Saturday, July 31, 2010

Swing And A Miss...

In this case, strike three. Depending on the inning, the batter might have another chance to make his team proud. [It’s the first inning; he will have his chance.]

Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer,” (“The classic narrative of growing up within shouting distance of Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers”) is a great memoir I have never read. I have a lot of books on my shelf I haven’t gotten around to reading yet and this one will have to wait.

Everybody on the Yankees’ side is waiting for Alex Rodriguez to hit his 600th home run and get it over with. I guess he is, too. Get it, relax, then get two more whenever it happens without any fuss or pressure. The business used to be a game, but now it’s stats and more than we need.

There is a guy who collects and provides all kinds of stats. When was this guy’s first HR? What stadium was it in? Speaking of stadiums, who hit the first one in this or that stadium? How many batters has this pitcher hit? You call for the stat you want and this guy will get it to you for broadcast.

In these days of computer recall, it’s probably not that bad a job to enter, sort and pull out the information. Does it matter who hit the first HR when a stadium was new? Not really, but it’s one of those interesting items that makes life a bit fuller. A bit of trivia, settles a bar bet. Or maybe starts one.

Friday, July 30, 2010

From An Army Post To Zzyzx

What’s in a name? Pretty much everything if you’re the place known as Zzyzx (rhymes with “Isaacs”), Calif. It was originally called Soda Springs because of its natural spring water; in 1944 the area was renamed Zzyzx by Curtis Howe Springer, a radio evangelist who built his broadcast career while on the air at KDKA in Pittsburgh.

It was the remains of an 1860s Army post. Springer decided the property was perfect for a hot springs resort that might attract more followers. So he built a hotel, a church, a radio broadcast studio (his program was carried by hundreds of stations around the world), and even a private airstrip called the “Zyport.”

As for the name Zzyzx, Springer wanted to create a term that would officially be the last, alphabetically, in the English language. For about 30 years, he actually pulled it off, asking listeners to send him donations to help support his special health cure concoctions (which supposedly were nothing more than vegetable juices).

The feds moved in to arrest Springer for alleged misuse of the land and violations of food and drug laws. The government reclaimed the land and Zzyzx went bust. Or did it? Many of the buildings remain, and the small lake is teeming with marsh birds and other wildlife. A consortium of CSU campuses uses it as a desert studies center.

A 2006 horror film, “Zzyzx,” is thought to be officially the “lowest grossing movie of all time.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Few Last Events, 1

--Santiago, Chile (1980) remained the last major city to have an all-volunteer fire department.
--The last Railway Post Office (1977) went out of service.
--The last cigarette ad seen on U.S. (1971) tv gets on the air by mistake.
--King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s order banning all Jews from Spain is declared void (1968) after 476 years.
--The last meatless Friday (1966) ends a 1,000-year-old Catholic tradition.

--Timed postmarks are used for the last time in the U.S. (1964).
--Philadelphia’s traditional Mummers Parade features “blackface” marchers for the last time (1963) after a lawsuit.
--The last 3-cent first class letters are delivered (1958).
--The last witness to the Wright Brothers 1903 flight, John Moore, died (1952).
--New York’s subway had its last nickel ride (1948).

--Large-size U. S. dollar bills are issued (1929) for the last time.
--Martha, the last of America’s two billion passenger pigeons died in the Cincinnati zoo (1941).
--Indian-head pennies are minted for the last time (1909)
--The twenty-cent piece is no longer made in the U. S. (1878).
--The 3-cent and 2-cent pieces. are abolished (1873).
From “The Last Time When.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Famous Last Words, 1

--French writer Bernard de Fontenelle (1757): "I feel nothing except a certain difficulty in continuing to exist.”
--Voltaire (1778), as bedside lamp flared up: “The flames already?”
--Franz Joseph Haydn (1809): “Cheer up, children, I’m all right.”
--Charles Willson Peale (1809) after his wife reported she could not feel his pulse: “I thought not.”
English writer Sydney Smith (1845), on being told he had swallowed ink instead of medicine by mistake: “Then bring me all the blotting paper there is in the house.”

Heinrich Heine (1856): “God will pardon me. It’s his profession.”
Modeste Mussorsky (1881): “It’s the end. Woe is me.”
Oscar Wilde (1900), drinking champagne: “I am dying beyond my means.”
Joel Chandler Harris (1908), asked how he felt: “I am about the extend of a gnat’s eyebrow better.”
Leo Tolstoy (1910): “I don’t understand what I am supposed to do.”

William S. Gilbert (1911) who saved a young woman from drowning, then had a heart attack: “Put your hands on my shoulders and don’t struggle.”
Charles Frohman (1915): “Why fear death? Death is only a beautiful adventure.”
E. W. Scripps (1926): “Too many cigars this evening, I guess.”
From “The Last Time When."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

And Your Street's Name Is ... ?

This has been mentioned here before, but for those who tuned in late, Franklin Street is named for John Franklin, former governor of Our Fair State. Ben, take a walk.

Up in the Heights section (do I need to say “up,” when speaking of the Heights?) we have a number of streets named for Civil War generals, Presidents and other notables. Lincoln, Hancock, Hayes, Grant, Sherman, Meade, Custer (how’d HE make the cut?), Pershing, Sheridan and Hamilton.

Across the river, in Kingston and its suburbs, many of the streets are named for local founders in the Valley. I’m not familiar with all of them, but in the newspaper’s “Somewhere In Time” column, they keep popping up. All dressed in the manner of the wealthy of the day; no paupers in the bunch.

Back home, we had a bunch of “tree” streets, all in a row: Spruce, Laurel, Cherry, Birch, Pine, Walnut, Cedar and Hemlock. At the very end was Grove Street.

I used to live on Blackburn Circle. Mail came addressed to Blackman, Blackbum, Black(this) and Black(that). Even though we typed our address, people just couldn’t get it right. Sheesh, people couldn’t get my own name right; six letters, at least one would be wrong – a friend still only gets four correct out of six.

The Association for the Blind gets mail to “Ass. For Blind” all the time.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I'm A Person, Not A Condition

By Joni Eareckson Tada (on
As I sat on the White House lawn 20 years ago today and watched President George H.W. Bush sign the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, I knew it was a grand day for disabled people. However, I also knew that we still had a long way to go. While I could now roll my wheelchair into buildings with ease, I still had a hard time getting people to look me in the eye and see me as a person rather than a condition. Even today, 20 years later, my wheelchair still makes people uncomfortable.

Why is that? For the most part, able-bodied, "healthy" people still fear disability. As a nation, we treat disabled people more equally and humanely than any country in the world. However, most Americans, when they encounter a disabled person, first think of themselves, "I hope that never happens to me."

To me, that says we still have a long way to go toward recognizing people as people, no matter what they look like, act, walk (or don't walk). Unfortunately, many individuals' discriminatory attitudes stem from childhood. Studies of preschoolers have shown that they will choose nondisabled playmates over those with disabilities. I think it's just that most young children are not exposed to anyone with disabilities and therefore lack the familiarity that makes them comfortable around someone different from them.

(Joni Eareckson Tada is an author and disability advocate. Injured in a diving accident in 1967, she is one of the longest living quadriplegics on record.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Let's Take A Trip!

Pack some sandwiches, pile in the car and off we go to see the world’s largest:

Blackfoot, Idaho: baked potato
Amargosa Valley, Nevada: firecracker
Carefree, Arizona: sundial
Colorado Springs: Hercules Beetle
Hebron, Nebraska: porch swing

Kansas City, Missouri: shuttlecock
Eureka Springs, Arkansas: tuned wind chimes
Rayne, Louisiana: frog statue
Knoxville, Tennessee: Rubik’s cube
Dothan, Alabama: hog

Tampa, Florida: bowling pin
Anchorage, Alaska: roller skate
Burlington, Vermont: tallest filing cabinet
Providence, Rhode Island: Rooftop dragon statue
Newark, Delaware: doctor’s bag with stethoscope

Wilkes-Barre, PA: the giant cow*
*it’s a brown statue, only locally known.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Happened To The 1/2-Cent Stamp?

Back around 1960, or earlier, I had reason to use some half-cent stamps and Ben Franklin’s face was on them. Never saw one since.

Of course, when was the last time we needed postage that exact? A half-cent won’t get your letter out of your front yard and the three-cent stamp has gone the way of the penny postcard. But where were the protests? The letters to the editor? The petitions? Ben just slid between the postal waves without any notice.

Not so with Mr. A. Lincoln. He is the face, the very voice of our most useless coin of the realm, the penny. We don’t need it, we seldom use it, some places just round up or down to the nearest nickel. But feelings run high when you start talking about eliminating the coin. Elections could be won or lost, I think, depending on your stand.

At one time, a penny had value, but that was a very long time ago, when penny candy cost just that much, when Mom would pick up a stray cent and say, “That pays the tax” on her next purchased item. Now it’s 6.5% and she used plastic. When I bought a snack in NYC for $7.02, they just asked for $7; “forget the pennies.”

Maybe our attachment, emotional though it may be, will keep the Lincoln in circulation. Or maybe we will notice there just aren’t that many around anymore. Nobody says anything; it’s just a slow disappearance of a coin we don’t want, we don’t use and has come to the end of its useful life. A nickel for your thoughts.

Friday, July 23, 2010

An Inconvenient Truth

Some oil-rich gentleman from the Middle East said, “My father rode a camel; I drive a Cadillac; my son will ride a camel.” You get the point, I hope: We are at the peak of oil production and while it’s of relatively recent origin, it will run out in the relatively recent future. There’s only so much and we’re using it up fast.

The U.S. without oil means no more: roads, gasoline, lubricants, gas stations, home deliveries, bus service, airplanes, ships, malls (how can you reach them with no cars or buses?), home heating, and whatever I have forgotten to mention. Restaurants outside of town will need to get closer to civilization or perish.

Incidentally, what’s going to happen to the interstate highway system when all we can use are electric cars or a horse & buggy?

Next time you are driving along any road, think of what would no longer be there if we had no more oil. It’s probably a picture of our country before the first oil well was dug and produced, quiet, very neighborhood-oriented services, and you visit your Aunt Mary once or twice a decade out in Ohio somewhere.

The inconvenient truth is that we have a finite amount of oil and are using it up for all sorts of frivolous purposes. It’s as if someone came into a huge inheritance and spent it for all sorts of things, not worrying about what might happen when it’s all gone. Whether it’s money or oil, we should have planned for the long run.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sign Language At 17 Months

Some parents, apparently the enlightened ones, are teaching their children a few words in sign language from the very earliest days. Or very earliest months. It takes a while and is intensive in the amount of work involved, but the young ones learn how to communicate before they are verbal and it seems to help a lot.

Cuts down on crying spells and tantrums, for one thing. The frustration of not being able to tell mommy and daddy what they want can lead to meltdowns.

When the kid wants something, or needs to express a feeling, the sign language comes in real handy. Parents report it works well and their children become verbal at the ordinary age. They almost become bilingual, which is not a bad thing; I’m “bilingual” in Braille and it has been a good thing to know, even when I’m not working with the blind.

There is far less “what do you want, dearie?” when the child can actually tell you in sign language. No more having only one way: crying and guessing what the crying means. “Diaper” is much easier to indicate; “hunger” is another; “pick me up,” similar. Why not? Just because you never experienced it doesn’t mean you can’t use it.

Sure, it takes time; time well invested. But after the two of you get the hang of it, you can sort of chat in a rudimentary way, expressing needs. We are far more intelligent even in our earliest months, than we have been led to believe. So whip out those fingers and make those signs; talk to your tiny infants.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Time To Pack For My Next Cruise

It’s become a running joke with those who know me and my love of cruising. Months before I am booked to leave, someone will ask if I’ve started packing.

Yes, I have. Not actually putting things into my carry-on (which is the only luggage I bring with me), but going over what I carried this last time. Since I use the self-serve laundry, did I need that many shirts, or could I eliminate two of them? That saves some space in the bag. I carried eight ties; would five, better matched, work?

The binoculars take up room, but they are necessary; so are certain, uh, pieces of clothing. Also necessary, for me, are the undated feature items from newspapers and magazines I’m cutting up that I’d like to read later, which means during the cruise, and they are put into 9x12 envelopes to be read and discarded.

Some odds and ends of things (nail clippers, my Many Days Medallion, for instance), will be placed on top of everything, thus to find their own level when the carry-on is packed and brought to the bus terminal. Previously, I had put them in a small plastic bag which took up dedicated room; I can easily find them when I unpack on the ship.

I do carry a small, smartly-designed Holland America Line bag for objects which I will need en-route and cannot access on each bus, but that hardly qualifies as even a carry-on or weighty baggage. My water bottle, a sandwich, medications; things like that. Travel light, run fast, get the first cab.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I’m looking out the window at a house with dormers. Three of them, sticking out of the roof, wishing all my life I lived in such a room. One would be fine; two better; three would be heaven on earth. A little cubby hole for books, maybe a globe right in the window nook; a rocking chair in the middle dormer for reading.

Could I have a small narrow winding staircase leading up to my room? Something over in the corner of the second-floor stairs leading to my door a few steps in.

I’ve always wanted a cozy spot just for me with those little windows hanging out over the roof with the interior jutting spaces. This might be it. I’ve lived in an attic before, finished, and played in the unfinished part – that was the most interesting place in the whole house. Trunks, a single window to the back yard.

When I’m driving around, I look at odd places to live. Not houses, but what anyone else might think of as strange buildings. We tend to live in the same little boxes, which does make for a certain comforting uniformity in our neighborhoods. Who wants a railroad signal tower down the block with someone living in it? Aside from me.

But we live in a country of a certain uniformity and the dormers beckon to me. The three little nooks & crannies, my own little space with the circular staircase leading up to that special room. Perhaps a reading stand to hold my dictionary, and another for my large atlas. Life could be worse.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Odd Little Items From Hither And Yon

To this person who ponders the mysteries of the universe, and occasionally publishes his findings on these pages, I have questions and answers.

If you go back in time and shoot your grandparents before they had children, I think you and your parents would simply disappear. You never existed and all memory of you would vanish. Life would just swallow you up and circumstances would take a different path. You and your parents were just never here.

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there, does it make a noise? No; not at all. Noise is simply air waves that hit an eardrum. You could have a bomb go off and if nobody (people, animals, etc.) were around, it would remain simply a wave of air at various frequencies. Drop somebody in and you get sound.

The Titanic operated on, was powered by, fatally damaged by, sank because of, people drowned in, a combination of hydrogen and oxygen at different temperatures.

The first igloo was built tomorrow. So to speak. When I went to the Arctic, the natives said there is no such thing and the first one they saw was in a Hollywood movie, whereupon they laughed themselves silly.

Church organs were built for parishes that could not afford to hire musicians with real instruments and were considered “second best.”

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Fantasy Cruise

I would like to take a cruise. It does not exist and I doubt very much it ever will. But, as the saying might go, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride cruise ships.” Or something like that. So here is my fantasy cruise.

The ship would leave New York City in the late afternoon and sail down the east coast. We sail along, leisurely stopping at this or that place along our coastline. Then we head out to the Bahamas and the islands of the Lesser Antilles (the string that bends out from Haiti to Venezuela), stopping at some of them.

Then we go along the northeastern coast of South America, until we travel up the Amazon to Manaus deep in the heart of Brazil. Then, a return trip to the ocean,

Then we head south, stopping at major ports along the way. There are several worth seeing: Rio, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires. At the tip of the continent, we go through the Drake Passage, with our bow in the Pacific and our stern in the Atlantic. Then down close to Antarctica and then up the western coast of South America.

Eventually, through the Panama Canal. In the Caribbean Sea, we stop at Kingston, Jamaica, and then go between the Yucatan Peninsula and Havana, Cuba. We pass Key West (too touristy) and back up the east coast of the U.S. to New York City.

Elapsed time: Let’s say a month to six weeks. Cost: $6,000 to $9,000 estimated.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Once Upon A Porch

In my youngest days, the best place to hang out during a rainstorm was the front porch at my grandparents’ house. It ran the full front and had a roof; just the spot for me to be outside and protected at the same time. So the rain pours down and I can stand there as if I’m saying, “Ha, ha; you can’t get me wet.”

I think we need more front porches. They are great places to hang out at night, especially in the summer when you can stay up late and listen to the sounds of the evening.

They aren’t so bad during daytime thunderstorms, either. (What brought this up was a quick look at the Doppler radar map on my computer a few minutes ago; we’re due for one in a little while.) It’s an “I feel safe” sort of thing, most especially when you are little and can be right there with the elements, but not get drenched.

One of my early memories is watching a real downpour and having the storm sewer unable to handle it all. The water would bubble up out of the holes in the cover and I’d be there on the porch taking all this in. It never dawned on me it might be hard on those people who had to walk from the bus. Like, my grandfather.

I had a black raincoat. Regulation black, as they might call it back then. Thick rubber with a lining. It had a little splotch of yellow where I must have brushed against a freshly-painted fire hydrant up at the corner. I don’t remember an umbrella, but the coat did have a good-sized hood; I was pretty dry (and warm) in it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Faster Than A Speeding Horsehide

You seldom hear of cars getting snagged by radar at 100 mph, but I found a listing of baseballs that did. Usually, when you see the radar (or Doppler effect) reading on the screen during a ball game, it measures somewhere between 87 and 95 mph. But some of the best pitchers have hit in the three numbers.

Eight out of the nine who hit the radar at exactly 100 mph did it in this century; only one managed that feat in the previous.

Of the eight who went 100.9 to 101.0, three did it in the nineteen-hundreds. That includes Rob Dibble, whose father I worked with at WICC in Bridgeport.

Three more hit 102 mph and the fastest on record made it to 103 mph during Spring Training. Forget Sidd Finch and his 168 mph flamethrower; it was an April Fool’s joke.

There does seem to be a barrier of sorts which keeps pitchers from going much faster than Mark Wohlers’ 103 mph sizzler. It’s physical and there doesn’t seem to be much anyone can do about it. We will probably always see speeds in the mid- to high 90’s.

Not that I know much about baseball – or any sport, for that matter. But I can read as well as the next person and there really are plateaus to what we are able to do without mechanical assistance. We can run just so fast, jump just so far. Swimming records are now set in hundredths of a second. The next record will be 104 mph.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Cloak Of Invisibility

I was chatting with the head of Security on the Maasdam a few years ago. You see, there appears to be only one security officer on board the ship; that’s not much for a vessel that holds 1,266 passengers and about 600 crew. How he does it is anyone’s guess and it’s beyond mine.

That is, until we got going. He told me how many actually were on board. I’m not sure, but I think he said fifteen and they don’t necessarily, if ever, go around in white uniforms. But they are ready for any eventuality and, yes, there is a brig on the ship for anyone (passenger or crew) who needs a little time out.

Years back, in Sitka, I saw a member of the Shore Excursion office on a water tour with me. She was dressed casual – quite unusual. She said she had not been on the ride and wanted to know what it was like. I said, “Checking him out, eh?” She admitted doing that; “we keep an eye on these people, make sure they give what they promise.”

Another time, I had to work with the FBI and Secret Service when the President came. In the line of march was a nice gal, a secretary I guessed, next to Himself. I really knew she was Secret Service, armed to the teeth under her powder blue blazer, looking as innocent as possible. You’d need to get through her to get to him.

The Service itself was in the crowd, wearing t-shirts, dress shirts, waving at the President, but always looking elsewhere. That’s how you spot them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Look! Up In The Sky!

In the early Superman tv cartoons, the Man of Iron, Carbon Content and the Bessemer Process flew through the air but not as efficiently as what we have known in our day. He flew from building to building, dropping down occasionally to bounce back up and cover another few city blocks. A far cry from current non-stop journeys.

Logically, a person from another planet whose gravity is stronger than ours will be, at least in the comics, able to fly somewhat. And that’s just what the Man of Heavier Element(s) did. What the people inside those land-and-bounce buildings thought of the noise and vibration thought is not recorded. “What the…?!?” might be it.

But later in life, as Supie became adjusted to our gravity, it would seem as if his powers of flight would diminish and he would end up taking the bus to wherever he was needed. If we lived on the moon for 30, 50 years, would we still be able to bounce around like the astronauts? One-sixth gravity or not, there has to be a period of adjustment.

I was supremely disappointed in Batman. Utility belt, check. Sidekick Robin in shorts, ok. Secret identity, ok. But can’t fly? What is this? He’s gotta fly.

Super Duck is another. I bought his comic at Freddy Marino’s Variety Store, hamburger grill, morning coffee shop and general gambling front one day and was really let down that the duck was far from super. Just another duck who seemed to have an awful lot of bad luck. Should have been served “a l’orange.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mythbusters Busting A Myth

I’ve been watching Mythbusters for a while now; it’s even on as we speak. Or type. Or read. They are looking at the moon landing conspiracy theory. And busting it.

They are actually doing the first real-life demonstration of the landing vs conspiracy theories with real explainable science. And explaining it with words and demonstrations we can understand. It’s quite a show. Photo by photo, demonstration by demonstration, each argument is busted. We did go there; the trip was real.

That’s what I like about the show: no matter what the people take on, they end up showing if the myth (whatever it is) is real, busted, probable or unsure. The New York Times said it’s the best science program on television and I can see why. Concepts are made clear to the least understanding person – quite a feat!

Years ago, I read something like, “If you can’t explain a principle to a 6-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself.” Or, to put it another way, “Well, I know it but I can’t quite explain it” means you don’t really know it. That’s the brilliance of Mythbusters. They can break down the most complicated matter and help us understand it.

So there we are: the shadows going in different directions: explained. The footprints in dry sand: explained. The flag that appears to be flapping: explained. The astronaut who should be in the shadows but isn’t: explained. And done so in great detail, as are all the myths and/or legends they present. Science and entertainment at their best.

Monday, July 12, 2010

IM In The Mood For Conversation

It’s 9:30 most any evening, and I’ve drawn a nice mug of tea. Sit back, check my mail and wait for my brother to come up on Instant Messenger.

We type back and forth and sometimes I’ll read it over after we have finished to see how we got from start to end – just how did the conversation wander from one point to another. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of expanding on a thought; often we just think of something new to say and it’s a quick break.

9:30 is about the earliest this night owl can show up, and the latest the early bird can stay awake. Seems to work and occasionally I’ll bring up IM in the afternoon to see if he’s around. I can be working on something rather brainless and chat at the same time, pretty much as you might do at the kitchen table.

Back and forth we type, the conversation flows over the miles, across the border. We live in different countries but can talk in real time without having to use the phone. Is it nicer to call and hear each other’s voice? Sure; but this takes its place rather nicely between occasional real-life calls.

We seldom, if ever, wrote to each other. Well, maybe once a year, so the Post Office has no reason to worry about losing the sale of a stamp or two. But this has expanded our contact immensely. I used to let my public name out there for others, but now I have one private IM name and one person on the other end.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Friend, Intellicast

One of my best friends is on the computer screen long before he (or is it she?) appears on tv every few hours. It’s Intellicast, the Doppler radar map.

Sometimes I’ll watch the weather on tv and when the Super16 or Marvelous28 exclusive radar shows up, it bears an amazing resemblance to what I’ve got in front of me. Radar (or Doppler) is much the same, whether it’s the latest-named whizbang gadget on your favorite station, or what I can see anytime of the day or night.

It’s easy enough to use:
Then, under “radar,” click on “current.”
Then click on your part of the country, if desired.

This pal of mind lets me know what the weather is like right now all over the country, as well as where I live, and by clicking on “Play Animation,” it gives the path for the past few hours so I can see how it got here (and where it might be going). A handy way to keep on top of things.

The site has a load of features and you could spent a lot of time there if you wanted. I have, in the past, and keep some of them bookmarked so I can just slide in and out without having to choose from the main menu. If it’s a close-in forecast, there’s always for that, which includes an hour-by-hour look.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

It's Hotter Than Your Concept Of Hell

It’s in the high 90’s right now. If you prefer Celsius, it’s in the high 30’s. Either way, it’s egg-frying on the sidewalk weather but, fortunately, not hotter than hell; that remains the ultimate in temperatures, we are told. I have my doubts as to exactly how hell is made up and really wonder if heat is a component, but I’m not anxious for personal experience.

We are made to exist sans clothes in a range of about 75 to 90-some degrees. Anything lower and it gets uncomfortable to teeth-chattering; hotter, and we start dripping. It’s a narrow range, made a bit wider on the low side by whatever sorts of clothing we can find in the closet. (That’s why there are no nude beaches in the Arctic.)

We can adjust, of course; right now the air conditioning is on in my room. It’s not blasting, but it’s there. In the winter, the heat does not blast; it’s just enough.

I still wonder about the temps in hell. Is it really a place where we burn? Lots of people who have had what they consider to be religious experiences have told us exactly what goes on there. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t; I have a hard time believing all that stuff and, lacking a seat on the hellbound bus, don’t want to know.

“If a spark from hell landed on a frozen lake, it would immediately vaporize”; “souls are stacked like cordwood, burning forever”; “each cell in your body is on fire.” And so on. Seems a little harsh for a blow job or missing Mass on Sunday. Or a combination of the two. Maybe God takes us to the woodshed for a long time until we get the point.

Friday, July 09, 2010

For More Details...

Here’s where you can read the diary of my trip. It is helpful if you can separate the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the b.s. then click on “Boards,” upper left corner. You’ll get a whole load of cruise lines, but in the first bunch click on “Holland America Line.” I’m on page 9 by this time and dropping rapidly. The thread is “LIVE from the Maasdam (by tomc).” BTW: I’m the one who began the “Live From” concept. Thank you.

So many people, especially women of a certain age, have told me they won’t go on a cruise because (a) it’s too confining, (b) they are afraid of water, (c) they were in a friend’s rowboat at the shore and it got rough.

I tell them, “When you finally get dragged up the gangplank, kicking and screaming, then find out what a cruiseship is like, you will kick yourself for not doing it sooner.” They always reply, “That’s what everybody tells me.” To which I say, “Well? Do you think they might have a point?”

This brings to an end my comments on places I visited, times I had. For more details, I direct you to the blog; it’s fun reading. I’ve done three of these before at various intervals, then one this year and will let it settle for a while.

And each entry finished with, “This post came to you live from the Maasdam.”

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Around The Gaspay ... Gaspe, Actually

I don't have any accent marks for the French "e" at the end of the word. So “Gas-pay” will let you know how to pronounce the thing at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River that looks a lot like a tongue. I guess it’s appropriate, looking like a tongue at the river’s mouth. Anyway, we have to go around it to get where we are going.

It’s the final turn on the way up, from Boston to Montreal. We’ve left Prince Edward Island, gone under the Confederation Bridge (just, with a couple feet to spare) and headed north. Or, it’s the first turn on our way back to Boston as we leave the wide part of the St. Lawrence and head out to sea, as it appears.

I don’t know what’s out there on the Peninsula; apparently, not much. No big cities and, for that matter, no small cities. Just little villages and a road that goes ‘round the area.

Mostly you figure going down a river is all nice and stuff; you see things on either side and it’s picturesque. Not so the St. Lawrence: it’s wide as can be up top and you can’t see from one shore to the other. The captain says you’re in the river, so you believe him; he should know. You hope he does, anyway.

But that’s all a memory now and I’ll have to wait 47 more weeks until it becomes a reality again. I found I need two fewer day shirts and one less evening shirt; that cuts down on carry-on space. Maybe just four ties instead of eight, but carefully chosen to match all the shirts I bring. Gotta start thinking about packing.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

And The Fax That's Hali

Back around 1956, I read Walter Lord’s then-definitive account of the Titanic’s sinking, “A Night to Remember.” I call it “then-definitive” only because new discoveries have helped refine the information. Still, the book was good enough to be made into what is probably the best movie account about two years later.

Halifax: A quiet maritime outpost, a wireless station, sand, water, windy and winter storms. Lonely place, dots and dashes from ships at sea fill the small shack as the Morse operator translates them on his typewriter to regular print to be sent onward. It was the last point of land, the communication point for ships.

That’s what I thought. Then I visited this no-place port when I took my first New England-Canada cruise. I guess it’s not 1912 any more.

Actually, it never was. Halifax is, and was, a bustling port with an ice-free harbor year-round. Far from being a lonely outpost with a wireless shack and a radio antenna, it’s about as modern as a place can be. Always was, before and after it blew up in the biggest explosion we ever made before the atomic bomb business in the ‘40s.

That was the munitions ship thing; took most of the city with it. You really have to make sure you agree who is going to occupy which part of the channel, especially when you can blow the city to kingdom come. Anyway, after the pieces came down and the dust settled, they rebuilt a very handsome city.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Scotia That's Nova

One of my favorite places in the world is Nova Scotia, new Scotland. It hangs off Canada, partially off Maine if you check it out on a map. Wonderful place.

One of the cities is Halifax, populated by (no kidding) Haligonians. (From the Chronicle Herald, on Michael Falk’s research): “In every other Halifax around the world, residents are known as Halifaxians. That’s not so in the Nova Scotia capital, which is full of proud Haligonians. British Lt. Henry Napier, recorded the term in his diary on April 24, 1814.

“Napier said, ‘On the whole the Haligonians (as they call themselves)…’ Falk believes it was already an accepted term among the locals. He speculates that Halifaxian, which was used as late as 1785, gave way to Haligonian to rid the town of a bad reputation that it earned in the U.K. and, much closer to home, in Massachusetts.

The British town, Halifax, was synonymous with hell. The town’s image was no rosier in the United States. Pamphleteer James Otis, Jr., was a man who saw Halifax ‘as the most damaging epithet he could use.’ and Halifaxian as ‘a term of abuse.’ There was a lot of propaganda, with Halifax viewed very negatively. It started before the Revolution.

The origin of the ’g’ in Haligonian remains something of a mystery. Falk suggested it might come from "halig", the Saxon word for holy, and was perhaps a deliberate attempt to distance Halifax from its reputation as a place synonymous with the more undesirable side of salvation."

Monday, July 05, 2010

And On The Seventh Day, God Rested

Not so the cruise ship’s crew; they get an occasional afternoon off in port, but that’s the best they can hope for until their contract ends and they get time home with their family and then sign the next contract for another eight or twelve months onboard. Nothing ever stops for them; one day ends, another begins.

When we were leaving, the cabin crew were changing towels and making up the beds for the passengers who would be boarding in another five hours – expecting everything to be ready for them. The two main restaurants were finishing up breakfast and starting to think of lunch, same as usual; just for a different crowd.

The “Farewell” decorations had been put away from last night and the “Welcome Aboard” were about to be placed at the entranceway.

For those of us who were on a round-trip, the ship became very quiet and strangely “ours” for six hours or so. “Ah, Mistah Tom,” the Indonesian crew would say, “You staying with us; so good!” I got along very well with the crew and they came over to me often just to chat and goof around.

The Captain held a cocktail party for us, the round-trippers. About twenty or so, my guess, and a nice time it was. He also sent a plate of fine chocolates and a bottle of champagne to our cabins as a thank-you for doing the turn-around. Hey – my pleasure. What finer way to spend fourteen days?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Back Is The Adventurer

Normally, when the phone rings and I hear, “Good morning; this is your wake-up call,” I know I’m on the ship and the cute automated voice summons me to breakfast.

No phone call this morning. But, yes, it was my wake-up call: back to reality. The cruise is over, and if yesterday’s interminable train and bus trips didn’t seal that for me, waking up here just in time for church certainly did. I’ve even heard people say, “Well, the cruise was fine, but it’s time to get back home.”

Really? What planet did they escape from? When was it ever time to leave a place where you are waited on hand & foot, you are taken from one port to another in the middle of the night, you are entertained by various groups in different small spots in the ship? “Heaven is nice, but it’s time to get back to earth.”

Fools. Yes, return we must to an unbending reality of life, but to say things like, “Well, it was fine but it’s time to get back,” indicates a basic, if not horrendously flawed, view of vacations. Leave longing for more; take the schedule for next year; discuss what you would like to do fifty-two weeks hence.

Gently, ever so gently, have something to look forward to. Not so much as to dominate your mind or to lessen your fun when it actually arrives, but just a little weekly glance at what you might do when there. I find it works very well for me; I already have made a minor clothing adjustment 49 weeks out from next year’s trip.