Friday, June 18, 2010

The Blog Closes For Vacation

Vacation. from Latin: Freedom, exemption. A scheduled period during which activity is suspended. (Merriam-Webster Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary)

Vacation. Freedom from work or cares. A leave of absence for rest and relaxation. (Merriam-Webster Second New International Unabridged Dictionary)

Vacation. When I get on the bus and the door closes, there is nothing I can do about anything back home or at work. Nothing. Therefore, I do not think about it. (me)

I do not think about what might have been left undone, what I am planning for when I get back, arguments I had before I left. That’s all contrary to a vacation and I can do nothing about it.

When I get back, I don’t want to know how things went, unless I can do something about it. It’s as useless as someone saying, “Your phone was ringing a few minutes ago, but it stopped.”

On a vacation, I vacate. Out of here, doing what I please and regenerating. Bringing back souvenirs? Ah, but that’s for your own vacation.

Pack as little as possible, expect as little as possible, enjoy as much as possible.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jesus Got Hit By Lightning

A landmark along Interstate 75 was destroyed during severe thunderstorms. A bolt of lightning struck the Kings of Kings statue. The sculpture was about 62 feet tall. Police Chief Mark Neu said there were lightning resistors and grounding rods in place around the statue but they failed to divert the bolt.

Some people were scooping up pieces of the statue's foam from the nearby pond to take home with them. Travelers on I-75 often were startled to come upon the huge statue by the roadside, but many said America needs more symbols like it.

"It will be back, but this time we are going to try for something fireproof," co-pastor Darlene Bishop said. The 4,000-member, nondenominational church was founded by Bishop and her husband, former horse trader Lawrence Bishop. He said in 2004 he was trying to help people, not impress them, with the statue. (WLWT TV)

One nasty, if darkly clever, comment posted on the message board and quickly removed: “Built by nuts, destroyed by bolts.” Other and more rational people see it as more of an inspirational sight along the highway and it will be rebuilt.

The statue, with its arms raised high as if denoting a touchdown signal, was loosely inspired by “Touchdown Jesus” on the library of Notre Dame University, right in line with the football stadium. Whether deliberate or not, ND’s “TJ” looks pretty good and may inspire either of the teams.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Uh, I Guess So

“Sixty days ago, Daniel Barron was on the drill floor of Deepwater Horizon when the hissing began, a sound that soon enveloped the Gulf of Mexico oil rig. A goo of oil and saltwater rained down. Nearby, another worker yelled, "Man, something ain't right." (from

No, I would say not. That may stand as a viable candidate for the understatement of the year. In 1912, it was the mythical “unsinkable ship” tag attached to the Titanic. Never proven, but it hangs in our collective memory as the ship slid under just days later. There must be others:

“What does this button do?”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“Sure it’s safe.”
“You stupid (racial/ethnic slurs) don’t frighten me.”

I think of the people you see at the Indy-style races who hang out right near the infield fences with cars passing by at supersonic speeds. It’s daring, it’s manly, it’s fatal when one of them goes out of control, grabs some significant air and goes over the fence right into the daring, manly, to-be fatal crowd.

You’re looking up at the bottom of the car, thinking: “Man, something ain’t right.” The driver will walk away, of course; you get a ride.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ever See A Tornado?

I never really did, but I had to warn people about them all the time during the peak season when I was doing radio in the Midwest.

The scene went something like this: The sky began to look pretty green and ugly and the main radio station in town would send out the EBS warning tone to the secondary stations. At that point, we would copy the information (“The national severe storm center in Kansas City,” etc.) and interrupt programming to warn out listeners.

Since we were a powerful FM station, and quite popular, we affected many counties in at least two, if not three, states. I remember one extreme storm (“head for your basement now and take a portable radio with you”) that pretty much wiped Allegan, Michigan, off the map. If people were listening to the opera from New York, that’s all they got.

We announced severe thunderstorms at the next convenient break; tornado watches (keep your eyes open) as soon as possible (during lulls in the Metropolitan Opera) and within seconds of receipt when it was a tornado warning (funnel sighted to the southwest). One time we had one headed right for us; had our name on it.

I announced that fact, told our listeners to take cover, then hid in the center of the radio station where I would not be hit by flying anything. It passed over us or around us; I didn’t care at that point. I was not interested in a re-make of “The Wizard of Oz.” Nothing flew up, nothing crashed down; I went on with my show.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Then The Rains Came

It’s hard explaining to my African friends about our rain storms and the extended rainy days we have here. There’s quite a climate difference here and there.

We had one of those fast-moving thunderstorms the other day. Here it comes, bang, there it goes. They are common enough here, and the norm in Africa. But here, especially in New England and Pennsylvania, we also have those three-day periods of rain and overcast skies when the kids can’t go outdoors and play.

Not the norm in Africa. As one of my friends from the continent said, “What’s going on here? Why does it rain for so long?” I reply, “Because that’s how it is in this part of the world. Sometimes it just rains for days.” Down in the Caribbean the rains come in the afternoon, strong, and then it’s over.

Been there, seen them, got caught.

When you are down there and nobody seems to be in sight but tourists, it’s time to get under cover because the afternoon rains are about to come. Which is to say, with the force of a firehose. I was lucky; I dove under a small covered area and avoided the deluge, for the most part.

But at least it was over in a matter of minutes. Better than being five years old, looking out the window two or three days in a row at bleak, rainy skies.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What'd They Say?

I think that’s what really bothers us about cell phones, foreign-language speakers and those who use sign language. We are voyeurs at heart.

I work at a college where one of the big complaints is about the smallest matters (isn’t it always the truth?): students whipping out their cell phones as soon as class ends and talking as they walk across campus. Unlike most others here, I see no problem with it and hold a whole different view: we want to hear both sides.

When people are walking along, even if we can’t make out what they are saying, as least we can hear the sounds and some occasional words. Or all of them. When one side is on a phone, we can’t. We are excluded, whereas the students are in contact with each other no matter where each may happen to be.

We can’t understand the Hispanics. Why do we want them to speak English? So we know what they are saying, no more and no less. Maybe they’re talking about us, maybe they are planning something, maybe… But we don’t think about that when we speak our language in another country. Those people don’t care.

“What are they saying?” seems to be the common thought. “They should be speaking our language (so we can understand what they are saying).” “They should not be using cell phones (because we can’t hear what the other person is saying).” ‘fess up: we’re all curious about others’ conversations.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Do I Have Everything? Am I Sure?

Now it’s panic time. The cruise is exactly one week away and I have to make sure I have remembered everything. I have a list, checked it twice, but you know…

I forgot my suit coat and my “after six” shirts and ties. They just weren’t on the “pack” list, which is checked off, followed by a “packed” check when it’s done. So they have been added and I’m ok there. Meds? They rate a red card on my carry-on bag. So does my cellphone and its charger. How did my 1639 ancestors do without?

When Mom and I used to go to Alaska, we would actually show each other our ship documents, our airline tickets and whatever else we needed the night before we left. Or was it that morning? None of this, “Oh, it’s in my jacket pocket.” No; it’s right HERE in my hand, see it? I recommend that to anyone, even if you show it to yourself solo.

The heaviest object is my pair of binoculars. The lightest? A hanky, perhaps, clean and unused. I have to go through everything again and see if there is stuff I can eliminate. Some stupid TSA idiot in Montreal demanded to know why, if I was on a cruise, did I have only one small bag. You don’t talk back to a guy with more power than brains.

By this time next week, I will be there, safe and sound, on a lovely Holland America Line ship. Actually, since I am way behind on these blogs, it’s only a matter of five calendar days. I want to get caught up on these and then take a two week vacation from blogging, although you will probably see me on the Cruise Critic board. More on that later.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Let's Turn The Lights On

I was reading a piece about the Empire State Building and its various displays of lights.

Special events manager Lydia Ruth said she regretted some of the more commercial lighting choices: Microsoft 95 (blue, red, green and yellow), new M&Ms (blue), and Pink Floyd’s new album (red pulses). On election eve 2008, the tower displayed both red lights for Republicans and blue lights for Democrats. After Obama won, it went all blue.

Douglas Leigh was behind the colorful lighting advancements. In his advertising career, Leigh was also the innovator behind a number of iconic billboards that featured steaming cups of coffee, glowing weather displays and rings of cigarette smoke.

Singers: Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday and also his death (blue)
Fictional Characters: Popeye’s 75th Birthday (green)
Pets: Cat Fanciers Association (purple, orange and white)
Westminster Dog Show (purple and gold)

In 2004, it went dark for 15 minutes in honor of Faye Wray, the actress carried up to the top of the building in King Kong.

Following 9/11, the Empire State Building went off its regular schedule to shine red, white and blue all through the night to offer comfort to those looking out at the sky in the wee hours. (From

Thursday, June 10, 2010

An Odd Fact Or Two

An odd fact or two:
>The average life span of a Major League Baseball is 7 pitches.
>Author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, named after a distant cousin who happened to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
>The first fielding gloves in baseball were flesh-colored, so that fans wouldn’t notice that the players were wearing them.
>Television lost about 20 percent of its advertising revenue immediately after tobacco ads were banned in 1971.
>Although estimates vary, humans blink their eyes around five million times each year.
Michigan’s coastline is the longest of the lower 48 states.
>The 1976 comedy ‘Silent Movie’ by Mel Brooks has exactly one WORD of dialog – “NO!” spoken by the famous mime Marcel Marceau!
>Jason Varitek & Ed Vosberg are the only people to play in the World Series, College World Series Championship Game, and Little League World Series.
>Kryptonite, Superman’s great weakness, was first introduced in the radio serials starring Bud Collyer. The plot device was developed to give Collyer a chance to have a vacation while the other actors carried the stories.
>Mock turtle soup does not actually contain turtle; its main ingredient is an entire cow’s head.
>Giant squids have been known to feast on baby whales.
>The Latin phrase “libra pondo” was used in ancient Rome to indicate weight, which is why today the abbreviation for “pound” is “lb.”

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Name That Star

Ok, so it’s getting close to cruise time (it’s really Monday, the 14th and I’m trying to catch up) and I’m taking the easy way out with some of these blogs. Sue me.

Barbie's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. (Ken's last name is Carson.)
Cap'n Crunch's full name is Captain Horatio Magellan Crunch. His ship is the S.S. Guppy.
In the Peanuts comic strip, Peppermint Patty's real name is Patricia Reichardt
Snuffleupagus has a first name -- Aloysius.
The Wizard of Oz rolls off the tongue a lot easier than the man behind the curtain's full name, Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs.
Mr. Clean has a seldom-used first name -- "Veritably." The name came from a "Give Mr. Clean a First Name" promotion in 1962.
The real name of Monopoly mascot Rich Uncle Pennybags is Milburn Pennybags.
The policeman in Monopoly has a name, too. You can thank Officer Edgar Mallory the next time he sends you to jail.
On Night Court, Nostradamus Shannon was better known as Bull.
Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym all these years. He was born Bernie Liederkrantz.
The Michelin Man's name is Bibendum.
On Gilligan's Island, Jonas Grumby was simply called The Skipper.
The Pillsbury Doughboy's name is Poppin' Fresh. He has a wife, Poppie Fresh, and two kids, Popper and Bun Bun. (From

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Get Out Of Hell Free

"Monopoly" only gets you out of jail; these go all the way. What are they? My favorite, carry around with me at all times, “Get Out Of Hell Free” cards.

You can do worse than give someone a guaranteed salvation ticket. No matter how badly they’ve lived their lives, take this with them on their way to the judgement and they are safe for eternity. Or, as the publisher says, “Sin all you want; we’ll print more.” Bank tellers, waiters and anyone who deals with the public just love them.

There have been something lime 1.3+ million cards Randy Cassingham has sold at, and they’ve been very popular with recipients who have been a wit’s end during a bad day. Randy’s other site is “This Is True” (, which sends out stories of really dumb people doing really dumb things, weekly. It’s free.

At the newspaper, where I am a music columnist, the mailing room crew and the contract drivers who get the papers out to the carriers most all have these. Usually, they let me know who needs them the most and, as I carry four with me, I can oblige with no difficulty at all. At the Citizens’ Voice, everyone gets saved.

Actually, I do hope that everyone gets saved (well, ok, often I have reservations about the Nazis and others like that, but it’s not up to me). Handing out these “Get Out Of Hell Free” cards is a lot of fun, for me and the people who get them. Only one couple refused; they said they were born-again Christians and had no use for it.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Reflections On A Mug Of Apple Tea

The mail arrived and there’s a box of Turkish Ephesus Apple Tea. I know the sender, who has just returned from a cruise to that area, but I still check the “Packed by … distributed by” information to see if, perhaps, it might really be a USA product. It’s not; this is the genuine article. I wonder if St. Paul had some in his travels?

My tea of choice is Lipton’s; second is any floor sweepings the store brand happens to have. Quality teas are for special, relaxed times when I can focus on them and enjoy the specialness. You don’t think Turkish Apple Tea when you are busy.

My first try was last night. The tea under test looked like light brown sugar and dissolved the same way in hot water, quite unlike popular teas found in the States.

The taste is gentle, unassuming, yet definitely present. It has staying power which lasts through to the bottom of the mug. With no sugar or milk, the tea speaks for it self, the “nature identical apple flavoring,” as the product lists it.

Normally, we should add a bit of milk to regular tea; it chemically binds with the tannin and neutralizes it so our innards are not bothered. With apple tea, there is nothing to neutralize and we can enjoy the true flavor with worrying about our stomach.

This certainly is a relaxing and definitely not full-bodied tea. It’s light, slightly flavored and doesn’t unnecessarily intrude on your thoughts.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Catholics Have Name Choices Better

Our parents get to choose what we are called; I think that’s a bit unfair. Suppose I don’t like “Tom” or some other name. I knew a guy named Orris Melford Groenenboom Jr. Junior! Was the old man getting revenge for his own first and middle names? A kid was named Durward because Durward Kirby happened to be on tv when he was born.

We get no choice. Sometimes it’s a good one, often nice, occasionally terrible. Celebrities are well-known for giving their kids names I wouldn’t hang on my pets.

But confirmation names! Catholics (and Lutherans, maybe?) get to choose these, unless their moneyed Aunt Mabel hints of a great bequest if you will go with her husband Weezer’s name. I chose Christopher, a name with no civil standing (that is, the state does not recognize it, as best I know), but the Catholic church does.

My first two names are those of close family members, brothers, nice people. The first-named had a cute daughter who was my second girlfriend of sorts. Maybe our parents can give us a middle name until we get a bit older, when we can choose what we want.

My bank down the street, which I refer to as the Mafia bank because one of them is either on the Board of Directors, or head of it, is First National Community Bank and they say “Community is our middle name.” I should remind them that “Community” is actually their confirmation name. “National” is their middle name. But maybe they won’t get it; they’ve made too many bad loans and this is the last thing to worry about

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Upcoming News

These pages will be on vacation starting two weeks from today. For the conscientious reader, yes, I have fallen behind. Much has taken place here on North Franklin.

My friend was away, so I had cat duty 2x/day. She’s only 15 minutes away, but that adds up to an hour of travel time, not counting the demands of brushing, paying attention to, and other things cats can come up with. And, of course, I fall asleep on the couch pretty regularly. The laptop is with my friend.

I am also keeping up-to-date with my newspaper columns, which means writing more than one per week. I want to get two more “in the bank” before I leave.

Packing is another thing: since I travel for two weeks using only a carry-on, I have to be most judicious as to what goes in there. No frills; absolutely nothing more than I need for the trip. Returning souvenirs? Been on this route many times; got all I need.

My packing list goes up a week early and I add to it what I realize is missing. As each item is packed, I put a large “P” next to it. I do a test-pack about a week before leaving to see how things will fit. When all it ok, the bag is closed and left in my room.

The bus terminal is just down the street, so I can walk it easily. It’s a fairly big line with plenty of scheduled trips to NYC; mine is 4:10 in the morning, with a connection in New York at 8:30 for Boston. So that’s what’s going on here.

Friday, June 04, 2010

What I Found In My Book Of Dates

During my radio show, I read five or six “Happened on this day” items. Today is “Old Maids’ Day,” established in 1948 by Miss Marian Richard of Norristown PA.

Perhaps not the best thing to announce over the air, but nobody called to complain, and I have a big audience. The people in that city celebrate it with lots of good humor, roses and daisies (referred to as the happiest flower in the garden). They set the lower age limit at 35 and there are a few rituals connected with remaining single.

Quakers and Roman Catholics, says one source, are two religious backgrounds that encouraged at least one daughter in the family to remain unmarried. These daughters became teachers and nurses or missionaries giving their lives to service of others, through the church.

Maiden aunts are often responsible for the traditions and folklore of the family. They gather the information from family members and share it with the next generations. Cultural values, beliefs, myths and superstitions are learned by young children – usually girls. Family members expect these ladies to pass the lore along.

One daughter in the family, often the youngest, was expected to remain unmarried, live at home, and care for aging parents. Some times the father’s will acknowledged this “sacrifice” by allotting her extra income or property from his estate. This ensured that she was named in the will. (Collected from various sources.)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Odd; I Thought We Were On A Ship

So there we were. Well, there you were or there the commercial was; but certainly not me. Rock wall climbing, with all the danger of the bunny slope at the ski resort. A small golf course or putting green. A “Main Street” shopping center. Large outdoor movie theater. Hair styling and beauty salon.

Are we on a cruise ship, or walking down South Main Street in your city of choice? The only difference I see here is (a) you are paying a lot of $$ to experience what you can get for cheap at home and (b) instead of pavement under your feet, you have water under the hull. Each to his and/or her own, I guess.

I think cruising was better in the old days when the charts sort of ended mid-ocean with the admonition, “Here are dragons,” also popularly spoken of as, “Here, there be dragons.” You never knew what you were getting into when you reached the end of the known ocean; life got exciting at that point.

Rock walls, putting greens and movie theaters would suddenly not only take second place, but would immediately become useless when the dragons attacked.

What would one do these days if this someone spotted a dragon? In 1947, a ship captain noted in his log of having spotted The Flying Dutchman. That’s a pretty risky thing to do in the modern era. Der fliegende Holländer is a cursed ship’s master, Van der Decken, who you do not need anywhere near your cruise ship.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Another "Old Days" Gone

Called my Travel Agent (hereinafter called my “TA”) and asked if there were any other documents coming in from Holland America Line (hereinafter called “HAL”) that I needed for my cruise. I had already downloaded my boarding pass from their web page and thought maybe the regular padded envelope of stuff might come in.

“Cheapskates,” she told me. “There’s nothing else. You printed out all there is. The ‘Know Before You Go’ booklet is online now; the lengthy cruise contract is online; all the extra pieces of paper they stuffed in are online, the shore excursion booklet is online and there aren’t any big more HAL buttons for your jacket lapel.”

“Well,” I reminded my TA, “these are electronic days and why print and mail a pile of things which can be stored on a central computer? I’ve got a pile of those dandy padded envelopes; I have the ‘Know Before You Go’ booklet memorized, and the ticket booklet with its many pages of small print lawyerly if, ands & buts.”

Yet, there is something to having the object there in front of you, or on your table when you return. We can get as modern and electronic as we want, but there are memories to cherish and these can’t always be treasured by looking at a computer screen. You need the object, the ticket, the booklet. We are never quite that modern.

I never save much paper from previous cruises anyway, so this new way of doing things makes little, if any, difference to me. But, still, that booklet was magic.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Picnic, From The French: Pique-nique

I didn’t get to it. Nobody’s fault, really; just a mix-up in who was going to take me, who was going early to get things set up, and how many of us would be going.

“Who was going to take me?” Yeah; I’m restricted in my driving and have to rely on others to get me any distance more than, say, twenty minutes. Even that can be a stretch some days. You don’t realize to the extent we need wheels until you can’t use them. We live in an automobile age and things are far away if you have to walk.

Nothing’s close anymore. For a while, we had no grocery stores in Wilkes-Barre. Nor did we have a McDonald’s, for that matter. Luckily, we do have a good city bus system here and it’s free for seniors during the day; the PA Lottery takes care of that. But it doesn’t run on Sundays, which means Matilda and Stash might not get to church.

Someone recently calculated the amount of pavement in this country would cover South Carolina. I’m not surprised at all; we put houses everywhere and pave the roads; we put malls at a distance and pave roads to them. Robert Moses, who dealt with transportation issues in NYC, insisted on highways and ignored upgrading rail.

We used to have grocery stores, physicians, dentists and all sorts of stuff on every block. This is not the time to go back to those days, although we might well think about it. Some of those people might work well locally. And picnics? They were held in cemeteries quite regularly a hundred or so years back with hardly a thought.