Monday, May 31, 2010

A 2-Year-Old Customer For Life

Two-year-old Aldi yanked on his mother's hair and squirmed in her arms. Tears formed a small pool in the folds of his double chin. "He's crying because he wants a cigarette," said Diana, his mother, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name. We caught up with Aldi, who is twice the weight of other babies his age.

Video of him inhaling deeply and happily blowing smoke rings had circulated on the Internet last week, turning him into a local celebrity.

"Smoking has been a part of our culture for so long it isn't perceived as being hazardous, as causing illness, as poisonous," said Seto Mulyadi, chairman of Indonesia's National Commission for Child Protection. "Adults will carry a baby in one hand and a cigarette in another. Even mothers don't understand that they are poisoning their children."

He said Aldi was a bright boy. He also said Aldi was a victim of his environment. But he told us what was disturbing was that the parents’ motivation to get Aldi to quit wasn't from an understanding of the risk to his health, but more from the cost of spending four dollars a day -- Aldi smokes an average of 40 cigarettes daily.

"Well, I don't want to give him cigarettes, but what I am I supposed to do?” his mother said. "I didn't let him smoke, I even forbade him from smoking." She showed us a scar on Aldi's head, where she said he smashed his head into a wall during one of his tantrums. She said he also vomits when he can't satisfy his addiction. (

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sticking Around

I use rubber cement by the gallon. Actually, when we had an office supply store downtown, I’d take what they had on display. Once a year, I’d walk in, pick up two gallons and head for the counter. Maybe I’d take three gallons, if they had it. There would be some eyebrow-raising, but I’d just smile and say, “How much?”

Like, doesn’t everybody buy a couple gallons of the stuff at a time? Now that the store doesn’t carry it anymore, nor do Staples and Office Max, I tried Office Max or Office Warehouse main distribution; it worked once, I think. Next time they said nobody had ordered for two years. “Sounds like me,” I said. “Yes, that’s so,” they replied.

I found another supplier, fellow in Ohio who deals in fluids and equipment you never thought anyone used at this date. “Certainly,” he said with certainty. “There are a lot of poor school districts out there and they can’t afford Xerox photocopy machines or even a mimeograph. We have spirit duplicators for them.

Spirit duplicators; we used to get a little high on them in grammar school 50+ years ago. Still in use, I see. Mimeos with their ugly black ink, still going. And my beloved rubber cement. “We ship in six gallon lots,” Bill said. “That’s fine,” I replied, “I use a lot of it.” I guess if someone had a need for odd stuff, there’s a guy somewhere who sells it.

Failed, weak glue? Post-It notes. Old house decorations? A place in CT that resells them to landscapers. It’s not junk if you can sell it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Has It Been 13 Years?

Yeah. Thirteen already; seems like seven since Mom (as they say) left us. My brother and I have another take on that one: we both have a very deeply-felt knowledge she never did leave. She’s just on the other side of our reality and still very much a part of our lives. Just in a different way and unique for each.

I think it would be nice if I were in what we refer to as “the afterlife” being able to watch over people who need our help and reaching out to provide it.

I just have a thing about “afterlife.” After usually means separate from whatever went on, and not a continuation of. From what I’ve read of the nation’s most serious researcher in the near-death experience (Dr. Kenneth Ring), there is no “after,” but simply a continuation without the slightest bump in the road.

The only “after” is when we let go of our bodies which can no longer contain the real us. While everyone is standing around crying, we are loosed to the most glorious part of life. “Stop crying! It’s great where I am!” My parents had a rough time here and there, and I am certain all is great now, so why get all upset? They’re waiting for me.

When I need something done that a mother, mine especially, would provide, all I need to do is ask. In an instant, I have the answer or the difficulty solved. That’s after I’ve done all I can, exhausted all possibilities, given up hope. Then she steps in. Call it what you will; I say it’s a parent helping her kid.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Christmas on May 28

Working at a newspaper part-time, I get an advance look at the Sunday color section. (Still called, in New York City, the “roto section,” because of how it was printed, by the rotogravure process.) We buy the American Profile, because the other paper has dibs on “Parade,” the only good supplement that’s left.

On the second-to-last inside page is a Christmas ad. Yes, a Christmas ad. A Coca-Cola train and act now because it’s a limited time offer (one train set per customer).

This train is the most blatant ad I’ve seen. Looking at one side of the train only, there’s a Coke symbol on the front, a large script logo on the boiler, Santa hoisting one below the cab. The tender is one huge advertising sign. The combine car shows a bottle of Coke, another “Drink Coca-Cola in Bottles” and some Coke phrase across the top.”

And these are just the three starter pieces.

I always look for the first Christmas ads around the first of September, maybe the end. But this one showing up now really amazes me. Is the company (Hawthorne Village) trying to raise a little money during the Spring/Summer season to keep going? Times are tough and there might well be a temptation to rush the season.

I wonder how much track comes with this? Just enough to hold the cars? Also, there is a certificate of authenticity, for what that’s worth.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Where Did They All Go Wrong?

My online day-in-history says this day, in 1647, was when Achsah Young was hanged. He lived in Massachusetts, was reportedly a witch and carries the dubious honor of being the first recorded execution of said species of man/womenkind. That presents problems: Could that be a variant spelling of my grandmother’s side of the family?

You can find grace through organized religion almost as fast as you can find death. A promise of eternal life or an equally definite torture in God’s name.

Joan of Arc, burned at the stake and the reason was merciful. She was going to hell for her sin of whatever and since men were certain of this, burning here would prepare her for the horrific flames that awaited here hereafter. Sort of like the frog in the increasingly heated water. You’ll thank us later, Joan.

Witches in the dunking-chair. Witches thrown into ponds with rocks attached to them; if they floated to the surface, that was proof they were evil and they were put to death. If they drowned, if was proof they were innocent. Either way, the village was rid of them. Troublemakers. You just can’t be too careful.

The Final Solution may have been religious or could have been nationalistic, but it sure was seen as an excellent way to get rid of an entire religion/race of people in a short period of time. Nero tried that, too, and maybe the bunch of them are asking each other, “Where did we all go wrong?”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

He Was There September 2, 1974

Joe Anthony, as he was known on the air, was one of the original crew on the Radio Home Visitor, our radio reading service for the blind. We are a "main channel" operation, so anyone with an FM radio can listen: visually impaired, elderly, home bound, lonely. We are there for all.

Joe was there from Day One on this, the oldest FM broadcast. He even remembered the first piece he read that day nearly thirty-six years later.

He passed away last Friday at the age of 54 due to a rare blood disease and complications. Much too early, as we reckon it, but disease or accidents do not follow the same calendar as our expectations. The plane goes down, cancer cells form, you don’t look both ways before crossing the street; life is a toss of the dice sometimes.

We began the Radio Home Visitor with no expectation it would last more than two weeks. I remember saying, “If we can get this to go more than two weeks, then it will run forever.” Well, it hasn’t been forever, but we will hit 36 years in a few months. Joe was there at the start and if he were in town Sept. 2, he would be here then.

It’s an odd feeling, losing one of the originals. We’ve lost student crew members before; not many, but one here and there. Illness, Army fatality, something else. They came, did some time and left the show. A few itinerant adults have passed on, as well. But no original students who stuck with us. I hope his spirit hovers over us.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Notes From All Over

THESSALONIKI, Greece - Officials say a horde of frogs has forced the closure of a key northern highway for two hours. Traffic police chief Giorgos Thanoglou says "millions" of the amphibians covered the tarmac Wednesday. "There was a carpet of frogs," he said. Three car drivers skidded off the road trying to dodge the frogs.

NEW YORK -- His was the first face of a missing child to appear on the back of a milk carton. Now, 31 years since Etan Patz vanished from a New York street, authorities are reopening his case. Etan was 6. "It was the first day that he was to walk two blocks from his apartment to the school bus stop," said Lisa Cohen.

His mother could see the bus stop at the end of the street and she saw parents there, waiting with kids for the bus, and so she let him go."

Jose Antonio Ramos, a convicted child molester, has been identified as a suspect in the disappearance, but has never been charged in connection with the case. According to Cohen, Ramos initially told investigators that he was "90 percent sure" that a boy he had taken home that day was Etan. Ramos has since denied making that statement.

From families and detectives to people in the missing children movement, this case changed everything, Cohen said. "Before Etan, parents did not have an image in their mind that something could happen to their children," she said. "And after Etan, they did." Etan's father, Stan Patz said, “Maybe we'll finally get our day in court.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Ocean Cruise

One of my favorite vacations, when you figure there is only one, is cruising. On Holland America Line. Specifically on the New England-Canada run.

I don’t mind if the ride is rough; actually, I like a little bit of action, even if people from the heartland are leaning over the rail. (In real life, there are barf bags around the ship for times like that, but “leaning over the rail” is such a lovely image from days past.) Even with stabilizers, things can still get rough.

A pleasant ride? Not. I don’t know if the captain was scared, or if he knew his ship could take this, but it’s significant there was a Coast Guard helicopter up above videotaping this. The lifeboats are still in their davits, which makes sense: they wouldn’t last a minute in these seas.

Where are the passengers? Certainly not on deck. Perhaps the atheists are leading the others in prayer, as not only are there none in foxholes, but neither are there any in a ship that could roll over at any moment and the nonbelievers would meet the Maker they don’t believe in. Or, didn’t up until this storm hit.

I understand the ship did make it safely to port.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Second Collection After The Service

We didn’t have a second collection at Mass today. It happens a couple times each month and the cause is genuinely good; the local church is asked to reach out to others who need our help. But the “second collection” today took place in the church basement and it took in more than usual. It was the cake sale.

The stuff was pretty good, although I had to avoid it. I’m not gaining weight, but I’m not losing any either. Losing is the operative word here and giving in even a little way isn’t the way to do it. On the cruise ship, they have all sorts of nice confections to people who need something nice, but healthy.

Maybe I should have just given them a donation and skipped the temptations. When asked what I wanted, I pointed to an empty tray and said, “How about a couple of those?”

Gone are the days when I could get away with the excuse that I am a growing boy. I’ve growed. Now my snack of choice is a bowl of porridge with no sugar and no milk. I do add some trail mix, after it’s gone thru the grinder, along with nuts which have taken the same trip. It’s nice and I don’t feel guilty as I would after a bowl of ice cream.

Or, for that matter, a nice piece of yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Or thick, filled cookies. Those ladies can throw together some delightful delights and I can always justify a handful or two. After all, it’s all for the benefit of the church … it doesn’t cost much … they worked hard. No; it’s not good for me.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Internet's Curse

Anonymous message boards are, to me, not that far off from graffiti scribbled on fences after dark by people who run up, write their stuff and disappear into the darkness.

If you have something to say, sign it. If it’s such that you can’t put your name on it, then don’t write it. If it’s mean-spirited, don’t post it.

I get this in person all the time from people who pass on, “I heard,” or “someone said.” To “I heard,” I kindly respond, “Or did you just this minute make it up?” To “someone said,” I ask, “Who was that?” “I don’t remember.” “That’s odd; you’d think something that juicy, it would be hard to forget who told it to you.”

I’m on a broadcast message board where fewer than five people identify themselves. Those people seem to be the only ones who actually know what they are talking about; the rest don’t seem to be in the business, yet make the most unkind (and erroneous) remarks about those who are.

I’d really prefer boards where everyone signed their own name. No more “angel_mommy” or “superman.” Just “John Smith” or “Betty Hageman.” If you use a board name, then your real name in the signature. Let’s know who you are; we aren’t going to storm your house and steal your first-born.

A board where everybody knows everybody else in real life!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Ragman And The Scissors' Grinder

In the Years of Our Lord 1942-1949, I lived at 179 California Street in Stratford, Connecticut. It was suburban Bridgeport, where the mailman came twice a day.

The ragman came around, but I don’t know with what frequency. One person drove the open stake truck, while the other hung on to the outside shouting, “Rags! Rags!”

I saw the scissors’ grinder down the end of Catherine Street. He had a grinding wheel on what looked vaguely like a wheelbarrow with a seat. When someone came out of the house with a pair or two of scissors, he went to work.

It’s nothing unusual around here, but the sound of coal being unloaded is long gone from that area. I’d be up in my room with the truck just below me, listening to the sound of (I guess) Wilkes-Barre’s finest going down the chute, never knowing I’d be here some day.

We had a fairly good vegetable garden on the right side of the backyard and an equally good flower garden across the back. Did they have Victory Gardens in those days? If so, were Victory Gardens really necessary? A lot of wartime civilian assists were merely fake, useless “make them feel good, part of the effort” ploys.

My father was deferred. He had such a job at Chance-Vought the military felt he was more valuable there. The company made the Corsair airplanes, the fighters which won the war in the Pacific. They rolled them out three miles from our home.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What's Fascinating About You?

Some years ago, I realized everyone has something fascinating about them. Trouble is, we don’t pick up on our own stuff.

One of my friends quilts; not only that, but she has had one of her works one a traveling tour around the state and then on exhibit in Philadelphia. I don’t think many people know just how fascinating she is, because she doesn’t look it. And I wonder if she knows it. After all, how many people you know have quilts on display like that?

Some people have artistic talents like my friends. Others have traveled widely to places unknown and bring back stories of people we will never meet. Friends of mine can fix anything and tell me about it in the process; fascinating. Others could read a telephone book and keep me transfixed.

I could listen to anyone who really knows their stuff and can present it in words I’m able to understand. Doesn’t matter what it is: could be the art of creating a painting, working on a fishing boat or producing a news program. When you hear someone who has done it, their “daily, non exciting” work becomes fascinating to you.

All you have to do is find it. It’s there, no matter how well you know the dullest person. Everyone is fascinating, or has some neat talent you never knew existed. All you have to do is listen. Really listen. Hear the stories, imagine the setting. There are so many stories out there just waiting to be told.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dining Out At Ollie's

You can't walk in the door without meeting someone you know. I'll be back later with how things went tonight.

(Ok, I’m back. It was too late to post this after I wrote the tease.)

Ollie’s is one of the old Ollie’s Restaurants, now totally separate from each other, but many of them kept the name and the outdoor sign. Cheaper that way. It’s a family place and usually pretty full every time I go there. One well-known local, and a daily diner, passed away and they made his booth a sort of shrine. I have to eat there some day.

Last night, I met two people who were occasional readers on my radio show many years ago. The husband also taught me trumpet; I helped the wife get a job at the newspaper where I am a columnist. They both now work at a motorized wheelchair company nearby, along with a current radio reader.

In another booth was a contractor and member of the NYC musicians’ union, who produces radio and tv shows having to do with music. I helped him with a forthcoming show about the Scranton Sirens, a seminal jazz group which was the starting point for many of the later famous big band leaders.

On other occasions, I’ve met co-workers, people from my church, friends from around the Valley. It’s quite the meeting and eating place.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Don't Forget Your Back-Up 'Chute

Saw a guy on CNN who is planning on beating the world’s record for parachuting from altitude. The alternate outcome is to beat the world’s record for cratering.

Australia’s Felix Baumgartner was showing off his pressurized high-tech “look Mom, no brains” suit with matching double-parachute and “stop spinning” backup chute pack. He’s already had some tryout jumps from 25,000 feet, just a small step for a man, ready for a big step for parachute mankind.

This one is 23 miles up, or 120,000 feet. Thirty seconds after he jumps from the helium balloon, he will reach supersonic speed (690 mph at that altitude), and start heading toward the nearest planet. The one beneath him, three-and-twenty miles beneath him. I don’t know what he will be thinking on the way down, but let’s make a guess.

Possible thoughts: “Do I have my parachute pack? If I land in another country, do I need my passport? How deep will I go if the ‘chutes don’t work? Could I hit any Cessnas at 2,500 feet? I hope nothing really big happens today and puts this on page 20. Maybe I should have filed a flight plan with the FAA: 120k’, descending to 0’.”

What do you think is the possibility that he might go up in the shuttle and asked to be pushed out of it, toward earth, and parachute down from there? Of course, there’s that little problem of re-entry and the heat, but if he goes slow enough, there might not be too much of a difficulty. I’ll have to propose that to him. If he doesn’t crater this time.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Things I Just Don't Get

I will occasionally see a photo of a planet. Maybe ours, taken from space, just sitting there minding its own business. “Why doesn’t it fall?” I keep asking myself. “It’s just there. Why doesn’t it fall?” Ok, I know why, but it still doesn’t make sense; things just don’t hang. But those galaxies do, as well as stars and planets.

Trains go 60, 95, 150mph, depending. The flanges on their wheels, designed to keep them on the tracks, are only an inch or so wide. So they are barreling along, bouncing through switches, 90mph, still staying on the rails. I don’t get it; those flanges aren’t that big. How do they ever stay on the tracks?

I’m a broadcast engineer; been one for many years. But when I pass a radio tower, I still marvel at how there are invisible waves coming out of it and spreading out all over the place with music and voices on them. I can’t see them, I can’t hear them, I can’t feel them (unless I touch the tower); I just have to believe they are there.

It’s hard for me to believe the aspirin knows where to go. Which tooth hurts? How can it cure a headache rather than keep me from having a heart attack?

I’ve always wondered what would happen if I suddenly woke up and I was really 18. Everything in the past 50 years had been nothing but a dream. How do we know what’s reality and what’s a dream? They are so realistic when we are in the middle of them and how can I prove this isn’t one?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Smokey Stover

A lot of comic strips just aren’t here anymore. Smokey Stover, for one; the artist described its most famous catch phrase, "Notary Sojac," as a re-spelled and re-worked Gaelic word meaning "Merry Christmas" (Nodlaig Sodhach). It was filled with visual puns, as well as those spoken by the characters.

Winnie Winkle ran for 76 years and was way ahead of its time: a working woman supporting her parents and adopted brother, from 1920. The Sunday strip featured Denny Dimwit (her brother, I guess, but I don’t think he would last long in these politically-correct days).

Dixie Dugan was not a particular favorite of mine, but I did notice her outfits each day were credited to readers who designed them. Never saw that before, or since.

Out Our Way, with the Willets, was one of my favorite strips a long time ago. It seemed so natural. The cartoonist, J. R. Williams, also had single-panel drawings variously titled, “Why Mothers Get Gray,” “Born Thirty Years Too Soon,” and “The Worry Wart,” which was about an approximately 8-year-old boy.

Mickey Finn was a strip which, if it appeared daily, I never read. But the Sunday issue was all about his bumbling uncle, Sheriff Phil Finn. That was pretty good. It took place in suburban New York City. These were the days when the Sunday strips were a small magazine in themselves and each one was a full page. Those days are gone for sure.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Annie, Sandy, "Daddy," The Asp

The sun will come out tomorrow -- but there won't be many more tomorrows for "Little Orphan Annie." Daddy Warbucks' favorite pupil-less redhead had enough Depression-tested pluck to survive 86 years in daily newspapers, but now the orphan's outta luck. Come June 13, her clear-eyed comic strip will end as her syndicate, Tribune Media Services, sends her off into the sunset. Canceled.

"Annie," which merited a commemorative U.S. postage stamp in 1995, runs in about 20 newspapers. The strip was created by Harold Gray in 1924. The strip's current artist, Ted Slampyak, said: "It's almost like mourning the loss of a friend." (Washington Post)

Comments from online readers:

“The comics, especially the Sunday pages, were household staples when I was growing up. We all read the comics, next to the sports, of course. Dondi, Annie, Smokey Stover, Dick Tracy, Moon Mullins, etal. My late father told me about Mayor LaGuardia reading the funnies over the radio.”

“Brenda Starr, Winnie Winkle and now Annie... at the risk of sounding like a feminist (which I am not), it seams as if all the funny, insightful comic strips with strong female main characters have gone the way of the Smoo's. We can only hope that the artist who draws Annie creates a proper ending for her that doesn't result in killing her and Sandy off and doesn't leave the readers hanging.”

Friday, May 14, 2010

Countdown To What?

I’ve been thinking lately of getting a countdown clock. Not really sure why; I do have a cruise coming up and people are always asking me how long until I leave. As of this moment, it’s five weeks and one day. The next cruise is … let me check … June 11, 2011, which is maybe 51 weeks and one day. More or less.

There probably are countdown clocks on the internet. I have one now, but it would be nice to set a clock down on the taskbar and most likely I can do it somehow.

My preference is for “weeks” instead of “days,” as it’s an easier number to handle. So many weeks, rather than months or days, seems to work best for my mind. And, no, it does not make the time go slower; for me, it speeds it up a bit and I rejoice not in the seasons I must pass through, but the weeks that are speeding by.

When the countdown, currently on my calendar, gets to “3,” then I start checking things out thoroughly. My “Next Cruise” drawer is assembled, clothes picked out, my large carry-on brought from the cellar. At the “1” countdown, I check in with the Halifax visitors’ bureau to see what the weather might be.

On my radio show, when I use the various inserts (either pre-recorded from my crew, or short pieces I regularly run), I’m not interested in how long they run. I just want to know how much time I have left. I prefer to know there are 28 seconds left, rather than we are two minutes into the piece. Countdown time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Last Ziegfeld Follies Girl Is Gone

Doris Eaton Travis died Tuesday at age 106. She continued to work long after her Follies days ended, with annual appearances on Broadway and for the reopening of the New Amsterdam Theatre, where she danced about 80 years earlier. "I was the only one who could still dance," she said then.

Even after more than 90 years as a hoofer, dancing still came easy to Travis, whose extravagant Ziegfeld Follies show enchanted Broadway from 1907 into the 1930s.

The Ziegfeld Follies had become an entertainment staple. Juicing up the show were beautiful female dancers who performed elaborate chorus numbers. Travis became the youngest Ziegfeld Follies Girl when she was hired at age 14. She turned to silent movies with "At the Stage Door" and "The Broadway Peacock" in 1920.

She applied for a job as a tap dance instructor at the Arthur Murray Dance Studios in New York. She got the job and branched into social dance. She eventually opened a Murray franchise in Michigan and began a second career. One of the first people she contacted was Paul H. Travis. He died in 2000, a few days before his 100th birthday.

The executive director of Broadway Cares, Tom Viola, said, "When the stage lights hit Doris," he said, "she was instantly and forever young." He said Broadway, which planned to dim its lights Wednesday night in her honor, would "miss her forever." She enrolled at Oklahoma University and earned a bachelor's degree in history at age 88. --(AP News)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Building A Toy For The Cat

You can spend good money for cat toys, or you can just put some newspapers over an open pizza box set up like a pup tent. Cats don’t know the difference.

I’m presently making a second toy out of something like Popsicle sticks. They aren’t as long and come from a low-cal ice cream bar. The first one has been very successful and I think this will be, also. The first has three layers of sticks, glued together in a star formation, with a button on the bottom so it will spin if pawed.

This one is a bit different, but the same general idea: glue the sticks individually and let dry separately. Then glue them again and let dry, same way. Next, more glue and clamp them together for a few hours. Now I will add another layer and glue that to the first two. Let set over night, clamped together.

Tomorrow, a few refinements and buttons on the top and bottom to keep the cat amused and happy. It doesn’t take much, even if cats do get tired of the same toys and need to have them put away for a while. Which means my little workshop will be part of its life for some time to come.

There are worse things in life than thinking up, designing and building cat toys. It involves imagination and construction, one talent (a) which I have and another talent (b) which I can sort of handle. But the cat doesn’t know that; it only knows there is something new and exciting to bat around the kitchen floor.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No More Pencils, No More Books...

No more shoes, either. Memories of living close to the water in the summertime.

We never got infections. The people “on the mainland” did; cut themselves on a piece of driftwood or something, swallow too much salt water, get a scrape on a rock, it was all over. Call a priest, run to a hospital, get an ambulance; little Bobby, precious Muffy has been hurt. We’d sit there laughing at the sissies.

That’s cuz we took our shoes off at the end of school and didn’t put them back on until the start of school in the fall. Except for church, of course.

We got cuts, scrapes, we slipped on rocks when we didn’t see the seaweed (but far less than the outsiders). When we swam underwater, we got a lot of salt water in us. But we not only survived, but we built up an immunity the others (“them”) didn’t have. They were too busy keeping clean. Sissies.

When the beach is only slightly more than a block away, and private to boot, you have all the space you want to do anything you want. Including cooking marshmallows over a fire at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. Just a sort of tradition we had, not unlike burning Christmas trees on July 4th.

Now you can’t even eat without washing your hands with Purell. That’s why we all get the flu. Well, everyone except those who lived near the water.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Expires 5 of 13

Mom and I used to travel to romantic places with strange-sounding names, as the song (“Far Away Places”) goes. If the truth was to be known, as they say, the names were strange sounding, but the places weren’t that romantic. “Coldfoot” and “Deadhorse” aren’t exactly spots where you draw a hot bath and set out wine and candles.

I’ve been to Chickaloon, passed through Moose Pass, and just missed Totatlanika. Flew over Igloo on our way to Kotzebue, above the Arctic Circle. Kotzebue, small and isolated, at the end of a peninsula from Reindeer Station, northwest of Elephant Point. Funny thing about Kotzebue: They accept VISA cards.

So does some isolated roadhouse in a nameless stretch of the Glenn Highway between Chickaloon and Glennallen. It holds about 50 people, crowded, and writes up your credit card as so many gallons of Exxon gas. Not food; gas. Why? Because. Don’t ask questions; just sign the ticket and pretend your $10 meal was $10 worth of gas.

I realize our plastic is accepted just about anywhere; it’s the “anywhere” that sometimes surprises me. North of the Arctic Circle, for instance. You’d think they would be bartering in chickens or whale blubber, but it’s “cash or credit?” same as anywhere else. In the Caribbean, with its own currency, U.S. dollars or VISA, all fine with them.

I’ve traveled a lot and never found anywhere that didn’t accept VISA. I’ve found places that didn’t accept U.S. cash because it might be fake, but not plastic.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

I Found A Dead Horse In A Pothole

We have a road here I use pretty much every day. Carefully. Very carefully. I don’t know what’s in those potholes, but some of those craters could hold almost anything.

I asked the city if it couldn’t do a little something about the biggest, the four or five that could swallow up a horse & carriage, if such still exist in our fair municipality. The road will eventually be closed and grassed over, but until then tossing a few shovels of asphalt into the gaping chasms would help a lot.

It’s right across from North Franklin Street, my abode and subtitle of this blog. North Not-Ben-Franklin Street, but rather North Governor-John-Franklin Street. The miscreant is Harrison Street, but I don’t know if it was named for Pres. Benny Harrison or some local character who had a pierogie store on the corner.

So I sit here, watching cars going down Benjamin (or Stash) Harrison St., pitching and rolling like a schooner on the open ocean in a strong wind. Missed that pothole, ha! went into this one, but turned sharply to avoid the next. His little boy is screaming, “Daddy! Daddy! Will we die going into this big hole?”

Like vultures circling high above the desert on a scorching hot day, a tow truck keeps vigil under the coolness of a nearby tree. It waits patiently, knowing that eventually its next good meal will come along; the hooks will dig into the undercarriage as it pulls its prey from the cavern and life is good once again for the Towvulture.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Our Neighbor Passed On

Stan, our across-the-street neighbor since 1949, passed on to glory. “Cause of death?” “He was 92.” “But what did he die of?” “I said he was 92.” You don’t need a reason at that age; he just plumb wore out. I’m sure the coroner or someone will put down some reason, but if I had the job, I’d just write, “92, good long life.”

After 61 years, you not only get used to someone’s idiosyncrasies, but actually begin to enjoy them. He talked a lot about his service in WW2, especially on a ship in the Aleutians where, according to him, if you fell overboard they wouldn’t go back to get you because you were dead after two minutes anyway. Or so he said.

As my brother put it, “Anyone who had the chance to have sat in on one of his hot dog suppers would probably never find one any better.” That’s for sure; everything you wanted and plenty of it. Family, grandchildren and us on the back patio which he built and built on stones which I supplied for so much a wagon-load.

“Remember those Labor Day parties at the beach? Stan and his wagon, and his unending preparations?” I’m not sure if that’s the day we burned the Christmas tree, or if it was on July 4th, but his affairs were always done in style (not stylish, but in style). Good humor always trumps a matched set of dinnerware.

He had a near-death experience once and scolded the physician for bringing him back. “I was almost there,” he said, and, “I’m no longer afraid to die; it was wonderful.”

Friday, May 07, 2010

I Think My Apartment Was Ransacked

Chances are, it wasn’t. But it sure looks that way. Trouble is, how could anyone tell? It always looks as if someone came in, messed the place up and ran off.

My room, my lifestyle. Well, it’s not really that bad, but you can see it from there. I do have a place for everything and it’s rather orderly, much to everyone’s surprise. I have two places for my dictionaries and other reference books; another spot for magazines, a filing cabinet for articles I’ve written and saved and things you keep in filing cabinets.

My little “studio” for pre-producing the radio program for the blind I do (the final product is in a larger studio) is on another desk; the entertainment center is in one spot and the remotes stay right there and nowhere else. My kitchenette has everything where it should be. But other things … well … that’s what floors are for.

One boss I had long ago kept on me for the condition of my desk, piled high and long with stuff. But when he wanted something, I had it. I was a pack rat until he had a need, then I was his favorite stationery store, hardware store, five-and-dime. And I knew where everything was, much to his chagrin.

My radio studio is neat and orderly, because there is no time to be thinking about where stuff is when you are on the air. Everything has a place and I can grab it quickly. Nothing is in the way, nothing is on top or underneath anything else. See? I really can do it when I have to.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Chairman Of The Board

The Chairman of the Board, as legendary WNEW (NYC) disc jockey William B. Williams called Frank Sinatra. The Voice. Insult comic Don Rickles was playing some venue when the somewhat volatile Frank walked in; Don said, “Here comes Frank Sinatra. Make yourself at home, Frank; hit someone.”

I have a number of his songs checked as favorites on the internet music service. As luck would have it, one is playing as I write this.

Pandora has become my music service of choice. For many people, it’s free – if you consider ads an acceptable way of obtaining free service. I don’t, so I pay what is a nominal cost of $36 or $38 per year; no ads, continuous music shaped to my desire, and a few other perks that I really like.

You get what you pay for (a better quality of service) and you pay for what you get (pay more, get more). To my thrifty mind, why be a cheapskate when the value is so great for so little outlay? I don’t quite understand why more people don’t plunk down the $3/month for such a great product. My NPR station charges more (and I’m a member).

I’ve turned it off for the night, but it will play for much of the day tomorrow. I have some control over the selections, which is good: they add in a lot of music and artists I’ve never heard before and I can add them to my favorites, or just wait for them to come around again whenever that happens.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Airplane, 8; Titanic, 17; Gone, 115.

Kama Chinen of Japan passed away just the other day. I don’t know where she was born, but it was in 1895 and she was the oldest known person in the world.

Let’s pretend she could have been anywhere during times when big events were going on. For instance, when she was eight, she could have been sitting on a sand dune watching the Wright Brothers flying their airplane. The boys weren’t allowing anyone to go up with them, but the little girl was a witness to history.

In our fantasy story of Kama’s life, she sailed to the United States in the spring of 1912 at the age of 17. Due to the coal strike, there was only one ship sailing at that time, the new Titanic, so she bought a third-class ticket and hopped on board. Being curious and excited about the trip, she was on deck when things went wrong and was saved.

Our story continues as we suppose, at 23, her husband of one year went off to fight in the big war. It was tragic and she was widowed before 1920. She would remarry and have her 70th anniversary with five generations attending. Her oldest child is now 84 and her family tree has more branches than she can possibly remember.

She was about 52 when television came along and bought one; something like 110 when the nursing home bought a hi-def tv, which she enjoyed a lot. She told stories about having been on the Titanic and trips she took onboard freighters through the South China Sea. And that’s our pretend story of her 115 years of what she might have seen.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The End Of The World Is Near (Or Far)

I’ve probably missed some of the crazies on religious television; they are the bunch I avoid watching and ask people not to convince me of their teachings.

But I might peek inside the tent to see what they’re making of all these earthquakes, the big volcano and the chances they see of Jesus coming across the sky on a big white horse, his hand holding a huge banner proclaiming “Halleluia! I have come!” People have been saying this for 2,000 years, but they didn’t have tv to spread their junk.

We have our share of volcanoes, and I saw one in the Caribbean when I was down there a few years ago. I didn’t see it go off, with smoke and rocks being thrown into the air, but it was still smoldering; good enough. Earthquakes are very common and go to the NEIC website to see where they are happening on pretty much a daily basis.

But as religious as I am, I don’t think He Who Is will be appearing at a mall near you anytime soon. There’s a preacher in a rural area near here who says Jesus will come down from heaven at his camp (sites still available; call now), but I don’t think the Lord of Heaven & Earth could find it with a GPS unit.

We’ll probably get nailed by an asteroid. Maybe the Large Hadron Collider will make that Black Hole they aren’t worried about (“Oh, it’s too small a chance.”) and swallow us up into nothingness. Perhaps the flying saucers I don’t believe in will really blast us into the middle of next week. Or 2012 is real…….

Monday, May 03, 2010

Coming Up On Six Weeks Out

My next cruise, and I've already booked for 2011. That's how the smart people do it and here's why. Booking a year in advance is common for the “regulars.”

The category I want (K-category, in this instance) is for people who travel alone but don’t want to pay full-cabin price. We are willing to share with whoever the cruise line puts in there with us. It’s not that bad, really; we all know the rules. I pay half-cabin cost, even if I end up alone. K-cat is limited to only a few cabins, so you book early.

There is an early-booking discount; the line wants to start filling the ship as soon as possible. Why they do this is a mystery to me, but they know what they are doing, so I hit this one fast before the offer is withdrawn. The discounts are starting to add up and each one adds a little more to your savings.

For those who have sailed with my line before, there is a “regulars” discount, a rather healthy one. “Stay with us and we will take care of you.” It also helps with the word of mouth, as well. Not only that one, but also the “OBC,” or “On-Board Credit,” a little extra when you shop. It costs the line about 1/3 the face value and makes you happy.

Prices go up as the ship fills. Yours never does, but if your category gets discounted, your price goes down and you get that refund. Your travel agent might be able to put you into a phantom “group,” which exists for pricing only and never in real life. Only the uninformed and late-comers pay list.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

I Can Publish My Blogs In A Book

But the cost for 1,437 pages? It ain't cheap ... and I am. Yeah, we’ve gone something like that in the number of blogs here. I’ve printed out almost all of them and they are in file folders, three months per. I suppose I could get them 3-hole punched and put into some sort of binder, one year at a time: the library of “Things at King’s.”

I know a couple people who might like to have the complete collection, but on a blog this size (daily except cruises, since April 2006) that’s a lot of work.

“The Collected Works of Tom Carten” would be a far thicker set of books than just this blog. What you see here would be the size of a good-sized dictionary, but that’s not all there is to this wordsmith and his ever-busy mind powering his ever-moving fingers across the keyboards of many typewriters and computers.

I spent seven years as Music, Dance and Drama Critic for the local newspaper and, let me tell you, there is a lot going on around here. Then there are the 1500 music columns for the same newspaper, plus 23 years of weeklies for another place, 5+ years of a weekly, folder after folder of free-lance, 100 short stories.

My file cabinet overflows. Every time I see an object, an action, a person, I think up a piece I could write about it and wish I had something to transcribe my thoughts. Look! A stone in the middle of the street! A bird on a telephone wire! “A bird once pooped on a stone. / I said, 'Leave that poor thing alone.'"/. And the limerick takes form.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

If I Sent Only The Minimum Payment

My VISA card has added information to its bill. In one case, it tells me how long I would be paying it off if I choose to make the minimum payment each month.

Thirty-six years, it says. My current balance would take six-and-thirty years to settle should I decide to send $22 every thirty days. That assumes I never use the card again for what, in reality, would be the rest of my life. The chances of my living to 104 are slim; slimmer than my desire to actually be there.

Fortunately, I don’t spend more in any given month than I can pay off when the Bank of America sends me a note. This time, it’s a big hit, as I am making the final payment on my upcoming cruise. Normally, it’s just a two- or three-figure amount that I can cover by collecting deposit bottles.

This time, it’s more than shaking down grammar-school kids’ lunch money. I’ve had to keep this in mind for months ahead, put it on my desk calendar and keep in touch with my travel agent. No surprises, no gasps of horror, no asking friends for short-term loans. I’m all set, I’m happy and tomorrow (when I write the check), VISA will be.

Speaking of which, I just booked for next year and my deposit will be showing up on next month’s statement, if not that of the following. Holland America Line should be knowing me on a first-name basis at this point. VISA and Bank of America just consider me nothing more than another 16-digit number.