot, humid summer days it was obvious.

I’d like to have been a crew member on a showboat in the glory days on the Mississippi River. Maybe having a three-room apartment in some theater (live or movie), or in a large shed behind someone’s house. It would be great to live in a lighthouse on the very edge of civilization, with water nearly all around you.

Once, I spent a year living in an old mansion on the side of Mount Anthony, outside Bennington VT. It was an impressive place with slate tiles for a roof, all stone work and old tapestries. But it was not a place where you could take you shoes off, draw a mug of tea and kick back. The parlor was formal and you just didn’t do that.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Good Evening For Hot Chocolate

I just heard some mighty close thunder on this rainy, windy night. A little unusual for late in the month, but you’ll have this. A storm came upstate from the Philadelphia area, zipped through here with one small rumble and one sharp clap and headed north. Them that was sleeping woke up fast.

Rainy, windy weather means only one thing: hot chocolate, a blanket and a recliner in front of the tv. Or maybe just lying down on the couch, covered with said blanket (as my grandmother would say, “snug as a bug in a rug”). It’s a great way to enjoy an evening of this sort, even better with your Best Beloved.

Some things just go together like that. I’ve never met a windy, rainy night that didn’t call for hot chocolate and a blanket. It’s just so natural.

Did our pre-historic ancestors do that? Perhaps they gathered in the back of the cave, behind the fire, snuggled under a wooly mammoth skin and drank hot berry juice while watching buffalo ramming into each other during rutting season. My theory; you can have your own. Maybe they played Scrabble.

Our early pre-American colonials used to “bundle.” Guys and gals would get into the same bed with a board between them so they would not contact each other (oh, pleeeze) and sort of make small talk while they kept warm. The small talk was most likely what they would name the inevitable baby.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Arrr, Mateys, Here Comes A Ship

Pirates! Swashbucklers! Errol Flynn swinging from the rigging! It's the Maersk Alabama, hijacked once and not about to be taken again.

Score this time: Alabammy 1, Pirates 0. Because this time, they hired some really smart, some really well-armed guards who don’t care who they shoot, how they shoot them or what rules of the high seas they may be breaking. The Maersk Alabama is carrying a valuable cargo and the last time was The Last Time.

My own opinion: When pirates decide to storm your ship, they have used up their due process, their Miranda rights, their right of appeal and their right to a fair trial. They do retain the right to instant justice as well as the right to learn quickly the basic fact of life: “What goes around comes around.” You mess with me, I mess with you.

I’m pretty much of a pacifist, except when someone wants to steal my ship, which merchants have entrusted their business to me. They trust me to deliver their cargo safely; my crew relies on me to keep them safe; my employers rely on me to keep the ship off the rocks and away from pirates. Then my attitude changes.

If it takes a security force armed up to, but not including, the A-bomb to accomplish this, then let’s go for it. These people aren’t doing it to feed their children and house the street urchins; they live very well on the ransoms. If we can avoid shooting them, that’s fine; let them swim ashore. Let’s see … how many miles out are they?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Do You Know Your Child's Gender?

I mean, your unborn child. I sort of hope you know the gender of the kid who's running around the house and, perhaps, asking for the car keys. Depending on its age.

But what about the bun in the oven? (a) Do you know? (b) Do you care? (c) Will asking these questions start a “discussion” between you? Some people really want to know, while others are quite content to be surprised at the moment of delivery. King Henry VIII was, but not happily. He got a girl, we got a new church.

So you look at the sonograms, anxiously checking out for boy things. Hmmm … is that a boy thing or just a smear on the screen? Nothing showing; does that mean it’s a girl? Or is the boy twisted around? Do you suddenly feel as if you are peeking through the keyhole at the school’s shower room?

We used to do the baby announcements on at least one radio station where I worked. This one was: “And now, here’s the news in Pinks and Blues.” Alternating with, “Here’s the Stork Market report.” I never got that job; working evenings, I had to read the participating funeral homes’ obituaries on The Memorial Program.

Anyway, I was watching the National Geographic Channel tonight which featured, among other things, rhinoceroses mating (nothing else was on tv), a turtle getting laid and an anaconda feeling up its girlfriend with a hidden leg. They cared little about the gender of the unborn and probably less about the how-to. Pity.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Am A Free-Lance Writer

Tell me what you want and pay me; I do it. It sounds as if it’s something like being a whore: pick me up on the street corner, tell me what you want, I give you a price.

Ok, here’s my going rate: $50 per delivered page, plus $50/hour to cover research, fact-checking, writing and proofing. I think that’s pretty reasonable for what you get. Let’s look at it this way, if you want to see the whole picture. A five-page piece costs you $250 delivered plus probably another $250 max for my work.

Writing is easy, if you want to turn out junk. It’s harder to turn out something the Reader’s Digest will print. But it’s really difficult to come up with something that will engross people, make them want to read the whole piece and, perhaps, either keep it around or give it to others because it’s so good.

I’d do junk for $50 flat, but that stuff is an insult; I’d do Reader’s Digest style for $150, but that’s still an insult. If you want to write, you need to take time. I told my writing students that even a note to the milkman should take two drafts, just to make sure it’s clear and precise, easy to read without more words than necessary.

Writing bumper stickers has got to be the most difficult writing assignment ever. I hope those people get paid well. The wisdom of the ages has to be written in as few words as possible, immediately recognizable, and witty. “Your kid may be an honor student, but you’re still an idiot.” I like that one. But “I (heart) NY” was a classic for the ages.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It Sure Is A Nice Day Today

Me: Sure is a nice day.
Pal: It’s gonna rain tomorrow.

Me: But today is lovely; I don’t want to worry about what’s coming later. I want to enjoy what we have now.
Pal: Better get ready for rain. I hear we’re getting a downpour. Won’t be any laying out in the sun then.

Keeerap, what ever happened to enjoying what’s going on right now? When I first worked in radio, my news director had a policy: “What’s the ‘right now’ angle on the story?” Not what happened yesterday, not what might happen tomorrow, but what’s going on with the story now. Keep it fresh and up-to-date.

When Mom and I traveled to Alaska, we would enjoy each moment of the trip. Waiting for a flight, we would watch the airport vehicles to see what they were up to; if the plane was delayed, we’d watch others coming and going. What’s going on right now that we can enjoy? Don’t worry about possibilities in the future; enjoy the present.

Someone said to me, on the final two sea days of an 11-day cruise, “Well, it’s all over now.” I replied, “It’s all over when we’re at the dock and that isn’t for two days yet. We have all this time to relax, be happy and contented.” It’s pretty awful when you look ahead so much that you consider two days “all over.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

We Got Through Friday The 13th Ok.

And why not? Just what is the big deal with that day and those numbers? You would think a number and a day had power over us, as if we were helpless victims.

I have heard several reasons for the evil associated with thirteen, far too many to fit here with explanations. It’s because, well, not really; it’s due to, uh, no; it’s actually the result of, uh… And so on. It’s because back a long time ago, someone, somewhere, came up with the superstition and modern people still have it in their DNA.

We have a lot of things in our DNA, or wherever we store ancient memories, fears and other things that go bump in the night. If this blog is still around on December 22, 2012, I’ll be the first to shout, “I told you so!” The world did not come to an end; the movie was a fake; the Mayan calendar did not predict doomsday.

Friday the 13th is a superstition that goes back to, well, a hundred years ago? A thousand years ago? Take your pick, as the experts themselves don’t know. Ask one, get an answer; ask another, get a different answer. Further, Friday the 13th is regarded as a day of good luck, or bad luck, depending on where you live.

But we still observe the niceties: Hospitals don’t have rooms ending in 13 (even a Catholic hospital where I visited). My favorite cruise ship does not have a Deck 13. Some tall buildings do not have a 13th floor. When our priest noted there were 13 people at the daily Mass, one got up and left.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Dates … These are not really exactly dates, like maybe April 13th. My dates indicate changes, not nailed to one certain day, but rather a date “in parenthesis,” you might say.

Take, for instance, Labor Day. It is an icon of sorts that comes up on your mental screen as ''Summer's End.'' We simmer in this period of time in a pre-autumnal mood, not really wanting to accept the fact that it is all over for another year, for about a month when we see a first leaf appear on the lawn.

Suddenly it is Hallowe'en and the very next day, the pumpkins are out for collection and up here in Canada, out comes the Christmas decorations and the stores are changing their Seasonal Department items from rakes, orange leaf bags and sales on old flowers over to 4' plastic Christmas trees, Prestone sales and winter tires.

November 1st, c'mon, you can't be serious. I just last week did a steak on my BBQ, or was it, yes it was, it was in September! In the States, this occurs the day after Thanksgiving; Christmas is everywhere and by the time the Manger is occupied we are so fed up with it all, we begin simmering, something like a stew in a crock pot.

Come Valentine's Day, out comes the bright advent of better times, Easter, that period of awakening, the renaissance of warm sun and promises of ''I can't-wait-for-Memorial-Day''. Out of the blue it is again Labor Day and . . . sadly, we are a year older and up pops that dumb icon again. -- Jim Carten, Quebec

Thursday, November 12, 2009

James Riddle, Robert Strange

How and why do their parents do it? Maybe it’s in honor of someone, but don’t they realize what their kids will be saddled with for the rest of their lives?

Jimmy Hoffa’s middle name is “Riddle.” I don’t know why and haven’t been able to find out, but it could be worse. The biggest riddle, of course, is what happened to the guy and where his remains are. A fellow near me says he knows and wrote a book about it, “I Hear You Paint Houses,” a reference to Mafia shootings.

Defense Secretary Robert Strange McNamara went through school, the presidency of Ford Motors and sending thousands of Vietnam troops to their death when he knew we couldn’t win. That was, indeed, strange, Strange. When his son found out about the Old Man’s war record, the kid promptly disowned him; later reconciled, I think.

Mr. and Mrs. Landis named their son after Kenesaw Mountain (a variant spelling, for you purists). He had a mixed career as a jurist and got his way as baseball commissioner. He was not as big as his name might suggest (and as I always imagined him), but a spare, average-sized fellow. Maybe Kennesaw Mountain itself wasn’t that big.

Vermont Connecticut Royster (journalist and editor) was part of his great-grandfather’s tradition of naming family members after states: Arkansas Delaware Royster, Wisconsin Illinois Royster, Oregon Minnesota Royster, and Iowa Michigan Royster. Most of them used their initials; he used Vermont C. Royster, lived and died in Raleigh NC.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We Don't Speak German Or Japanese

Subtract 75% for water and our planet still has a lot of land in the remaining 25%. So why do we have this insatiable urge to invade other countries? Ok, economic reasons. Some may have gone under the guise of religion, but they were mostly to get new land or materials. Still, we force our customs and language on strangers.

Indians, for instance. They were doing just fine, thank you, until we came along. Then we broke our promises and also moved them off oil-bearing “yours forever” lands. Oklahoma; not the first of our deceptions, but certainly the biggest. White man speak with forked tongue, as the Indians supposedly said. We sure did.

Hitler decided he needed Poland; I’m not sure if people started speaking German, but figuratively they might as well have. He owned the country for, in his mind, the next thousand years. Plenty of time to re-educate the masses and start teaching the grammar school children to learn the language.

He did, as I understand, have planes that could reach NYC and nearly developed the bomb. In all the confusion and breakdown that would follow, plus his U-Boat superiority, we might well have been part of that Thousand-Year stuff and all that went with it. Including the mother tongue.

The Japanese had some super subs themselves, able to attach both coasts and mess up the Panama Canal while they were at it. Get Rosetta Stone discs and learn Japanese.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Should you renew your magazine subscriptions? Short answer: Yes. Ain’t nothing going to happen by the end of the year. At least, nothing that destroys the world, its credit cards and disputes with your neighbor. Jesus isn’t going to ride across the sky, the Jewish Messiah isn’t going to restore Israel to its former glory. Forget it.

I do believe that the world will come to an end and there will be a judgement on all man- and woman-kind. But just not at the winter solstice three years from now.

For me, I like movies where cities blow up, dams burst, the moon explodes and Kansas becomes beachfront property. Always look for a man having an affair, an old lady, a boy with his dog and a prominent landmark. (If you happen to be somewhere and see this combination, run for your lives; you are about to be in deep, deep trouble. The deepest trouble ever.)

My theory: Somewhere out there is a giant asteroid and it has our name on it. As we go spinning around the sun, so does it. Around and around the two of us go until, one fine day, we both happen to be headed toward the exact spot in the solar real estate and =BOOM= people don’t need to ask “What the **** was that??”

As James Baldwin wrote, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time.” So the earth catches fire and burns long and deep. Even the survivalists don’t last more than a minute longer than the rest of us. And out of the skies, just before the hit, we hear: “Th-th-th-that’s all, folks.”

Monday, November 09, 2009

It Pays To Keep Trying

There is much to be said for persistence, for standing behind your principles, for never giving up. It’s just sometimes you need to hang on longer than most people, perhaps a lot longer. Consider the case of Cha Sa-soon, who would have her driver’s license and needed patience, lots of it.

SEOUL, South Korea - A woman in South Korea who tried to pass the written exam for a driver's license with near-daily attempts since April 2005 has finally succeeded on her 950th time.

The aspiring driver spent more than $4,200 in application fees, but until now had failed to score the minimum 60 out of a possible 100 points needed to get behind the wheel for a driving test. Cha Sa-soon, 68, finally passed the written exam with a score of 60.

It’s not all downhill from here. Ms. Cha needs to pass the driving test first and I don’t want to guess how many times it will take. Maybe she will get lucky and pass it on the first try. Or the tenth. Or whenever. Perhaps the inspector will go easy on her, which I hope never happens.

How would you like to be in front of, behind or next to someone who barely passed her written exam and, perhaps, her road test? This is not my idea of a safe place to be, especially in a country which does not have a tradition of driving and/or road rules. I’ll take the bus, thank you.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

That's Not Funny At All

Stephen Colbert, moderator of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” is a parody of Bill O’Reilly – and does a good job of being a pompous right-winger.

He’s also a good actor, as I found out one night when someone showed a snippet of a tv show he was in. I don’t know the name, nor the plot, but it turned out his character was very good at forging signatures of famous historical people. Stephen played a very different person than what he does four nights a week on his show.

Many years ago, I watched another tv drama, about a traveling salesman who heard stuff in his head. If there was much of a plot, I missed it, but it turned out fairly well at the end. Never heard of the star, but he was a very good dramatic actor. Later on, I saw him as a comedian, name of Don Rickles. He could have done both, equally well.

Yet another tv drama centered on a clothing manufacturer whose factory was struck by its workers. The owner was out on the line with them, arguing and showing that he could do their work as well as they. Another good performance by a talented dramatic actor, name of Jerry Lewis. Not “the kid” anymore, but very involved in this performance.

You’ve never heard of the big British comedian Kenneth More. Everyone thought it was a huge mistake to cast him in a dramatic film, but he turned out to be just the best fit for the starring role in the first Titanic epic, “A Night To Remember” (1958), still regarded as the best of those films.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Dead Man Walking

(CNN) -- On the holiday known as the Day of the Dead, a Brazilian bricklayer walked into his own funeral.

The sight of Ademir Jorge Goncalves alive shocked relatives, some of whom tried to jump out of the windows of the funeral home in southern Brazil.

"In my 10 years in this business, I have never witnessed a scene like this," said Natanael Honorato, manager of the funeral home in the Parana state.

On November 1, some family members and friends had identified the victim of a car crash as the 59-year-old Goncalves. They scheduled his funeral for the following day, Dia de Finados, a holiday when Brazilians remember loved ones who have died.

What Goncalves' family did not know is that he had spent the night drinking at a bar near the site of the crash, but he was not the victim.

When the bricklayer got word of his funeral, he showed up at the Funeraria Rainha das Colinas funeral home Monday morning.

Later that day, the mystery was solved when a family in a neighboring town came inquiring about a son who was missing. The family recognized the body -- and took it away for burial.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Light That Wouldn't Change

Some things never change. The traffic light at North Main and Union, for instance: if you are crossing Main on Union, you can sit there until Jesus comes again in glory, at least at night. Even a cop told me to blow the light, as they have called for repairs many times and nobody has fixed it.

I only went thru it once and the rest of the time I make a right, do a U’ie and proceed up the street. Last night, I did this and a cop was coming; he never stopped me.

We had a light near my place that would stay red for close to five minutes. I saw a cop blow it after a couple of minutes; you and I would get a ticket, but the guy who gives tickets seems to be immune to them. It’s like Typhoid Mary, who spread the disease but never caught it herself. Typhoid Cops; a good name for them.

Back home, we had two main roads that intersected. You have to understand what we mean by “main roads” in this burg: you could stand in the middle of either one and not get hit by a car for several minutes. You could stand in the intersection and you would still be safe. We lived at the end of nowhere.

So there was a blinking yellow light which did its job and still had time off. Then someone decided we needed a regular red-yellow-green light; nobody else in town held that opinion. Now we have a traffic light with nothing to do and a Councilman who can boast how he made everyone safe. He can do it in the middle of the intersection.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Why Not "Indian Winter"?

Let's assume there could be a cold snap in the middle of Spring. After all, we have warm snaps in the middle of Fall, so why not? After some nice days =bang= it’s cold.

Indian Winter, we call it. No, let’s not blame our More Native Than Us population. How about “Wooly Mastodon Spring”? Every time I think of those beasts, I am reminded of nothing but frigid, deep snow winters. They came across the ice bridge from the frozen tundra of Russia, or something like that; who knows?

Ok, so it’s Wooly Mastodon Spring. We’re enjoying a very nice, slowly warming sunny period. All is fine with the world and we are putting away our winter duds. There is a God and (gender unknown, if there is a gender) is smiling down on us. Suddenly, we get two weeks of Wooly Mastodon Spring and the winter gear comes out again.

How could Mr., Ms., or Neuter God do this to us? A cruel twist of meteorological fate that crushes our hopes and makes us bundle up against the forces of nature. In the distance we see the giant tusked animal swaying along in the sudden snow blast, laughing as only the Mastodon can laugh.

That night, as we relax with mugs of hot chocolate, the tv weather forecast is something like this: “Ok, folks, we just got hit with an Alberta Clipper, a Yukon Yunker, a Vancouver Voomer and a Manitoba Momma all at once. Bundle up, because it’s gonna be with us for most of next week. Sports after this.”

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I Wonder If He's A Queer?

Someone on the local radio message board wants to know if the local tv weatherman is gay. All I want to know is if he’s accurate; I don’t want to sleep with him.

What’s the fascination with someone’s, uh, personal life? I knew a guy who decorated windows in some big Boston department store. In his small town, he went around looking like Klinger from M*A*S*H and it never bothered anyone. He went his way, lived his life; the rest of us did likewise, but in our own style.

Someone else on the board said he’s a public figure and “we can and should” ask these questions. Not so sure about that. Our media has turned itself into a prying eye, fed by the “oh, tsk tsk” of a voyeuristic society who covers its eyes while spreading its fingers just enough to take a peek at the scandal.

When was the last time (in hours?) you spread some juicy gossip about a neighbor or co-worker that nobody needed to know? That you had no right to mention? That you “just had to tell someone” and “don’t repeat this”? It’s going to be repeated as fast as you did when someone said the same thing to you.

So if he’s gay, does that change the forecast? Nah. If he gets married, does that affect the institution? No; Elvis characters in Vegas are worse, people pulling into the Little White Wedding Chapel in the back seat of a taxi -- those affect the institution. Not gays (unless they get married by Elvis, or in the back of a taxi at the Wedding Chapel).

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

He Rode A White Horse

In my room resides not only me, but a photo of a cute little boy of eight, astride a white horse, in his Cub Scout uniform. Confident, not at all scared of being on the beast.

Someone commented on how well I handled the animal and didn’t look at all uneasy. I pointed out to him how the horse was actually fake and the fence next to me hid the stairs which allowed us to get up on the contraption. “No,” he said, “that’s a real horse; I can tell.” He can tell? Really? How perceptive.

“You are quite mistaken,” I replied. “It’s fake; I was there. I went up the stairs behind that fence and onto the lifelike horse. I was there and you weren’t. It was in Howland’s Department Store basement, in Bridgeport.” He was insistent, knowing far more than I about real horses (and not much about fakes).

I wonder what he would have thought of the picture next to it, of younger me in a cowboy outfit, gun in hand. I remember that weapon of terror; it wasn’t a cap gun like all the other kids had; this one punched perforations in a roll of paper and made a mighty good sound. It was also hard to pull the trigger, but the result was worth it.

“That’s a real cowboy,” I can imagine him saying. “A little on the short side, and he must have been photographed in a western grove town where there are trees.” Silly me; my brother posed in a baseball uniform and I got the cowboy duds. He was professional while I looked as if I’d nail you first chance I got.

Monday, November 02, 2009

If I Were An Astronomer...

So here you are: A giant asteroid, the mother and father of all asteroids, is heading toward the only piece of real estate we have. It’s showtime and the curtain is about to go up. Or down, depending on your take. Jesus is getting ready to saddle up and gallop across the sky like a brilliant Santa Claus without Rudolf leading the way.

You and a very few other astronomers are vowed to secrecy because you don’t want to start a panic. Suppose you are wrong? Suppose you are right?

If you are wrong, you will have begun the worse panic on earth. Maybe there have been others, but the population was fewer and communication was slow and barely existed. It would have taken months, years, for the word to get around and even then, you would have been stoned to death for bringing such bad news.

If you are right, there would be instant panic worldwide in a matter of hours. People do strange things when they are about to die. Looting stores for stuff they can’t use; filling churches they never went to; killing themselves and their families. It is the greatest announcement in the history of the world.

Asteroids are notoriously hard to see when they are coming straight at us. You and your fellows are the only people who know it will hit in a matter of days and there is nowhere to hide. Do you let people go about their business? Or warn them? My choice: Let life go on because there is nothing anybody can do.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Day Of All Saints

I really like the Catholic idea of All Saints Day. No, not those guys and gals with halos over their heads, the official saints and, also no, we don’t worship them or silly things like that. They’re only people who we are encouraged to emulate. Much like the pictures of Washington and Lincoln we hang up in schools.

The saints I like are the people who have made it to eternal life, also known as heaven. I mean, people who have a checkered past, people who maybe got it all together, or those who never did get it right. Those are the saints; they tried; that's all it takes. Nobody’s perfect and only nuns in cloistered closed-off convents walk in unscathed.

I prefer to think that I’ll arrive at the Pearly Gates on a stretcher with the Angelic Emergency Room staff shouting out: “Here’s another one. Pretty beat up from stuff that happened in his life, but he’s going to make it. Give me a pint of grace, three pints of forgiveness and a visit from the Divine Healer.”

Yeah, that’s what I’m looking for. We all have checkered pasts, all of us. Hey – you, too. Yeah, you over there, look at me. You’ve got some stuff. We all do.

I’m willing to bet the Official Saints, if we asked them about their titles and their church canonization, would say, “Oh, pleeeeze, I didn’t ask for it and, if you ask my opinion, it’s pretty embarrassing. I just did what I felt was necessary in my life, hoped nobody would catch my weak moments, and I would be treated kindly at the end. That’s all.”