Sunday, January 31, 2010

It Sez Here...

One of my favorite newspaper features is “Believe It or Not.” One time, a few years ago, I caught them in a mistake and they promised to correct it. Yeah, right. Pigs will fly.

A recent entry has me puzzled, because I don’t know what it could be about. I just sent a message to the institute to see if they can help me with the answer. Unfortunately, the message just bounced back, so I may never know. The bounce said it wasn’t delivered “because of security policies,” so maybe they did get it and will check it out.

Here is the entry: “Capable of 200 trillion calculations per second – a computer network in Julich, Germany, spent more than a year computing the answer to a single physics question.” Think of a million pies; stack them; think of a thousand of those stacks and that’s a billion; stack them and think of a thousand more – that’s a trillon.

So you have 200 trillion stacks of pies being produced each second and that goes on for a year. That’s a lot of pies; in our case, it’s a lot of calculations. I don’t have the math skills to figure out how many years it would take us to do even one second’s worth of math, much less 200 trillion at the rate of one calculation per second.

200 trillion per second x number of seconds in a year (31.5 million) x how fast we can do them. I figure it comes out to 70 quintillion calculations, but I could be way off. Anyway, I think we live 280 million seconds so, if each calc takes one second, we better have a long family tree. Anybody out there with better math skills?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What My Grandfather Taught Me

Normally, when someone tries to tell me how to do my job (a person who has no experience in it), I either ignore it or tell them to learn how to do it first.

Not so my grandfather (on my mother’s side). I worshipped the ground he walked on and, to this day, I wish I had dug up a little bit of dirt from his backyard and saved it in a jar. Maybe I’d have become a little smarter somehow; perhaps its rays would have spread throughout my room and given off wisdom.

He never drove a day in his life, at least as far as I know. From my earliest days until his last days, never was there a car in his driveway. Never, if I recall correctly, was there a driveway. I really doubt he could do it if he tried; my guess is he would be too nervous behind the wheel and panic in a large, empty parking lot.

So, one day when I was smallish, he and I were sitting in our car while my father was doing some errand. I was turning the steering wheel back and forth. Grandpa said, “Don’t do that, because you will be wearing down the rubber on the tires.” I thought, “Gee, that’s right; heavy car, rubber tires. Makes sense.”

To this day, I value that advice. When I make any turns in a short space, I make sure the car is moving, no matter how little, as I turn the wheels. When I back up and turn the wheels to straighten the car for the forward movement, I do it in the last few feet of the backing, rather than as I sit there. And grandpa smiles down from heaven.

Friday, January 29, 2010

11 Minutes Of Action

Sort of taken from the Wall Street Journal. Yes, the Wall Street Journal. No eleven minutes of action there.

The Journal reports: “Minus the 67 minutes of standing around between plays, the 17 minutes of replays, the crowd shots and the commercials, a three-hour football broadcast boils down to just 10 minutes, 43 seconds of play.” (It also notes the cheerleaders get three seconds of air time.)

So, it asks, “what do the networks do with the other 174 minutes in a typical broadcast?” Well, they kill about an hour running commercials. About 75 minutes, it reports, which is 60% of air time (excluding commercials) is spent on shots of players generally standing around. The typical play only lasts about four seconds.

What about those replays? By the 1990’s, “some broadcasts showed about 100 replays per game.” They come from dozens of cameras and supply up to seven production trucks. When I faked my way into an ABC football set-up, there were only two trucks back in the late 70’s. It’s not like that anymore.

The lenses are different and better than in the old days. Back then, a camera had four and you had to switch between them. Now, there is only one and it can zoom in and out. If you watched an early game, you might wonder how you put up with how primitive it was. But you did; that’s what you had. Plus nearly eleven minutes of play.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thoughts That Come To Mind

You can’t make a silk ear out of a sow’s purse.

When someone tells a friend not to believe anything you say, then come out with, “You’re handsome” or “you’re beautiful.”

If, while you are on a cruise, you refer to the vessel as a boat and someone says, “It’s a ship, not a boat,” tell them how much you liked watching “The Love Ship” on tv.

Look both ways when you have the green; no light ever stopped a car.

Everything is funny when it happens to someone else.

I think God gets a good laugh out of organized religion and all its “follow or go to hell” rules.

Why aren’t there erasers for our lives?

Drive-thru ATM machines have Braille because they are all made the same; but why do “over the door” signs have Braille markings?

Isn’t every day “Labor Day” in a hospital’s birthing unit? I used to wish my mother a Happy Labor Day on my birthday. She said I was no problem at all.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

According To The Law...

If I have this right, and I may well not: I have a brother in Canada who was never my brother before the spring of 1961. Then, after a few words were spoken, he was.

At least, according to the law. I also acquired a sister that way; same words, same location, same circumstances.

Again, I may not have this right, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time now and not just my situation, but a lot of others, as well. I see it in the obituaries I read over the radio, in conversations with friends.

My sister-in-law. Does that mean “according to the law, she is now my sister and hands off the merchandise”? Can a person (my brother, in this case) take unto himself a blushing bride in another country and then I suddenly pick up a sister, courtesy of the legal system? My mother gets a daughter without benefit of labor?

Does the law tell me I have brothers I never met? I know about Yves, because we met briefly many years ago. But do I have other siblings-in-law who are wandering around making nieces- and nephews-in-law, producing cousins-in-law?

If I were on the market and, unknowingly, hooked up with one of these French-speaking babes, would it be incest-in-law? If a sister-in-law married a brother-in-law, would it be a marriage-in-law? One must ponder these things over a steaming mug of tea.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

You Mean, It Happened HERE?

Well, everything had to happen somewhere, right? Very few of them came from The Big Cities. And some of it even happened right here.

HBO, for instance. Yes, HBO, Home Box Office. The first transmission went to Service Electric Cable here in Wilkes-Barre PA and there is a plaque on Public Square attesting to that fact. I think there were 365 subscribers in 1972, or whenever. Why here? Why not here? We are a heavily-wired cable city, if that was a reason.

Speaking of cable, Service Electric is the oldest cable tv company in the country. It all began here, folks. When you are surrounded by mountains and there are no tv stations in the area (there was a “freeze” on new licenses until 1953), someone found a way to get signals into town. We have tv here now, but only 10 percent watch it over the air.

What do you watch the games with? Peanuts? Planters Peanuts was located just down South Main Street for many years, since Amadeo Obici founded it. Want to keep score? Eberhard Faber started his pencil factory up the hill in Mountaintop and we’ve all used his product at one time or another over the years.

Scientist and priest Fr. Josef Murgas made a discovery so vital in 1906 that no radios of any type (including cell phones or two-way sets) and tv stations could transmit beyond a mile without it. He discovered the ground system and Marconi takes all the credit for inventing radio. Not by a long shot. His church was in the North End.

Monday, January 25, 2010

River Stay 'Way From My Door

Sure, it’s dicey having to go down on snowy days and worrying whether you can stop if the light turns red. But there are benefits to living on a hill. Example: On Monday noon, the river was running about four feet; Tuesday noon it was twenty-three feet, which is slightly over the banks. i.e: Flood stage in River City.

Good luck, those of you in lower South Wilkes-Barre; we'll send a boat from higher North Wilkes-Barre. Water runs downhill, or has been for the last 4.5 billion years, and from our vantage point up here at the top of North Franklin, we can see the river rising, going over the bank and being constrained (so far) by the levee system.

It’s interesting living in River City, no matter where that might be located, or what its actual name is. The same issues exist in all of them.

Ours include watching the snowmelt or heavy rainfall in the lower tier of New York State. Or, to put it another way, what happens in Binghamton doesn’t stay in Binghamton; it makes its way down to Wilkes-Barre in a couple of days. Inevitably. When the weatherman says “crest,” he doesn’t mean a brand of toothpaste.

If there has been an especially heavy rainfall with high winds up north of us, we can expect not only lots of water but loads of debris. That’s not good for bridges or houses built too close to the river’s edge. Why live there? “My grandpappy’s house; we just re-build each flood. It’s where we live; ain’t gonna move. No, sir.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

You Can Buy Anything Somewhere

Our neighbor, Buddy Hewitt, had a need for a washboard. So he went to all the big box stores to find one. Strike out. In desperation, he went to Hymie’s tiny, crowded hardware store in the middle of our village. “Do you have a washboard?” Buddy asked. “What size?” Hymie replied. “I have two or three in here somewhere.”

I use rubber cement, gallons of it over the course of a couple years. All the stores stock only 4-ounce bottles. So I searched the Internet and found Bill Smith’s company. Chatting with Bill I learned he also sells spirit duplicator fluid, the nice smelly blue “ink” kind, that some poor school districts still use. He may be the only person to do so.

Wand a caboose for a summer cabin? Look in the back of Trains magazine. They also have ads for private railroad cars and homes right near the main lines.

Did a plane crash in relatively good shape? There is a place which rents out the pieces for tv shows and movies. You look at a shot of some busted plane and it’s theirs. People inside all tossed around: it’s a piece of some unfortunate airliner that ain’t gonna fly no mo’, no mo’; it ain’t gonna fly no mo’.

Want this or that piece of housing, outside trip, gee-gaws for your garden? Some outfit in Southern Connecticut gathers them up from properties being torn down and they are yours for the going price. It looks like an orderly junkyard, which it is, but a very profitable one indeed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Gallery Of Hidden Treasures

I think I was on a cruise ship when a woman nearby said to her friend, “My hair has been dyed so many times it would take an archaeologist to discover my real color.”

When he finishes, I’d like to introduce him to my desk. Remember that part just below this where I talked about buying a printer? Well, this planet does not have zero gravity, so the thing has to sit somewhere. Of all the places I looked at, only the top of my desk is feasible, as well as a natural place to set it down.

Here’s where we get to the archaeologist part. When I was clearing off sufficient space for my new baby, I discovered lots of neat things I forgot all about. A photo from 1999, a public-service announcement disc that is not to be used after 2007, a laminated newspaper clipping showing my brother in front of a huge snowbank in his shorts.

It’s not as if I’m hoarding all this old mail, but simply I put it down to take care of something more pressing. Then, like compost, it gradually sank down; like a sinking ship, it ended up on the ocean floor where the groundfeeders ate it, leaving nothing but nothing. In my case, I just didn’t have the groundfeeders to help me.

So now I’m picking it apart, seeing what’s worth saving (not a whole lot, really) and what’s suitable only for the wastebasket (most of it). One criterion will be anything written I look at and say, “What does that mean?” Anything with a “Reply by (before this date).” Then my desk and I can meet each other again.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ready, Set, Print

When 45rpm records came out, I was still picking up 78’s from the used market. CD’s were on the market and I still went for vinyl. I was using open-reel tape long after cassettes reached good quality; moved to CD’s when everyone had moved on. When I saw old ladies using computers, I figured it probably was time.

Today, I bought a printer. I have plenty of things that are waiting to be printed out, but I really have to get caught up on these blog entries. For other, unconnected, reasons, I fell very far behind. It wasn’t the fault of a non-existent printer, mind you, but just a lot of things got in the way. Now I have my head about water and I can write.

Write and print. I keep a copy of each page of these more or less immortal writings. I think they are interesting to look back upon and see where my journey has taken me these past four years. They have, so far, been printed elsewhere, so I don’t have to catch up to 1,339 ponderings on the mysteries of the universe.

Somebody, I don’t know who, suggested I make a book out of these. Do you know what books are printed on? The paper? It’s made of the pulp from books that did not sell and there are many. If it were someone famous, then it would sell. I’d need a good title: I know Braille, so “May My Fingers Read Your Dots?” might work.

So here sits my printer, all installed and ready to work. As soon as I get caught up here, it will be spitting out “Things At King’s” to be filed forever.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


It’s actually spelled Quinoa, but sounds like Keenwah. It’s an edible weed from Peru, pretty commonly used down there, and kinda looks like thick rice. It’s used here, as well, but I don’t think it’s well-known. Packs a load of things that we need and if it looked better, we’d probably all be putting it out for meals.

I ran into it while prepping the Senior Citizens menu for my radio show. The centers have hot noon meals five days a week and we read what they are putting out the day before, so the old folks can make reservations. One day, I saw this coming up and decided to check the dictionary and find out how to say it.

After all, if Porky Pig can say “asper-AG-us,” who’s to say I can’t come out with “quin-o-a”? You say “as-PER-agus” and I say, “asper-AG-us”; you say “to-MAY-to” and I say “to-MAH-to.” By the way, who taught New Yorkers to say “ersters” instead of “oysters?” They do the same in the Orleans that is New.

I’ve drank pop, soda and tonic; they all were labeled “Coca Cola.” Depends on where you live in this world. In Connecticut, I was drinking soda; south of Boston, it was pop; northeast of Boston, in Rockport, it was tonic. While visiting my uncle back home, I asked for some tonic and he brought me Schweppes tonic water.

What would happen, do you think, if someone went into a Starbucks and asked for a regular cup of coffee? Would they have it? Or even know what it was?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Artful Dodger

The Artful Dodger of literary and film fame is a young teen who corrupts Oliver Twist. Not the subject of this gathering of thoughts; not at all. Today we speak of the artful dodgers of Wilkes-Barre who guide their motorized vehicles with aplomb and some semblance of smoothness through the cratered streets of Our Fair City.

There are inept and sodden drivers who have partaken too freely of the beverage stronger than coffee which causes headaches the next morning. Also known in bars as “that which makes us infallible.” People who don’t believe the Pope can be absolutely right on matters of faith suddenly become so with anyone who disagrees with them.

But I digress. We speak here of those who wander ‘cross lane and past stop lights as opposed to those who know just when to avoid this hole and that crater. They know to straddle the lane on East Union Street because it takes both trippers to change the light at Main, or the Market Street Bridge right arrow turns green after it has gone red.

No, you can’t pass on the right … unless you’re on Market Street in Kingston or Route 11, “The Avenue,” where traffic laws enter another dimension. Especially where the road narrows a bit at Pierce Street and you can slip by traffic in the right lane to pass on the new “right lane” to make a turn. No lines; just accepted practice.

Or West First Street in Larksville, one lane, where people meet each other, passing thru others’ yards, driveways and sidewalks as a matter of general practice.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

June 22, 1938

Boy, sure is dark in here, must have slept for a few days. I found my fingers this morning and my toes this afternoon, although I cannot see them. Heard my mother’s voice, she was talking to my grandmother.

Getting to like it in here as I can move some and enjoy the conversation outside. Those Sunday rides are pleasant and I sleep occasionally. When I move my mother puts my father’s hand on her stomach; sure wish that he’d drive with both hands!

The only thing I do not particularly like here is the doctor pushing me around and his cold stethoscope. We went bowling last night and I slept profoundly afterwards. The doctor says that everything is normal here; pickles, ice cream and the odd beer. If that’s normal, fine with me.

Times are rapidly changing. I’m moving and it is not me who is moving me, someone is grabbing my head and pulling …. Lots of lights, hard on the eyes … the calendar on the wall says “June 22, 1938.”

My mother, holding me gives thanks to God for his gift. She turns to me and says,

“I give you life, be kind to it; I shall love you for the rest of my life, please accept it.”

(Contributed by Jim Carten)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sentimental Journey & Other Memories

“…gonna take a sentimental journey…” Where did I put that next record? … “gonna set my heart at ease…” Oh, here it is. “gonna make a sentimental journey…” I better cue this up before the song ends … “to renew old memories…” Hmmm, I think the second cut is a pretty good one; wonder when the network news starts? “Got my bags…”

It starts in THREE SECONDS! [kill the record]
“W-A-L-E, Fall River.” (beep) “Mutual News, John Anderson reporting…”

That was the closest I ever came to blowing a network join. How do I remember it? That it was 9:30 on a Saturday night? Because hearing “Sentimental Journey” brings it all back. “Gotta take that sentimental journey, sentimental journey home.”

On an unrelated note, there’s my grandfather’s ashtray. He would knock the remains out of his pipe on the protruding center stick and the tray would vibrate with a particular sound. Anytime I heard that sound, when we had that in our house years later, I thought of him and the house where he lived. Automatically.

Some years back, I lived in an apartment with steam heat. When my mother visited, she smelled it and said it brought her right back to a place she had lived in some thirty years earlier. Smell is a primitive sense and an equally primitive reminder.

Ever wonder what sounds, smells and experiences bring you back?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Your Papers Are In Order, Sir

I’m at the border; the train comes to a hissing stop and the guard comes aboard, checking each passenger. He approaches me and I take out my passport, visa and, perhaps, a few dollars carefully hidden inside the passport. “Ah, yes,” he mumbles, palming the dead presidents, “your papers are in order. Have a nice trip, sir.”

Life should be so mysterious, dark and foggy. In my case, it was just a normal transaction: I walked across the street to the county courthouse, second floor, went to the office where passport applications and photos are handled and had mine renewed. They did all the work, with a smile and no bribe, and I sent it to Philadelphia.

No “Casablanca” intrigue; just checking in at the cruise ship dock. No “Your papers are in order, sir”; just “ok, thank you, enjoy your cruise.”

I’ll get the rest of it when I hit Montreal. There is where all the folderol of papers being in order starts and ends. Or at least, with me. Not the Caribbean and its pirate-filled islands of intrigue and mystery; neither the coves and islands of the Canadian Maritimes. Not even ever-seceding Quebec city.

Montreal. Its guard at the dock, not satisfied with your usual ship’s i.d. and driver’s license, demands your passport that’s usually left on the ship. “Your papers, sir?” he fairly grins, waiting for my distress. I pull out my “papers” and practically shove them in his grinning face. “Here they are, you stupid frog,” I say to myself. “Mangez marde.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

They Were Called "Bricks"

In the beginning, there were car phones; they looked like phones, worked in cars and stayed in cars. You were an Important Person if you had one.

Then there were bag phones; phones in real vinyl bags. You carried them around like footballs with handles. The car phone equivalents were a little more stylish: you could carry them out of the vehicle and they looked more like bricks. You didn’t look quite so important, but you still were way ahead of your neighbors.

Then came cell phones, about the size of a cigarette carton, perhaps a bit smaller, and shrinking with every new model. The idea was to shout into them – not because people on the other end couldn’t hear you, but to make sure people on your end knew you had one. It was still a status symbol and people “used” them even if they did not work.

Now, it’s “What? You don’t have a cell phone? How do you get along without one? Suppose you’re not home and someone calls?” It’s called an answering machine and it takes messages. I have a cell; three people know my number and I told two of them not to bother calling because it’s on only when I am out late at night.

I don’t mind those who chat as they walk thru the campus. If someone were next to them, they’d talk. Just because that friend is on the other end of a phone makes no difference to me. I suspect we don’t like it because we can’t “listen in” to the conversation if we were behind an actual couple. Right? Huh? Right?

Friday, January 15, 2010

On Rediscovering Howdy Doody

We got our first television the day we got our first house: October 13, 1949. I was 13 and one half, to the day. It was next to the fireplace, all 19” of it, what was a big RCA for those days, without a magnifier on the picture tube (ask your grandparents about that). I was lying on the floor, feet against the south wall, and Howdy Doody was on the air.

Many years later, Buffalo Bob explained that “Howdy” was what he said at the start of the show, “and every little kid knew what ‘doody’ was.”

I watched the show for several years, or until Mouseketeer Annette Funicello (my age) started growing up. Met her in a Bridgeport record store one day, but that’s another story. Anyway, Princess Summerfallwinterspring was still a puppet until she was magically changed into a sweet innocent girl. Or so I thought; she knew where to sleep.

The show’s director had a son who hung around the studio a lot and later wrote a book about the place. Pulled no punches and called it as he saw it. None of us kids ever realized what was going on in Doodyville, but there was a lot of doody (and whoopee) behind the scenes. “Say, Kids, What Time Is It?” should be required reading.

I recently was given a DVD with loads of episodes from this extraordinarily popular show. Now I can see the little things that I missed the last time. Nothing really big, but my trained eye picks up on the little stuff. It was live television when there were no re-takes and the kids could be a pain.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What Are The Implications?

The church I belong to is concerned about life on other planets, both in our galaxy and in any others out there. It is especially concerned about the implications for itself.

Let me offer a hint: There aren’t any.

The universe is so huge we can’t even imagine the distances between any two parts of it, much less of many sections. The only implications for us are if and when parts of it head our way [see previous “Our Galaxy’s Going to Collide!” posting]. Other than that, the best we can expect is to have excellent pictures to enlighten our minds.

I rather suspect no religion on any planet needs worry about a religion on some other planet, whether in the same enormous galaxy or in one unimaginably far away … as in, our next-door neighbor whose light takes 2.5 million years to reach us. We go there, check out their rituals, return and its five million years later at the speed of light.

Sometimes I wonder about people who seem to be more than usually concerned about the implications on their life by others’ actions. It never bothered me that some Hollywood star is on their fifth marriage; none of those people are role models for me. At least, they shouldn’t be.

Instead, what are the implications on my life of people around me who need my support, maybe a donation in times of trouble. The planets can take care of themselves.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rush: Obama. . . Robertson: The Devil

Just what did cause the disaster in Haiti? Lots of people are saying lot of things; pick your enemy, pick your political position. Just don’t go for the obvious.

Rush Limbaugh doesn’t say what caused it, but he does mention rather forcefully that it plays right into the hands of our sitting President. I’m not sure how, as I am not a particularly political person, but in some manner, Rush sees this as somewhat of a plot to have our boss work this to his gain. Whatever.

Pat Robertson, never one to pass up a disaster for an opportunity, says it’s a repayment from God for some supposed pact the Haitians made with the devil a couple hundred years ago. That’s pretty much an urban legend, but good enough for someone who wants to pin a natural disaster on people’s actions. Did it with hurricanes, as well.

I go with natural causes. Geological fault lines which, according to those who are paid to follow these things, are pretty generally known. Problem is, we just don’t know when the built-up pressure will suddenly let go with an earthquake, large or small. We know it will happen; we just don’t know when.

The Dominican Republic, on the same island, had a corker back in 1946. These things affect the rich and the wretched; the sinners and the faithful; the prepared and the surprised. The earth is not a solid, steady rock spinning around the sun. Its crust still moves around and scrapes with terrifying results. No, Rush; no, Pat.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Letting The Noise Out

Sometimes a room is just too noisy for me. Could be any type of noise, but it just exceeds my personal limits and I have to turn it off (or turn all of them off).

It’s not as simple as it sounds. If there are multiple sources, each one has to go in its own order. Radio off; music off; tv off; scanner off; anything else, off. But only one at a time, with a pause between them. Let the room slowly quiet in steps, rather than one large “thump” of quietness.

When it’s all done, you wait for a minute for all the residual noise to find its way out. True, all has been turned off, but there seems to be bits and pieces of noise trapped in the woodwork, some molecules sticking to the walls, atoms whirling around in the air. They have to find their way to the nearest exit before the room is perfectly quiet.

Ah, now it’s done. Now all the cacophony is banished, the sound waves no longer bounce from wall to wall, echoing off hard surfaces. Now you can even hear the stillness, as you would on a snowy night when you can hear the flakes falling in the quietness of your yard.

It is a time to meditate on the mysteries of the universe. Why do I live in this galaxy, instead of another? Are trees the “hair” of our planet? Maybe Einstein was right when he said, “Maybe all the planets, stars, galaxies and the entire universe are just one atom in the windshield of God’s car.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

The "Righteous Gentile"

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Miep Gies, the office secretary who defied the Nazi occupiers to hide Anne Frank and her family for two years and saved the teenager's diary, has died; she was 100. Gies was the last of the few non-Jews who supplied food, books and good cheer to the secret annex behind the canal warehouse where Anne, her parents, sister and four other Jews hid for 25 months during World War II.

After the apartment was raided by the German police, Gies gathered up Anne's scattered notebooks and papers and locked them in a drawer for her return after the war. The diary, which Anne Frank was given on her 13th birthday, chronicles her life in hiding from June 12, 1942 until August 1, 1944. Gies refused to read the papers, saying even a teenager's privacy was sacred. Later, she said if she had read them she would have had to burn them because they incriminated the "helpers."

Gies brushed aside the accolades for helping hide the Frank family as more than she deserved. "This is very unfair. So many others have done the same or even far more dangerous work," she wrote last February. For her courage, Gies was bestowed with the "Righteous Gentile" title by the Israeli Holocaust museum.

"I don't want to be considered a hero," she said. "Imagine young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty. I am afraid nobody would ever help other people, because who is a hero? I was not. I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary." (Associated Press)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Our Galaxy's Going To Collide!

I finally heard a disaster scenario which does *not* include the phrases “2012” or “December 21, 2012.” We’re going to collide with a galaxy and, if you watched whatever channel it was on, it’s horrific disaster, pure and simple. Stars colliding with each other, planets bouncing around, no more HBO. Horrid.

We are, so it says, about to occupy the same bit of God’s Universe with the Andromeda Galaxy. If I were you, I wouldn’t get my tail feathers all in a bunch about it; this galaxy is 2.5 million light-years away. That is, the light we see from its stars started its journey over two million years ago. It’s pretty far away and we aren’t going to see this happen.

Galaxies don’t really mash each other as in the movies, when everything blows up and things go wild in a very large measure.

Imagine our sun the size of an orange in NYC’s Central Park. Then imagine the next closest star to ours, just next door, and it’s the size of an orange on top of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. When a galaxy moves in on us, we might see one or two new stars in the sky. Keep in mind that distances in the heavens are vast.

If we could send a radio message across our galaxy, from one side to the other and pick up the answer, it would take 200,000 years at the speed of light. That’s just our own Milky Way we’re talking about. Through the flat part? Twenty thousand years round trip. Don’t worry about being hit by the Andromeda Galaxy.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Once Upon A Book

Books, lots of them in my earliest reading ages. They had woodcuts in them, they had line drawings, they had little curlicues and wisps for clouds. There were fairies and woods and intimate gardens. I curled up with them in the back attic where I was living and imagined the magic places where nymphs lived.

And most of my friends missed all this. They were occupied with sports and baseball games on the radio (we didn’t have tv then). They missed the sprites.

These books led me down the path to Imagination Land, a place where Buster Brown and his Sister Sue lived, where the Hardy Boys carried on their adventures. I visited strange countries and met savages in the jungle, cruised down strange rivers and crossed oceans in ships. I went to the Arctic and the Equator.

In Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories,” I learned how the camel got his hump, how the leopard got his spots. I learned how the rhinoceros got his skin, by retribution for stealing the man’s baking: “Them that takes cakes which the Parsee-man bakes, makes dreadful mistakes.” And the cat that walked by himself.

There is something entrancing about having your own corner of the library, where you can sit on the floor and read, undisturbed, without the librarians asking why you are not on a chair at a table. If they know you, it doesn’t matter what your age; they know a reader when they spot one.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Story Of My HAL Bags

My cruise ships of choice are those of the Holland America Line. Mom took her first cruise on it and the next year I tagged along; since then, it’s been HAL or nothing. I like the understated elegance and mature attitude the company brings to cruising; it’s a nice way to travel. You come on board and everyone waits on you. Can’t be beat.

Before you arrive at the first port, there’s a bag (made out of duck, or some other fabric) on your bunk, to assist with your shopping. It’s of excellent quality and lasts for years. I know; the first one I received is just starting to wear out and that’s after some 22 cruises in 24 years. What to do with them? They multiply like rabbits in my apartment.

One is for laundry (…uh, necessities…) which I suspend from a couple of coat hangers in my closet. Another is for picking up the newspapers at night from the place where I am a columnist. Yet another commutes from my place to the radio studio with my program materials in it. And one holds donated eye glasses to be shipped out.

Naturally, there is one which stays clean and pressed for my trips to the mall. When I go out shopping, I want people to know I travel with the best.

So now I have my mother’s and my own. Once I a while I run into a few of the same stash which have been multiplying in a corner of my closet, forgotten but still clean and in pristine condition. I don’t think they’ve been to church yet, so there’s a least on place left to introduce them.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Glue Sticks To The Inside Of A Bottle?

On one of those internet question lists that keep floating around, an entry asks why glue does not stick to the inside of the bottle. Listen to this daily user, who buys the stuff six gallons at a time from a wholesale dealer and hopes it lasts for a couple of years: It sticks to the inside of the bottle. I know, because I have to clean it regularly.

Glue bottles need regular maintenance if you don’t want them to get (a) messy, (b) nearly unusable and (c) grosser than a bottle of hardened puke.

I clean mine (a pint bottle) after it gets down to the bottom. I never refill it until that point because I don't want all the brush whiskers piling up down there to eventually end up on something I’m pasting. When the jar is as empty as I can get it by brushing around down there (never completely), then the cleaning starts.

First, all the semi-hardened glue around the upper rim and just under it. The stuff comes out looking like the third day of an upper-resp four-day infection. Then I try to clean off the inside of the bottle as best I can; you’d be surprised how much of that stuff clings to the glass or plastic jar.

Then the brush and handle get taken care of, including all the little bits of glue that get between the works and make the slider hard to adjust. That, too, is sticky, messy stuff. But when you’re done, the assembly is ready for another fill-up and it’s as clean as it will ever be. A lot cleaner and easier to use than anyone else’s.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Some People Don't Have Any Luck

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip for his shipbuilding company on Aug. 6, 1945, when a U.S. B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on the city. He then returned to his hometown of Nagasaki, about 190 miles to the southwest, which suffered a second U.S. atomic bomb attack three days later. He passed away Jan. 4, 2010.

As people say, “if they didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.” Yamaguchi was the only person to be certified by the Japanese government as having been in both cities when they were attacked, although other dual survivors have also been identified.

1945 he was 29 and working as a draftsman designing oil tankers for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. His three-month deployment to a shipyard in Hiroshima was due to end on the morning of August 6, when the American B29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb.

He and two colleagues staggered through the ruins where the dead and dying lay all around. At one collapsed bridge the three had to wade through a river, parting before them a floating carpet of corpses. They reached the station and boarded the train for Nagasaki. Reporting to work at the shipyard on August 9, his story of a single bomb destroying an entire city was met with incredulity.

“The director was angry. He said ‘you’ve obviously been badly injured, and I think you’ve gone a little mad’. At that moment, outside the window, I saw another flash and the whole office, everything in it, was blown over.”
--From Internet sites.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Those New Year's Resolutions

Well, that didn’t last long, did it? I really was determined to keep this blog up-to-date, but things happened (I was feeling a bit under the weather or, as we used to say, “off my feed”) and it got ahead of me. I don’t know what happened, but a lot of people around here are ill from both ends. I’m not that way, luckily, but I still feel off.

So my ambition went with it. Oddly enough, I am still working on cleaning my room, something which always comes in last place. That’s really odd.

I slept two nights in my recliner. That was really nice; blanket, bedspread, afghan, nice and cozy. Radiator set at just the right temp behind me, radio softly playing classical music. All is right with the world and I still can roll over on either side if I want. It’s a good place if I have some acid at night (not LSD acid, I hasten to note).

Actually, while I was feeling only the slightest “under the weather,” which wasn’t much at all, I had to crank out a column for the newspaper – my weekly piece about music, especially the older stuff. This week’s was about Broadway show tunes, especially shows which have been forgotten, but launched some well-known songs.

I guess that’s the difference: I can visualize my editor over at the newspaper (about two blocks away) holding a gun to a photo of me with a countdown clock on her desk. With a blog, there is no such thing. But there are lots of interruptions, things I feel I should do first. Like warming up the mug of tea next to me. See you tomorrow.

Monday, January 04, 2010

One Dot, More Or Less, Won't Hurt

You’ve got this letter, the “i,” and it can’t just be a little line, like a half “l.” Not at all. It needs that little dot over it. The thing just doesn’t seem complete without it.

When I sharpen a pencil, it feels incomplete until I give it that little puff at the end to get rid of any loose shavings. Making tea just isn’t done until I squeeze the teabag, not only with my fingers, but also with the little envelope the bag comes in. You just have to finish the job and dotting the “i” has become part of our culture.

I don’t know why. What’s the big deal about having that little bit of ink over the vertical mark? Same with the “j”: will the world stop spinning if that selfsame dot goes away and never returns? It’s like the Lincoln penny, suchlike it’s really quite useless, but we would be awfully sad if it disappeared. Pennies and dots just belong.

I wonder if it was a pronunciation guide from some day in the past when there were two letters, one dotted and one not. Those with dots were spoken (or read) differently from their undotted relatives. Same with the j-birds. After all, the Krauts have two dots over their “U,” for whatever reason, so there is precedence.

Evolution is a slow process; we don’t change much in a hundred years, maybe a bit of DNA here and there. It’s taken a long time for us to adapt to cow’s milk, not a natural food for people. So will we eventually adapt to a dotless-i? A dotless-j? What will the linguistic future bring to the English-language culture?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

You Are Here, But How Did It Happen?

Ok, so here you are: Sitting at a computer in some room, maybe in your house, perhaps at work, or in a wireless zone (maybe even in your car, close to a neighbor’s wireless house). You are some age, of some gender, living some place, employed or not. What brought you to be in this exact spot? What were the factors?

Mine are all tossed in together; there is no one path that brought me to this desk in my apartment, to wearing this sweatshirt (Stratford, Connecticut) or doing a radio program in about an hour from now. They are all mixed in together, along with some other factors that I am still trying to figure out. How complicated our pasts are!

I am driving down Union Street at One in the morning … because I just came back from the newspaper with the morning edition … which I need to produce for the radio reading service I developed 35 years ago … because I wanted to combine my years in radio and my work with the blind … which also got me 9 college credits … and so on.

Someone in Rhode Island listens to that radio show on the Internet … she’s friends with me because we met on a cruise and hit it off … which happened because my mother got me interested in cruising on trips to Alaska, but I didn’t want to back there, instead taking New England / Canada trips where this person was booked.

Oh, I started the Radio Home Visitor because I missed out on a job at a local radio station, so I thought up this service to the visually handicapped.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Here's How You Get There

I was doing radio just a bit south of Boston, near Brockton. At one point in my life, I needed to drive up to a burg somewhat west of the city and figured it would be smart to ask directions of a person who lived where I was. They were familiar with the layout, while I was new to the area.

My pastor was from up that way, so he was my first choice. But just as a backup, I thought I’d ask the local undertaker as well. This is a true story.

Pastor: Get off at Neponset Circle, go past St. Rose’s Church, turn left three blocks later, when you pass St. Mary’s, go another five blocks and turn right. You will see St. Joseph’s Church and just before that is their rectory. Left at the rectory and go three blocks. It’s by the grocery store.

Undertaker: Get off at Neponset Circle, and three blocks later you will see the Smith Funeral Home. Take a right until you pass Downs’ Undertakers, then a left three blocks after Redgate’s Home for Funerals. When you pass the Needham City Cemetery, look for the grocery store and it’s right there.

“Ok,” this radio person replied to each one, separately. “Neponset Circle; is that where you have to circle around WMEX and WEZE’s radio towers?”

Each one said, “I never noticed them.”

Friday, January 01, 2010

My New Year's Resolutions

I do believe in New Year’s Resolutions. I do believe I’ll keep them for about a week or two. After that, all bets are off. So here they are, in no particular order:

-I will keep this blog up-to-date. To the extent possible, I will post on the day assigned. Things got bad this past year, but at least I tried to post a reminder to myself.

-I will straighten out my apartment. You may have heard this before and you may hear it again; that’s life. Live with it. I do.

-I will try to attend more shows on the cruise ship. By nature, I am a loner and, although being in crowds does not bother me, I’d much rather be alone pondering the mysteries of the universe. It really means a lot to me.

-I will clean my tea mugs more often. I realize you get better flavor, more vitamins and minerals when the stuff coats up the inside after a couple of weeks, but most of my friends wash theirs after one use. I don’t know why, but I’ll give it a try.

-I think I might clean the inside of my car. The leaves have become my friends, but even the best of friends must go their own ways eventually.

-Maybe I’ll get to bed by 2:00. One of my meds gives me insomnia, but perhaps I can give my brain a hint that 2 ayem is really late enough.