Wednesday, March 31, 2010

3, 4, 5, 13, 10

I was looking at the map recently. Actually, I look at maps a lot, both U.S. and world – even photos of the universe. This time it was a map of the US of A.

3: States that border the Ocean of the Pacific. It’s not really that pacific, but it was when discovered, so it’s like someone who meets your little terror of a monster when he’s having an unusual good day and someone wants to call him a sweet little boy. Off Oregon, it can be really nasty on regular basis.

4: States that border Mexico. That fence doesn’t need to be very big across the bottom of California or New Mexico, but Arizona needs quite a bit and Texas has as much as the others combined, as I can best figure. A lot of very high-powered radio stations used to be right on the border, just inside Mexico and you could hear them anywhere.

5: States that border the Gulf of Mexico. Texas does double duty here, as its southeast coast is water and its southwestern coast is desert. Florida has the most, due mostly to its panhandle. Alabama gets its toe wet and Mississippi does not much better. Louisiana actually extends eastward almost to Alabama.

13: States that border the Atlantic Ocean. Otherwise known as the I-95 Corridor (or the Route 1 Corridor). Florida does double duty here.

10: States that border Canada. Montana is widest, next to Idaho, skinny on top like a chimney.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Writer's Cramps

I’ve been banging out a lot of prose these days. Actually, “banging out” is pretty dinosaur, given that I haven’t used a noisy typewriter in years. I still have one, a journalist’s electronic model safely stored under my bed, but even that made little noise. When I began writing, it was on a vintage Underwood, tall and square.

How about: “I’ve been clicking out”? The keys are much quieter and I always thought they make more of a liquid sound. When I’m over at the local health center having my red stuff being taken by the Registered Vampire Suckers, they spend time updating my records and the keyboards always sounded like liquid clicks. Don’t know why.

Anyway, however I’ve done it, the columns and the assignments have been flowing like stomach contents at a seasick party to which this blog has not been invited.

Now it’s our turn to return to that magical world of fantasy and make-believe of North Franklin Street, where tea bags do double flips into mugs of boiling water, the jazz music plays through the evening, and I sit here contemplating the mysteries of the universe, occasionally sharing my findings with you, my gentle readers.

The next order of business is rolling down to the Drivers’ License place and posing for what I hope will be a fairly decent picture that will carry me through for the next four years. I was badly surprised at what changed after ten years when my passport expired. I nearly did when I compared the “then and now” photos.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Why Is This Night?

Why is this comic strip different from all other comic strips? Because it’s written by a Jewish artist, that’s why. And these days of Passover, we’re learning about their customs as we scan the daily adventures of the Pajama Diaries family, through the eyes of Terri Libenson. Oddly enough, she grew up across the river from where I am sitting.

There are comic strips which explain things, in addition to making us laugh (or, in the case of The Phantom, wonder why he wears his mask at home). The late Johnny Hart, who passed on to glory almost exactly three years ago, would occasionally work in Presbyterian faith in the strip, for better or worse.

Terri occasionally talks to us about her family’s Jewish heritage in a warm, homespun way. You learn and you laugh; the best way to get some education out.

I remember the most innocent of comic strips that ran in The Catholic Boy, a monthly magazine for, of all people, Catholic boys. We looked forward to it in grammar school and I later became friends with the editor. The strip was just the ideal of us altar boys, but today, oh wow, it would be condemned as a sarcastic anti-Catholic diatribe.

It concerned Fr. Jim, a handsome priest, and some young kid who lived with him in the rectory. The kid idolizes Fr. Jim. It was all so innocent in those days and we altar boys all wanted to be priests anyway; we envied the kid. But that was 1955 and we didn’t know men (priests and laypeople alike) did things to kids.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jobs I Really Don't Want To Have

Tour Guide, Chernobyl, Ukraine: Sergei Ivanchuk walks visitors through the cooling towers and eerily empty corridors of Chernobyl, the Soviet nuclear power plant that witnessed the world's most famous meltdown. He advises tourists not to wear shorts or sandals — or drink the tap water.

Mountain Bike Guide, Bolivia's "Road of Death": Imagine hurtling 12,000 feet down a twisting unpaved road past sheer drop-offs, gripping your mountain bike's handlebars, with dirt kicking up in your face. Not without reason has this road outside La Paz, Bolivia been dubbed the "Road of Death." An estimated 200 people die each year, mostly when their vehicles plunge off an Andean cliff.

Beer Sherpa, Slovakia's High Tatras: As if risking life and limb were not enough, the Slovak sherpas who scale the treacherous sides of rocky cliffs are lugging beer, too. Not just a few bottles, either, but 150-pound kegs, which they strap to their backs. Rain or shine, ice or snow, the sherpas make the two-hour hike to the top several times per day to stock the bare-bones chalets.

Herper, Madras Crocodile Bank: Soham Mukherjee is a reptile specialist. At a reptile zoo in southern India, he trains crocs using just a stick. Crocodiles eat more people each year than any other predator on earth does. Their jaws can crush the skull of a pig with a single bite. And they can swim twice as fast as any human. It draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to see crocs and snakes up close.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Dock Shopping Center

The Dock Shopping Center, Stratford in Connecticut, on the Housatonic River. With some railroad tracks swung out at the end of the parking lot over the river a little ways.

Before there were any stores, there was a coal pile, a big one, with a steam engine working the yard. I know how the coal got there: tugs pulling barges of the stuff from somewhere. I just don’t know where it was going. Maybe to the coal dealers around the area. In the middle, that small locomotive puffing away, doing its job.

What interested me, in addition to the locomotive, was a spur track off the main line of the New Haven Railroad. It came down to the dock and what its purpose was always evaded me. Did railcars bring coal? Did the take coal from the pile? Given the track’s direction, I’d say it was leaving the black stuff.

We used to see the tugboats and their barges coming up from the general NYC area all the time with either a row of barges or several of them tied up tightly to the tug itself, indicating it was going upriver. Loose barges could not be controlled well enough to be floated up the twisting river.

The only other steam engines I saw at that time (the New Haven was electrified since around 1910) were coal trains coming from the west – maybe Pennsylvania or West Virginia. Could be they were for the power plant across the river, with a car or two for the dock coal pile. Only those of us with long memories remember.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Still Believe In Global Warming

I like taking the long view of things; it gives me a certain perspective. With a short view, any little change makes you think it’s permanent. Global warming, for instance.

The temps have been unusually low this past week and we’ve had a combination of sleet and snow today. We’ve had other cold snaps, as well, and the rise in the earth’s temp has been something on the order of 3/4 of a degree. Hardly worth mentioning, you might say, but only a three degree Celsius rise is over the top for our civilization.

Mother Nature doesn’t work over a winter, or a decade. She is slow and steady, but hard to stop when she does get into gear. Ex: There are two islands in the East that a couple of countries have been battling over. Let ‘em fight; the rising ocean levels have now covered them and there’s nothing to battle over.

I don’t know the frequency of ice-shelf breaks in Antarctica. We hear of them recently, but that does not necessarily mean it hasn’t happened before – nor does it mean it’s never happened. Perhaps nobody ever took note, or maybe it’s getting a bit too warm down there. But one shelf after another, one northern glacier after another, you’re in trouble.

Global warming is not a liberal or conservative thing. It’s a Mother Nature thing and she does not belong to any political party. When people on the Maldive Islands (elevation 5’) are buying up land in nearby Sri Lanka because the ocean is taking that elevation away, talk shows and commentators aren’t going to help. Unless we use them as sandbags.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

He Came In Exactly Nine Months

The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Annunciation today, when Mary got a surprise visitor: the angel Gabriel appeared and said, “Guess what?”

Exactly nine months to the day later, Jesus appeared among us. Not all of us make it quite that exact; I was a borderline preemie and even Mom’s doc told her she was not delivering. Her reply: “I’m the mother, I’ve had a child before and I’m delivering.” A guy doctor should not mess with an experienced mother.

I was supposed to be named for the saint of the day, but when I poked my head out, looked around and asked if tea was ready, the church calendar noted it was some quite worthy African guy with a strange name. Nothing against Africans, nothing against saints and nothing against African saints. But “Hermenigild” doesn’t cut it.

Nothing wrong with naming your child “Jesus,” by the way. Half of the Mexican kids have first names you mostly hear when someone hits his thumb with a hammer. We don’t name our kids that way in this culture. Of course, our children aren’t always born exactly nine months after the cigarette is smoked.

I was doing radio in a town where kids’ sex ed was remarkably lacking. One day, I asked a resident why the wedding announcements were in the newspaper several months late. “That’s because people can count,” she said. Ah, yes; the first one can come any time … all the rest take nine months.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

He Doesn't Teach Anymore

When you are angry, or get angry, the cure for this is not alcohol. Keep that in mind and let me say it again: Alcohol does not solve problems associated with anger.

Example: A teacher in a nearby school district who had been bothered by some teens in his home town. He thought he recognized their car, so when it passed his house, he stopped it. His courage came, of course, from a bottle of whatever he was drinking. Having stopped the car, he then let the kids know what he thought of them.

To make up for it, he invited them in for a few beers and possibly some vodka. Not a terribly smart thing for the average citizen; certainly dumber than a rock for someone who is currently employed as a teacher. The kids declined and just wanted to go on their way and be left alone.

The teacher (about to be an ex-teacher, as his case just came up) started acting like a fool and clucking like a chicken. That, of course, will not affect the disposition of his case or his ability to instruct children in the finer things of life. It will, however, instruct the children in how they might act when they pass his house.

Cluck, and ye shalt be clucked unto. Cluck unto others as ye would have them cluck unto you. Wave your arms and hop about your front yard and it shall be done by legions of children. Then, after the haze of the night before wears off, there’s your photo in the newspaper with a complete account of what you did. Bummer.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cub Scout Meetings

Just looked over at the calendar and noticed it was Tuesday. Suddenly, I had a flashback to Tuesday evenings in the dim past when, if I remember correctly, it was Cub Scout meeting night. The den leader, or whatever his title was, lived right behind us, but I don’t remember ever meeting inside his house. Good thing.

He was a pyromaniac, as far as we could tell. One indication was the day after Christmas when he would burn the wrapping-paper; he stood there, transfixed, watching the flames until they died down. We got quite a laugh about that. Apparently, he had this sort of thing well under control, as he never torched anyone’s house.

Oddly enough, I don’t remember a thing about his wife, or even if he had one. His son, just a little. I know it’s been a pile of years, but you don’t forget neighbors.

In my room, I have a photo of myself, in uniform, atop a white horse. Either it’s stuffed or someone managed to make up a very realistic heroic steed. But there I am, looking so much like Hopalong Cassidy, with Mom’s inscription: “December 1950, 8 years old.” I remember being on a real horse once, scared to death. Here, I am lord and master.

I never made Boy Scouts. Not sure why; could be that I’m not a joiner and much preferred to stay in the cellar and fool around with my shortwave radio. We had Sea Scouts there (you readers in Kansas can write to me to learn about Seas Scouts), which would have been along my line where we lived. An adventure missed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's "Writing Night"

I’ve been a writer since multitudinous decades, even longer than I’ve been in radio. (I’ve been in radio, as we say in the business, since Jesus did weekends.) As far as I know, it’s always been free-lance. That’s not because I don’t want to write on schedule; my chosen way has deadlines the same as employees. Contract writing is just more fun.

The challenge in not punching a time-clock is having to change your writing style and your reference sources for each assignment. I’m within three articles of finishing an assignment that goes nationwide; during that time, I’ve also been doing my regular newspaper column. They are nothing alike and I try not to do both the same day.

During April, I will sit down with another person to sketch out a series that will be approved and finished before the publication date later this year.

A few night during the week are “writing nights,” times when I can take care of my F-L assignments. A hot steaming mug of tea, some good music from my Internet source, several uninterrupted hours and I'm good to go. For one piece. If I am really lucky, I can do one piece and then do a blog entry (maybe two?).

That will explain why this blog is occasionally way behind. The writing comes first, because blogs don’t pay the rent, so to speak. I always hope to catch up and, after the last three pieces of this current assignment are done, you will see them show up regularly every day. Until June 19, when I’m on my yearly cruise.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I Used To Build Helicopters

I stood in the Executive Suite, looking over plans for the new Sikorsky S-64 Sky Crane, with Igor Sikorsky himself at my side. There were a few design changes I thought would make this huge beast work better, perhaps an aerodynamic feature which would help the lift and carrying capacity.

=poof= End of dream. I was back in the mail room sorting inter-office envelopes and preparing to make the second run of the day through the engineering wing and the production department. The first run was the toughest; the mail cart was long and the load was heavy; some days it was all I could do to get it rolling.

In actual fact, the original Sky Crane was out back in several pieces. It went up on its test flight, turned over and landed wheels-up. Igor was devastated, as this was his design, his baby, his hope for containing a mobile “ambulance” unit for use in remote areas and war zones, or a lifting platform for extra-large objects (which it did well for many years).

Jack Erickson bought the rights from Sikorsky Aircraft 18 years ago and it’s still up there, doing its job as Igor envisioned it back in 1960 when I was there.

I figured anyone who worked in the factory was actually building helicopters. Rosie the Riveter on the final assembly line, my friend who was always stuffing suggestion box in the hopes of making $$, or yours truly in the mailroom, we all made the place work. Then I’d go home at night and head over to WICC which was my true love.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What's Your Place Known For?

Never seen a town, no matter how small, that didn’t have its booster image. “Home of the world’s biggest pig” … “Canned horseradish invented here” … and so on.

Around here, Eberhard Faber (guy’s name) pencils, which you probably used at one time or another, were made in nearby Mountaintop, a place that doesn’t exist. It’s an area, a concept, and merely a patch of land on which sits a post office, “Mountaintop 18707.” There’s no such place, except for the Interstate exit signs to Mountaintop.

Nanticoke, the city to our south, is famous for not a whole lot. Lots of eastern European foods, for which people travel here in season to buy. The Sanitary Bakery (it has an awning to keep the coal dust out) and the yearly cabbage roll down a hill. People freeze them and there’s a prize for the winner and nothing for the cabbage.

Wilkes-Barre? Planter’s Peanuts began on South Main Street, HBO sent its first signal here, the company that invented cable tv is here (although its first hookups were out-of-town), we might have more miners’ widows than anywhere except West Virginia, and the whole city is undercut with mines. One moderate ‘quake and we’re history.

Pittston, a city just north, has the annual tomato festival. What to do with the product that went bad, is over-ripe, cannot be used or sold in any way? How about piling them in the street and letting everybody have a go at it? The tomato fight is a big thing up there. It goes on until there aren’t any tomatoes left. Add water and you have street ketchup.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Guy Who Helped Babies See

Dr. Arnall Patz passed away March 10. He began his pathbreaking work in the 1950s, when he discovered that the high doses of oxygen widely given to help premature infants breathe could cause a form of blindness. It is called Retinopathy Of Prematurity (ROP).

The oxygen, he found, led to overgrowth of blood vessels in the eye, damaging the retina irreparably To prove his theory, Dr. Patz had to overcome the hostility of many doctors and nurses who believed he was harming, not helping, the infants. The National Institutes of Health rejected as unscientific his initial application for a grant.

Despite a lack of training in research and grant support, Dr. Patz carried out a clinical trial to test his theory with a loan from his brother, Louis.

The theory was considered radical at the time, and Dr. Patz met strong opposition from colleagues. During the test, two well-intentioned nurses surreptitiously increased the amounts of oxygen the babies were being given, believing they were protecting their welfare. (After being lectured on the matter, the nurses became committed members of the research team, Dr. Goldberg said.)

The team found that 7 of 28 infants receiving high doses of oxygen experienced severe R.O.P., compared with none in the group receiving low doses. Their findings led to restrictions on high-dose oxygen therapy, resulting in an immediate 60 percent reduction in the number of blind children in the United States. (From the New York Times)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Last I Knew, He Was At The Alamo

Davy Crockett finally passed away. He really didn’t lose it at the Alamo, swatting Mexicans with the butt end of his rifle, as The Disney Fantasy Shop would have us believe. They never did show that Davy met his maker there, but we did understand that being out of ammo and also outnumbered wasn’t the best spot to be in.

The Walt Disney Company president/CEO said, on the passing of Fess Parker: “Like many kids growing up in the 50’s, Davy Crockett was my first hero, and I had the coonskin cap to prove it. Fess Parker’s unforgettable, exciting and admirable performance as this American icon has remained with me all these years, as it has for his millions of fans around the world. Fess is truly a Disney Legend, as is the heroic character he portrayed, and while he will certainly be missed, he will never be forgotten.”

Someone named Roger, on a web message board, said: “I was one of those kids too. My coonskin cap was as much a part of me as everyday life itself. Davy (Fess, too) was my first hero. I still know all the words to that song.”

Well, just don’t sing them. A friend of mine just did the other day and I had a hard time getting him to stop. I heard it often enough when the show was on tv. Liked Davy, liked Fess, hated the song.

Paul, same message board, said, “A true gentleman in real life. We need more actors and role models like Parker and Davey Crockett.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

17 Isn't What It Used To Be

Frank Sinatra told us: When I was seventeen, it was a very good year. It was a very good year for small town girls, and soft summer nights. We’d hide from the lights on the village green, when I was seventeen.

When I was seventeen, it was a very good year. It was a very good year for small town boys and big radio stations. It was at the height of disc jockeys, radio news, heavy involvement in hands-on equipment and everybody knew who you were. I still get excited at the sight of an AM radio tower.

It was also a very bad year. I absolutely hated the high school where I went. They sent out a mailing for our 50th anniversary reunion and not only will it be a cold day in hell when I attend, but it will be a colder day when I reply. Things were going very wrong for me in those years and nobody was there for me; I don’t need them.

“17” was the title of a book by Booth Tarkington; I bought it, but I don’t remember when. Maybe in that year, maybe earlier. It is a tale of youth and summertime, somewhat of a light, humorous story. I don’t know what happened to it, but perhaps some library now holds it.

“Seventeen” is also a long-running magazine for, well, 17-year-olds but the bible for anyone of a specific gender from 13 to 21. It began in 1944 and it still at the top of the pile – vital reading for teens. Not me, when I was one, but for my girlfriend.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Spring ahead, to join DST, is not my favorite time of year. Fall back, to return to Standard Time, is ok, but only because it corrects this monumental error. I am not a fan of this “let’s change the clocks and figure out a reason later” business. And the reasons certainly do change, depending on who’s the latest to make one up.

Farmers, children waiting at bus stops, energy use, farm children at bus stops using energy, whatever. If He Who Is wanted time to change, Him What Am would speed up the sun at one point and slow it down at another just to make us happy. Except for parts of Indiana, where miracles happen and the time does not change.

China makes it easier: Everybody is on Beijing time. Used to be they were on Peking time, but that stopped when people started calling it Beijing. The whole country (by my ruler, Philly to Alaska) on the same time zone. “GMC” (“Good Morning China”) would be seen at 3:00am, with “Tonight! With Chairman Mao” at 7:30pm. Or so.

I worked at a radio station years ago where we stayed on EST. The county to our west was on CST or CDT, depending on the season. The state just three miles to the north was on EST or EDT, seasonally. When I made program announcements (this was a classical station), I had to shape them for each time zone.

When I lived on a farm in Vermont, the cows didn’t give a rat’s @ about what the clocks said. They wanted to be milked at 4:30 regular time and we better be there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The New Moon

The new moon, I discovered one day, means “no moon.” The opposite of a full moon. Why it’s new is beyond me. I would have thought the first day we could have seen the earliest crescent would be the new moon. But, alas, that is not to be. The new moon is hidden behind a dressing screen putting on her new crescent.

Sigmund Romberg had a very successful show in “The New Moon,” which I imagined would be lovers in the darkness of a starry night. But it turned out to be a galleon, or some such ship, called “The New Moon.” So much for romance on the high seas, or at least on shore with nary a lantern hanging in the sky.

When I’m on a cruise ship at night, with my trusty binoculars at the ready, I always hope (a) the moon has not risen or (b) it’s a new one.

A dark, moonless night (did I hear someone whisper, “Titanic”?) far out at sea with no shore lights, on the top deck, forward, where there are no deck lights. Best place; grab a deck chair, lay out flat and just gaze upward through the glasses. With this optical help and no moon, you will find loads of stars you never saw before.

Not only that, but when you wake up, you will feel rested enough to sample the midnight buffet and take in a few turns around the promenade deck. I must say, the moon coming up over the horizon is mighty impressive at sea, even if it is moving away from us at 1.5 or 2.5 inches per year. But don’t rush; it will still be around.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Think I'll Have Another Slice Of Pi

(CNN) -- The sound of meditation for Marc Umile is "3.14159265358979..." Whether in the shower, driving to work, or walking down the street, he'll mentally rattle off digits of pi to pass the time. He holds 10th place in the world for pi memorization -- he typed out 15,314 digits from memory in 2007.

Pi, the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle, has captivated imaginations for thousands of years. Approximately 3.14, the number has its own holiday on March 14 -- 3-14, get it? -- which also happens to be Albert Einstein's birthday. You won't get off school for Pi Day, but you might be doing something special in school on Pi Day.

Mathematicians, teachers, museum directors, math students and other aficionados celebrate the number with pi recitations, pie-baking and pie-eating contests.

"There are many things that could not be built without implementing the constant pi," Umile said. "The great engineering marvels like the arch or suspension bridges we cross over, the tunnels spanning within mountains or even under the water that we drive through. ... Without it, everything would be incomplete or in danger of collapse."

That means, theoretically, that its digits will continue on indefinitely without ending in repetition -- in other words, the digits won't suddenly continue infinitely as 5s after 3 trillion digits (Pi's digits were calculated out to a record 2.7 trillion places in December by French computer scientist Fabrice Bellard).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

313, My Favorite License Plate (on 3/13)

If I had a choice, my license plate would have been HX-91, held in Connecticut by my parents since cars began being built after WW2. After many years, it became a really low-number plate and I have one of her “Lighthouse” tags (my brother has the other) which somehow didn’t get returned to the DMV back home. Pity.

When the Commonwealth of PA changed its style of license plates, I decided it was time to shell out and get a personalized tag. They offered me three choices, so I asked for “HX-91” in honor of Mom, then “RHV88-5” for my radio show (Radio Home Visitor on 88.5fm) and something else I forget.

Somebody else already had “Mom’s plate” in this state, so when the large envelope from PennDOT arrived, I found myself with the Radio Home Visitor license.

But 313? I think that might have been part of the third choice, if the first two were not available. I’ve always been a great fan of Donald Duck and that is his plate. Once, and I think once only, some unthinking cartoonist at Disney drew a panel with “1313” as the plate. I was going to object, but had other things to do.

I would need more than “313” on the plate, as someone might have that low number. “TOM 313”? “DON 313”? We only get seven characters here, including a space or a dash (but not both). “DUCK313”? It would be funny to find someone named Robert H. Vaughn who lives at 885 some street and wanted my plate.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Life As A Disc Jockey

“To be quite truthful, he didn’t want to work, so he went to radio school in Memphis on the G. I. Bill,” his wife said.

“I’d do this for nothing,” is a common phrase among dj’s and before the business became automated, it was a great way to earn a living. Many a night I wondered just how far my voice was being heard, or how many people were listening to me within our primary coverage area. It was fun being popular; it was fun being on the air.

You had four hours to fit in forty (top-40) records, news on the hour from the network, your own local news, commercials, public service announcements, contests, ad-libs and then re-join the network every half-hour during your shift without error – and making it sound so natural nobody noticed it.

Then there was the day Russia attacked the US with nuclear rockets. Or so NORAD would have us believe. Our early warning system under Cheyenne Mountain, self-proclaimed infallible, sent out a message on the newswires to all radio and tv stations announcing we were under attack and to read the pre-sent script.

The verification code envelope was right above the machine and it matched. The dj on duty first listened to our network and heard nothing out of the ordinary; then he listened to the EBS station we monitored and no action there. We stayed on the air. Some doofus at NORAD made a mistake (or did they?). We never found out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Whale Cam

The Discovery Channel and The National Geographic Channel have presented some excellent nature documentaries in the last year. Two were whales vs fish.

The chances are pretty good you can guess who was still swimming the next day. Anyway, either or both of the two channels were doing some underwater shooting and picking up some wonderful pictures. One of the best was a large school of fish, with the camera underneath them, pointing up.

Then, without any warning, a whale swam in from the left, went through the middle of the shot and exited off to the right – leaving not a single fish left in the water. A clean sweep, the world’s largest vacuum cleaner, total wipeout. I just sat there, amazed, as most likely did the camera operator who may never have expected this.

The other nice experience was a “critter cam” which was somehow attached to the back of a whale, most likely a newborn. The program pretty much centered on its birth and early days. The camera was facing forward as the whale came upon various collections of fish, opened its mouth and gobbled them up.

If we only had this technology in the past, distant tho it might have been. Jonah and the whale with maybe a stomach cam to show him being swallowed and then puked up on the shore. Captain Ahab through the eyes of a critter cam on the back of the white whale. The one that split the whaling ship “Essex” in half, leading to cannibalism by the crew.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Flashing Lights On The Road

My mother used to say, “When you hear a siren, it means somebody’s day has just been ruined.” I guess so; it’s never a good sign.

Flashing lights on the road can mean almost anything. For me, if they are strobe lights, it means I have to find another way to get around them. Strobes are everywhere these days: utility vehicles, police cars, the back of mail trucks, the top of school buses, towers, fire alarms on buildings, the backs of little kids’ sneakers.

But for the rest of us, they can be as utilitarian as a “horse” warning us of a large hole in the road, someone’s 4-way flashers on a car, inoperative traffic lights set to flashing yellow (or red), an advertising sign, a railroad crossing. They are so normal in our lives we don’t even think about them.

As far as I can tell, they are either a warning or an invitation. “Watch out for this hole” or “Eat at Joe’s.” School crossing … reduce speed … used cars at discount … speed limit enforced. It might be a good game for your passenger (not you) to play: how many of which kind of flashing lights do you see as you drive down any street?

I have to go out now and maybe I’ll try to keep my eyes open to how often these appear. I won’t keep a running total; that’s as bad a talking on a cellphone, given the distraction it causes. Maybe just on one street. Flashing lights only, or maybe just flashing advertising signs. This ought to be interesting.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Smidgen Of Glade Is A Nice Touch

My room does not have any rank odors in it; just the plain ordinary stuff of which rooms are made. It’s just too “white bread” for me, so I went out and actually spent some money (which will come as somewhat of a surprise to those who know me) and bought one of those Glade plug-in things that make rooms smell nice.

I think just a little bit of Apple Cinnamon makes the room warm to the nose. At least, that’s what is in the unit right now. I don’t know if people generally keep it in there all the time, but I generally plug it in only once or twice a day for a while and let the flavor linger in the air until it’s all gone. Maybe I can stretch it for a long time.

I also picked up, without thinking, some French Vanilla, which will probably make the place smell like a whorehouse. So let them talk.

The thought had passed through my mind of placing one in my studio. However, I’m working out of a large room, in one corner of it, and it might take days on the unit’s high heat to make any difference. These are pretty gentle things. I’m against candles on principle (principle: they use fire which can catch other things on fire).

Maybe this will put me in the mood to finally clean up my room. Who knows? A mug of apple cinnamon tea, some of the same in a Glade percolator, a big wastebasket and my friends might think that “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” had paid a surprise visit and discovered my apartment really did have a carpet.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Whither The Quiet?

Under a previous mayoral administration, “Those kids” were responsible for everything from The Crucifixion to any empty abandoned beer bottle within a mile of the city limits.

But when the college students were away on break, or for the summer, some college-dependent merchants either shortened their hours or even closed for the duration. That’s what is going on right now: we are into Spring Break. Many of our students are away doing service work, while others are lying on beaches or job-hunting for the summer.

Reminds me of the situation in Key West, residents vs cruise ships. The land of milk and honey, not to mention a Mr. Hemingway, likes its traditional lifestyle which includes guys trying to look like Ernie. It’s a town with a negative income, dependent on outsiders to keep the fantasy alive.

The main financial prop is water-born tourism. Cruise ships bringing in loads of people flush with cash, these big boats which pay port charges and taxes and, pretty much, keep the place afloat. But the locals don’t want this; it disturbs their idea of what Key West should be like. The ships gotta go, they say.

Until the day the ships went. Three of them could not land because of the weather. That meant a huge loss of port charges, taxes and shop income. It really hurt, badly, and said locals got a taste of what happens when the fantasy stops. Watch what you wish for; you might get it.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Small Libraries And Me

I always liked small libraries. A few years ago, I walked into the New York Public Library, first floor, looked around, and asked the guard, “Where are the shelves?” I guess he knew a hayseed when he saw one and told me how the place worked. I just wanted to wander through the stacks and see what was there.

We had a library at the school I did not attend out in the remote village where I lived. I actually went to the small nuns’ school up on the mainland where we didn’t have a library. There was a town library (actually, privately run but sort of the town’s) where you could usually find me. It had a junior section where I sat on the floor and read.

Anyway, our remote school’s library did not have a librarian; just two shelves less than shoulder height running around the small room. You took the books you wanted and left the card, or something like that. There probably weren’t a couple hundred books there and they were old.

We had a public library in North Dartmouth, Mass. Larger, but the NY Public Library’s lions could eat it for lunch. The Dartmouth branch was in a cow pasture and they would come up to the windows. We kept the goats out, just in case they were looking for a snack of Hemingway. The place wasn’t open too much, anyway.

I read so much in the mainland library that even as a kid I had full run of the place and no longer restricted to the junior section. That was really neat.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Why Do They Own All That Real Estate?

Isn't your country enough? Can't you be content with what you have with its hillsides and cities and outlying districts?

France owns Clipperton Island, which is just north of the Equator and somewhat west of the Panama Canal. Do they even know it’s there? How about New Caledonia, a bit east of Australia? Any direct flights from Paris? Here’s one even most of those frogs don’t know about: Wallis and Futuna Islands just on the wrong side of the date line.

They own Kerguelen Island, in the southern Indian Ocean (and, by the way, where you will come out if you dig a hole straight down from New York City; sorry, China). Ask any Parisian if they’ve heard of St. Paul and Amsterdam Islands; after all, they own them down in the south Indian Ocean. St. Pierre and Miquelon is a swim from Newfoundland.

The United Kingdom claims South Georgia and South Sandwich, down near Antarctica, a good place to put the randy members of the Royal Family when they are kicking their heels up. Another good place for them would be the Chagos Archipelago; you own it, you populate it, in the “British Indian Ocean Territory,” the Oil Islands.

The Brits also own Pitcairn Island, and we all know what went on there. It took a while, but these days the abused have become the abusers and paradise has turned into hell for many of the women. They also claim the Falkland Islands, way down the end of South America, which nobody knew about until Argentina needed an excuse for a war.

Friday, March 05, 2010

More People Of Interest

Mary E. Lee passed away in January of 2008. I just noticed her obituary in my pile of “Interesting Obituaries.” There were two more, as well.

“Surviving,” it says here, “are her son, Robert E. Lee and his wife, Scarlett O’Hara.” It says nothing at all about nephews or cousins named Rhett Butler. I might note the late Ms. Lee seems to be dressed like a right proper Southerner, even if she never lived any further south than the Market Street Bridge, near where I reside.

Zigmund (Ziggy) Zelinsky passed away just last year. When he was 56, he had a heart attack and his therapist advised him to start a walking program. Ziggy, so his family notes, gradually increased his walking around the block to several miles a day. Then he started jogging and completed several 5K and 10K races.

When he was 64, he entered and finished the grueling 26.2-mile Los Angeles Marathon and carried the Olympic Torch prior to the Olympic summer games in 1992.

Anne Bullitt had one of those small-print obits in the NY Times; her father was a big deal in the Roosevelt administration, ambassador to both the Soviet Union and France. She traveled with him throughout all his travels and foreign assignments in the 1930’s. “During one of her visits to Hyde Park when she was 12, Roosevelt, expecting a delegation of local politicians, told her to hide behind the sofa in his study so that she could hear their conversation.”

Thursday, March 04, 2010

I'm Legal! At Least, My Car Is

How I forgot to get my car registered, when the application was right in front of me for two months, is a mystery.

Then I had two weeks after the new registration arrived to get it inspected. As you saw earlier, I ran into some complications. Well, first I forgot about it. Then the snow and the garage not being open on Sundays.

Finally, I got it taken care of and I’m legal to be on the road – at least until April 13, or somewhere around that time. My license is up for renewal and I really should get to it before I forget and become a guest of the county (known as “three hots and a cot”) for a day or two until someone makes bail.

Speaking of being legal, I ran across my first FCC engineer’s license the other day. Passed the exam in 1969 or early 1970. It allows me to operate, maintain or oversee any type of transmitting device in the country. It was also an extraordinarily difficult license to pass, in two parts (Second Class, First Class).

I’m legal for the Amateur Radio bands, as well. Same deal as the Commercial FCC license: All amateur privileges that exist now and may exist in the future, unlimited. But it sure took a lot of work to get to this point. Not too many people hold both licenses.

These days, I also need a background check to show I’m not a pervert. I’m not?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I Get All These Compact Discs

As a disc jockey (well, formerly) and a radio show producer, I get all these compact discs free. It’s a rare week when I don’t get several in the mail and they’re all mine.

“Hi; this is Pat Boone and I’d like to talk to you about the Asthma Foundation…” “Jay Leno here on behalf of the American Cancer Society…” “This is Michael J. Fox urging you to…” They are public service announcements, PSA’s, and generally run 30 or 60 seconds. Sometimes 20, 15 or even 10 seconds. Some are donuts.

Donuts? Yeah: A pre-recorded message with a “hole” in the middle for you to add a local contact message with the pre-record finishing up the spot. You hit the “start” button, check the sheet to see how long it goes before you have to insert whatever it is, then get out of there before the rest of the spot comes at you.

So you get this disc and there is a :60 for “Eat Your Vegetables,” followed by another spot, a :30, identical except it’s only half as long. Then comes a :20 next, still the same but shorter, then the :15 and the briefest rendition ever at ten seconds. You’d be surprised at how much someone can say in a calm voice in ten seconds.

I’ve seen CD’s with just one spot on them; sometimes a sixty (second) and often just a thirty. Quite a bit different from your average music disc with upwards of 76 minutes on it. What do we make of these after they are used? Ornaments on the station Christmas tree with lights shining on them; the shiny side looks great as they turn around.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Change, Change, Thou Unchanging Light

Quite often, I think of eternity, the concept of living forever, living without end, always being alive in (hopefully) heaven or (trying hard to avoid it) some other place.

I think of this most often when I am stopped at the traffic light on East Union Street, trying to cross North Main Street in Our Fair City. I have been waiting here for, what, three hours now? Or has it been a couple of days? I know the guy ahead of me went out for a sandwich a few hours ago and I think he’s going for coffee sometime soon.

The last time I thought of eternity was when I was going up River Road in Plains Township. It’s a long road, no passing all the way, and I was behind an OMWAH. For those who just tuned in, that’s an Old Man Wearing A Hat. They always drive slowly; check it out next time you are on a road. Slow driver? It’s an OMWAH.

I was in the local supermarket, quick checkout lane, one jar of peanut butter. Lady ahead of me had six items. We’re good to go. “That’ll be $10.95.” “Well, let me see. I knew I had a ten in here. I don’t want to break a twenty, and I have some change. Oh, here’s a coupon; I wonder if it’s still good. Here’s a nickel, two quarters,…”

The Greyhound bus is leaving NYC for Boston. You want peace and quiet. The person next to you wants to talk endlessly. It’s gonna be a long trip. But: You stay still and when he taps you, then your response is, “C’est dommage, mais je parle francais seulment” and hope he doesn’t.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

Two miserable months with nothing special about them: January and February. Wet snow, cold feet, sniffles. The magic of the first snow is long gone.

The Romans had a good idea: Forget the wretched winter months and start anew when things are looking up. Just forget them; don’t even give them a name. Everything that has a name exists, so if you don’t name it, then you can pretend it’s not there. End the year with December and start up again in March.

“December” comes from a word that means “tenth,” as in tenth month. If you remove those two at the start, there are only ten. “November” equally means “nine,” while “October” is “eight,” and “September” is “seven.” July and August are Roman leaders; March was for the god of war. I’m too lazy to check on April, May and June.

So, we have The Miserables. December ends and we have a 59 or 60 day nameless period also known as The Miserables. Wolves howl in the night, children’s noses run, the populace walk through the streets crying, “Alas! Alas!” and people are so downcast they are even unable to conceive progeny like unto themselves.

Then the temperatures begin to rise; the sun comes up earlier, retires to its bed later. The snow retreats and feet dry out, as do children’s noses. Parents lock their bedroom doors and do not answer when their youngsters knock and say, “Mommy, Daddy, what are you doing in there? Why are you giggling like that?”