Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve Plan

By now everyone has seen the TV pleas that people not Drink and Drive. My plea is a little different. Please do not ride with a driver who has been drinking. The passenger seat in a car has not been nicknamed the Death Seat without reason.

I want you back to read all the fascinating blogs I have planned for 2006. If you look in everyday you may see adventures like: How it felt to kiss the King’s wife, The day I had to land a crippled plane on an aircraft carrier deck – after only one lesson, Two weeks alone on the African veldt. Stay around long enough and I may recount falling over-board in the Artic Ocean.

So PLEASE, DON’T RIDE WITH A DRUNK DRIVER! Think what you will miss.

Love ya! Ralph says, "you'all come back! Ya hear?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My Unappreciated Heroism

Truly Horrific Badges

These were worn on chests and caps by the most feared, deservedly, troopers of the Nazi Armies, the SS Among the SS, those with the worst reputations were the Hungarian troops.

Now, take you mind back to the day after the Axis had surrendered. Yours truly was carrying a bunch of paperwork from our company HQ back to Battalion HQ. It was a beautiful day, but cold. In fact, we had had snow just a few days before. So I was wearing my field jacket. To be in military fashion I had it snug around the waist to cause it to flare out at the bottom. I was admiring the freshly green Bavarian hills and the farms struggling along. I whistled while I walked. I didn't carry my carbine, just a German Luger Pistol. It was in my belt under the very snug field jacket. After all, the war was over.

On my right was an open field extending up a hill to a pine forest on top. It looked just like a field I knew at home. In my euphoria, I hardly noticed the soldiers stepping out from the pines and advancing down the field. When I finally registered that their uniforms were unfamiliar, I struggled for the Luger. But my mind quickly took in the number of long rifles pointed in my direction and decided that my pulling out a tiny pistol would not clarify the situation in my favor. I really stood petrified as I realized I was out-numbered and out-gunned. As they came closer I saw they were wearing the insignia of the SS and the uniforms of Hungarians. I froze!!

Four who were clearly officers and one who clearly was not, lined up across the country road, came to attention, and saluted --- saluted ME? I nervously returned the salute. The very small bedraggled non-officer came closer and spoke - in perfect Brooklynese. He said, "Can you take us to your commanding officer?' Without a thought I said, "Sure, follow me!" and headed on to Battalion HQ. The GI Joe cartoon character walked with me and told me he had been a taxi driver in New York. He had returned to Hungary to bring his mother to the States just before the war. Too late, he was drafted there and used as an interpreter. Seemed like a nice guy. After all, I was born in Brooklyn and knew the language.

When we were close to HQ, I "SUGGESTED" they stack their rifles. I explained that we would all probably be safer. We went into town with me walking and them marching stiffly behind me. The Colonel was among those that came out to see what was going on. I saluted and said, "Messenger. Reporting with prisoners, Sir."

Expecting congratulations, his reply was instead along the lines of, "What the blankity, blanking, blank, blank, am I supposed to do with them?" I hope it was a rhetorical question, because I stayed silent. I shook the little guy's hand and waved good-bye to "my" group. They waved back (turned out there were only 37 of them) . I went about my business.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Another Story about My Life in Paris

A Disclaimer: I was in France thirty six years ago. Thus, my stories and my impressions are very old and probably bear little if any relationship to modern times. Further, in my brief time there, I made little effort to become a part of the local life. I was in effect a long-term tourist and I saw things from that viewpoint. More, I lived in a section that the American Military had just recently moved their headquarters away from. Abandoned, the locals said. This left the economy of the area in tough straits and Americans were not popular there –with good reason from their perspective.

With that introduction I will now recite a story about Americans (in France). The streets of the old suburbs of Paris are narrow – one explanation of the small cars most popular among the commuters I traveled with morning and night. There were traffic jams there daily that out jammed anything LA or NYC has ever experienced. But the French are resourceful, when they tired of blowing their horns, they bump over the curb and try to out-run the stoppage by cruising down the sidewalk. The popularity of this maneuver makes it self defeating and the sidewalk traffic moves only slightly faster than the legitimate traffic. I was in such a grid lock (in my proper lane) when in my mirror I could see an enormous vehicle inching up on me from the sidewalk. It was a big shiny, black limo with a small American flag attached to the fender and with diplomatic plates. The chauffer was trying to cut in front of me to get back on the road. I more or less “lost” it. I yelled, “I don’t give a G--- d----- tinker’s dam about your G-- d----- diplomatic plate! I want to get home and have supper as much as you do!

The fellow driving glared at me. But in the back seat a guy with a Homburg hat doffed it with a big smile, said a few words to the driver who, grudgingly it seemed, slowed down to let me pass. But he did push his way in behind me.

After I got home and had a drink with pate and crackers, it dawned on me that diplomats in official limos were probably driven by the CIA. I was glad the car I was driving wasn’t registered to me.

But several weeks later, a big monkey-monk of the embassy staff invited my wife and I to dinner at his home, ostensibly because our ten year old son was a friend of his son at the American School. I got a trifle paranoid when I imagined that he was quizzing me about details of our life before Paris and his wife was in another room quizzing my wife about the same things. I got over it after drink or two and decided he was just a nice guy. At worst, he was just trying to make sure his kid was associating with an OK kid.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Generation to Generation

Tis the season --- when generations are thrust together to make conversation while waiting for a holiday meal or holiday drinks. It is the time when you can find yourself face to face with relatives you barely remember from their last visit a year ago. It can be painful even with generous potions of eggnog or single malt. The worst situation can be the pairing of young folks with the fossils up from Florida for the holiday week.

Some young people have a hesitancy to treat the over eighty bunch as though we were real people. We are… our noses and ears may be long, but we are real people. Most of us are not former presidents, generals, nor ambassadors due any special deference. Neither are we freaks nor stumbling sufferers of severe dementia. And what if we were the latter? All the folks you know don’t qualify as brain surgeons and you talk to them like residents of this planet. Please act yourselves around us. We stopped talking to you with baby talk, please return the favor. We know we are almost historical landmarks, so if you run out of conversation, ask about our youth of many years ago. One question about Christmas before there was television will get us going and get you off the hook for long enough for the dinner bell to ring. If that doesn’t work, start recounting your recent adventure at a rap concert. That will put us old-timers to sleep.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Disney Candlelight Processional

The Disney World Candlelight Processional was again marvelous. The professional Disney singers and orchestra provided the beautiful base for the almost 300 high school chorus members from around the state and out of state. We attended the early performance which began at 5PM. There was still light at that hour so we lost the effect of the massed choirs filing in, each carrying a lighted candle. But the strength and beauty of the music soon overcame that disappointment.

Every three days there is a new narrator of the Christmas story. In the past we have heard some wonderful speakers. Perhaps surprisingly, the best we’ve heard was Phylicia Rashad. This three days Jaci Velasquez tried to do the reading. Unfortunately, she just didn’t “get” it. Her laid back, informal approach was out of phase with the nature of the music. Although she is a popular Christian singer, she was a misfit for this program.

As I sat like a slug in my wheelchair, I was touched by a young lady helped on stage in her wheelchair as a part of the processional. She sang with vigor and enthusiasm that truly reflected the meaning of “celebration of Christmas”. I thought how hard she must have worked to get to that stage. Truly inspiring.

Never before did I know that so much emotion and feeling could be expressed in sign language as was accomplished by an unnamed gentleman who stood almost silouetted in front of a lighted Christmas tree on stage. He added visual enjoyment to the evening.

God willing, we will go again next year.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Electric Parade

We are here at Disney World and it is early in the morning. S- is still asleep so Iam typing in the dark. Not very well, I must admit. Again we seem to have brought rain along on a trip. Seems to be our fate. We went over to the Magic Kingdom last night to see the evening parade. It has a new name now which I have forgottrn. It used to be called the Electric Parade, but I can't look up the new name in the dark. Quite spectacular! If I were to go several more times I might get the hang of photographing it. But fun to watch. More later

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Disney Bound

If you look upstairs, it says that these are the “musings of an old goat”. Well this musing old goat is off to Disney World tomorrow for our annual (sometimes) visit to view the fabulous decorations that this display case of living creativity puts up each year. We are also will attend the annual (really) Candlelight Processional with the 400 member chorus. Originally I was not going to take the laptop, but the forecast is for three days of rain. That suggests that lolling and strolling will be impractical while people watching from a park bench will lose its charm. Sooo, there doubtlessly will be room-time and Disney has a good dsl hook-up. I sort of resent their charging for it, unlike most hotels today. But what the hey, this is the outfit that hides their 800 numbers so if you don’t use your toll free cell phone, making a reservation can cost a fortune in wait-on-hold time charges.

We have room reservations at the Beach Club and breakfast reservations at the Crystal Palace one morning. Drop in and see us. We plan to have fun!

I have been this ambitious before and didn’t succeed, but we’ll try this again.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Christmas - Gone, but not Forgotten

For years I have been on the side of preachers and others who have decried the increasing commercialization of Christmas. I was not a loud supporter, but I was standing on their side of the field. Now I have a problem. The big department stores, at least in this area, have deleted the word “Christmas” as well as angels, stars, and other reminders of the origin of Christmas from their decorations and promotions of the season. Am I to believe that they are advancing the idea that Mr. Macy started Christmas? The principal display at the Wellington Mall is an advertisement for a movie. Are kids now expected to believe that the season is a product of Hollywood?

Am I to be a victim of the old saw, “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it”?

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Christmas Story

It was the first Christmas that we were married. We were living in half of the attic of a three story house in State College, Pa. It had started out to be a bitterly cold winter. There was already almost a foot of snow on the ground. Nonetheless, Paul, the newly-wed in the other half the attic, and I decided to drive out into the countryside to find some Christmas trees. Our wives were skeptical of our woodsman ship. The last thing they said as we headed out with our handy little saw was, “Whatever you do, don’t bring back hemlocks.”

In the car and headed toward the farm and forest land outside of town, we confessed that neither of us knew a hemlock from an oak tree. No matter, we would know a pretty Christmas tree when we saw one.

We trudged into a likely looking area. We didn’t know where we were or who owned the land, but it wasn’t our intention to get caught. We found a couple of attractive trees and labored hard with the cute little saw. On the way back to the car we found it farther than we remembered .Dragging those trees through the snow was tough, but did little for our steadily freezing toes.

When we got close to the road, our whole bodies froze. Parked seventy five feet behind our car was a State Trooper. He didn’t move or say anything but we knew he was watching us. Dropping the trees and trying to look innocent didn’t seem a helpful option.
But no useful options occurred to us, so we went ahead and stuffed the trees in the car. The Trooper did nothing as we drove away toward home. He followed us from a comfortable distance right to the house. As we started unloading the trees, he drove up beside us, leaned out the window and waved, smiled and called, “Merry Christmas!”

True story!

By the way, we decorated the trees before we went to our homes for Christmas with our families. When we got back around New Years Day --- those hemlocks had dropped every single needle leaving naked, grotesque skeletons. You knew that, didn’t you?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Army Bookkeeping

Our fine prosecutors seem to enjoy going after the book keeping bad boys like Enron, but they’d have had a real ball if they had looked at the goings on in the Army during and after WWII. Let me give you a few examples from my nefarious career as a Supply Sergeant for an infantry company right after the war.

Soon after the fighting stopped, an order came in for all the troops to turn in their gas masks. In theory, a gas mask had been carried by each GI since he first went into a combat area. If it had been lost or stolen (Ha!) the GI was responsible and had to pay. The supply sergeant had to fill out a form called a Statement of Charges, turn it into Payroll and the charge was deducted from the transgressor’s pay. In truth, our company’s gas masks littered the lands of France, Germany, Austria, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean. A number of the cases were still in use for carrying candy bars, cigarettes and miscellaneous personal effects. When the order came down, I collected a woefully small number of actual masks. I scrounged for any more masks I could I find. I put all of them in a jeep trailer and headed off to Quartermaster. I did not want to undertake the paperwork for the deficiency I faced, so I offered to help the guy at Quartermaster count them. While I counted I tried to listen to his count, so that my count plus his would come close to the required number. When we were both finished, he asked my count. I took a deep breath and fibbed, “163”. He said, “I got 102. Let’s see, that adds up to exactly 199. Congratulations, Sergeant, you hit it right on the nose.” I took the paperwork, told him he was a real square shooter, and hurried back to my supply room.

Chapter 2

One day a few of us were in Manila relaxing (read: drinking.) We ran into a very drunk master sergeant crying his eyes out. He told us he was due to retire after a million years in the regular Army. BUT, a few days before he had driven a six-by-six truck into town, got drunk, and forgotten where he parked the truck. He was afraid he was going to have to pay for it before he could go home. He was in charge of a big motor pool outside of town. He had access to records. I wrote out my name, and how to reach me by phone. I wrote on the note to call me when he was sober. The net result was; he came into possession of a totaled six-by that I had already written off my books. He altered a vehicle number on his books and wrote it off again. Mysteriously, a week later a large walk-in refrigerator was delivered, complete with generator, and set up adjacent to the Co.A Day Room by some guys from the regimental motor pool. Someday, I will recount where the liquor came from to stock the refrigerator.

Chapter 3

As a supply sergeant was replaced, the newbie and the old sergeant did an inventory together. The retiring guy, my friend, I thought, showed me a long wooden crate which he identified a the company sniper rifle, he said it was full of kosmoline and it would be a horrible mess to unpack. I accepted his word and signed the inventory. A few months later a couple of us thought it would be fun, to take it up in the hills and try it out. The crate was, indeed, full of kosmoline., nothing BUT kosmoline. When it time for me to go home, I knew the script. I wonder two things; is there still a crate of kosmoline somewhere labelled "Sniper Rifle", and has the statute of limits run out yet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The following two posts

The what and the why of the following two posts deserve an explanation. I don't understand a lot of the techniques of this blogging business. I do try and in trying sometimes get in deeper than I should. I was trying Piscara(?) as a way of getting pictures into blogs. Like most things associated with Google, the directions are in a language resistent to translation. Oh well, as a foundation for the excuse I am writing now, I have an excuse for the fact that my picture files are totally screwed up but I shan't go into that now. So it was pure luck thatI ended up using those two pictures and trying to put them in the same blog. I couldn't do it for the life of me. I tried to go back to the original files pre-Piscara, and couldn't find them. So, the expedient thing to do was to use Piscara's two posts.

Hey! Give me a break! I'm a memory-challanged, grumpy old man. Anyway, I decided to show that I can use Photoshop and when I wanted that stranger out of the picture with Stonehenge and Sally, I could do it. I even gave a rainy day a blue sky.

Question of the day -- Why do we feel we must publish everything we write?
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Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Customs of the French

I seem to be on a kick of remembering commuting to work, wherever work was. I told about driving through the gypsy camp in France. I didn’t mention arriving at the plant. I went down a side street, almost an alley, to a small parking lot across from the main gate to the plant. We had assigned parking spots and once I had locked the car, I rushed into our building and up the stairs to my third floor office. I went directly to the window to watch a typically French custom. The parking lot was made with crushed blue stone, the same material used in the driveways of American suburbia back in the thirties and forties. Just inside the main gate was a tiny one story cottage with flower boxes always abloom. From the cottage would emerge two little men with long white jackets such as worn by doctors or serious scientists seeking recognition. The little men hurried across the street to the parking lot carrying large, metal leaf rakes. They would quickly and carefully erase all evidence of car tracks I had made in the blue stone on my arrival. Made me feel like a nobody until I noticed that everyone in that lot got the same treatment.

The arrival of the President of the company was a different story. His limo would stop in front of the cottage and FOUR white-coated fellows would line beside the limo. His chauffeur would come around and open the door. His Honor would step out and very formally shake hands, including a stiff little bow, to each in line. Then he was off to his office shaking hands with any workman that crossed his path.

You may wonder at my running up to the third floor instead of taking the usually crowded elevator. Thirty five years ago, the French believed religiously in Saturday night as bath night. The intimacy of an elevator verged on painful after Tuesday or Wednesday. I learned to be aware of the day of the week.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Commuter

For perhaps twenty five years of my working days my usual procedure was to commute from this station into the Big Apple and home again at night.Legends abound about the early morning drive to the station. Most center on the housewife who lets the husband drive to the station. He rushes to the train from the car, leaving his wife sitting in the passenger seat in a dressing gown, night gown, curlers, no make-up—and a stricken look when she realizes that he took the car keys with him and she has none. (Remember this is before cell phones and OnStar.) Fortunately, for the then “desperate housewives” in Berkeley Heights, the police station was right next to the railroad station. Being a cop in Berkeley Heights wasn’t all bad.

For the hubbies the morning commute was quite dull. Mostly it was a matter of reading the NY Times or reading the stuff in your briefcase that you took home to read the night before. When the train arrived in Hoboken, we could move from train to the Hudson Tubes under the Hudson River to NYC without a conscious thought. It wasn’t time to wake up yet. Just to brag a bit, I could usually do the whole NY Times crossword puzzle in the time it took to go from Hoboken to 34th St. (Not on Thursday or Friday.)

Returning home was also an automaton’s exercise, but with a little more variety to spice things up a bit. As you came out of the Hudson Tubes tunnel, there was a fruit and vegetable stand with the specials of that day pre-weighed and pre-bagged. Just thrust a dollar bill at the guy yelling the virtues of his products and grab a bag. Then duck into the liquor store, snatch a Styrofoam cup with ice off the counter, show the clerk the canned cocktail you chose, give him the appropriate dollar or two. At the newsstand, grab a World Telegram, toss the coins on to the stack of papers, glance at the clock and depending on what it said, run or stroll to your train. It was always on the same track with the same conductor standing in front of the gate. If you didn’t recognize him, you double checked that you weren’t headed off into an unknown land.

Once settled on the train, it was simply a matter of arranging the drink and ice on the window sill. There was usually room in the briefcase for the fruit and vegetable present for your wife. Open the can of Manhattan , pour it over the ice, and let it cool while you folded the newspaper into that unique commuters’ form that allows you to read every page top half, left and right, the bottom half left and right, usually with one hand.

OK, let it ring out clear, “ALL ABOARD!” We will be home before we know it. Work today wasn’t so bad after all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Rest of The Story

My previous posting spoke of our visit to the World War II Memorial last month. This one will report on --- as Paul Harvey would say – the rest of the story. If it has a humorous sound, that’s what a little time will do.

We left the Memorial to start the long walk back to the tour bus stop. The rain picked up and chased most people out of the area. My legs were rapidly giving out on me. Soon, I could only go from one park bench to the next where I would have to sit and rest. Finally it was a matter of lunging at the benches to get off my legs. About three quarters of the way to the bus stop, I was in great pain and I gave one mighty lunge and dive --- and missed. I fell into a mud puddle with an earth rattling ker-plunk! I landed all 240 pounds directly on the point of the hip I had shattered just two years ago.

Sally wanted to try to lift me onto the bench, but stunned as I was, I was afraid to move for fear I had broken something again. Soon, two marines came jogging along and pretty much insisted on lifting me. Only a fool would argue with two physically fit marines. I was happy that the move didn’t leave me screaming. One marine went for help and came back with a police officer pushing a wheelchair. The officer’s radio was talking about “an elderly man lying on the ground along the mall path”. I seriously resented that elderly part, but on the other hand, it did make me feel a little famous. The officer was all for getting an ambulance. By now I had recovered my senses enough to realize that that would totally mess up our planned vacation and I wasn’t ready to quit yet. The officer had both of us write out that we were refusing medical attention before he would wheel me back to the tour stop. It was also a taxi stand and Sally wisely suggested we take a cab back to the hotel.

At that point we noticed our camera was missing. Sally volunteered to run (!) back to the crime scene to see if it was there. While she was gone, the officer said there was no chance of her finding it. “After all,” he said, “this is Washington, D.C. Cameras are never found by the people that lose them.” He was a good sport and laughed loudly when she came into sight, waving the camera.

Back at the Hyatt, I took a hot shower and felt better. We went down to the lobby bar and had two strong drinks, each. We felt very much better. Good enough to try to explain to the kids why we hadn’t called them. They had continued sightseeing after we left them at the Memorial. They were a little pissed to have missed all the excitement.

We are very grateful to the marines and the cop. Their assistance was invaluable. They were kind and efficient. Had my injury been more serious, I’m confident that they would have coped with it professionally. X-rays have since shown no breaks. Only the mother of all black and blue marks remained as evidence of a rough afternoon.

Friday, November 11, 2005

November 11, 2005

Probably the most moving sight for me on our whole trip was the World War II Memorial on the mall in Washington, D. C. It had been raining the night before and was still raining the morning we went to visit the Memorial. In one of those moments you have to believe that God arranged just for you, the sun came out briefly while we were there.

We arrived intact and browsed through the memories that were evoked. It is powerful statuary with every inch meaningful. The fountains and the flags lend movement to the grand stillness of the granite. The quotations carved in the walls are all inclusive in their tributes.

Everyone should visit and feel the enormity of the sacrifice made by all those men and women working and dying together for our country. It was both a tragic time and a glorious time in our history. While we go there to grieve, we also give honor to the spirit of patriotism that brought the country together as seldom before and never since.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Removal of offending lines.

I received a comment on my blog concerning Vermont and specifically my memory of what I was told about Bob Hathaway. I regret that I attributed the name of the point that formed St. Albans Bay to his grandfather. Apparently several “greats” should have preceded grandfather. I said a sudden influx of money derived from selling the family farm. His son points out that the farm is still in business on Hathaway’s Point. He is doubtlessly correct on this because I do remember in later years being driven by the Hathaway Farm, very pretty. If my apparently flawed memory serves, we did not stop to visit because of bad feelings between senior family members. I do not know where the money came from, but my memories of flax production being the subject of many conversations among the Meigs family members and the adults of my family are clear. The interest and involvement was always attributed to Bob Hathaway.

My personal memory (that of a very young kid) of Bob Hathaway are most favorable. He let me play in his Chris Craft which was docked in front of the cottage my folks rented for summer vacation. We had a lunky old row boat to use and sitting behind the wheel of the Chris Craft and making motor noises with my mouth was a real thrill.

In the future I will refrain from discussion of those vacations at Hathaway’s Point in this blog. I have edited the subject post to, I hope, remove the offending sentences.

Oh, I would like to mention that the doughnuts sold at the general store at Saint Albans Bay forever set my standard for excellence in doughnuts.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Stormy Weather

Before we get back to the routine of blogging and to the theme of this blog (?), I would like to share a chuckle I have been enjoying since our nasty hurricane. You have to have my kind of weird mind to enjoy this, but, hey, give it a try. We live in Hyatt’s Lakeside Village, a pretty plush outfit, I’ll admit. But no matter where you live, nights are quite miserable without light, air conditioning (here in the tropics), telephone service, hot water, TV cable, etc. We lost it all when Wilma struck on October 24th. This year was far better than last year. Then we couldn't flush even if we found our way to the loo. But Lakeside Village has an enormous generator which gives power to the halls, elevators, Auditorium, Lobby, Café, Library, Concierge desk and other common areas. Most of us have electric lanterns so night-time existence is possible, but not much fun.

When we looked out our window we could see the lights down stairs in the common areas, but we thought we could also see a chandelier lit across the way in an apartment. We asked around and came upon a rumor that said that during construction some rocket scientist moonlighting as an electrician hooked up the generator emergency lighting to three apartments by mistake.

Now, stop right here and suspend judgment on the validity of this rumor. Assume it is true for the remainder of this paragraph. Put yourself in the place of the director of marketing of the outfit. Those three apartments would be worth a mint when hurricanes visit. Should marketing raise the price on them? They are worth it. But what would be marketing’s answer if a potential customer asks, “Why the premium?” Should the salesperson say, “Because it is pure misery around here when the hurricanes strike.” The customer's natural reply, "What hurricanes?" Then of course, what does the Director of Resident Relations say when asked, “How come my neighbor’s refrigerator is working and I’ve lost all my pate and my wine is warm?”

I am so happy to be retired and not having to solve the dilemmas of the business world! Retirement means never having to decide the tough ones.

The staff here is really miraculous. Most left their homes and bunked down here on cots. While worried about their own families, they smiled and reassured the frightened and confused elderly folks. The cars buried under the collapsed carport I showed a couple days ago largely belong to staff. They put together two hot meals a day under the worst imaginable conditions. Many of the young kids that normally wait on table while going to school stayed and were a great help. While acting like boy and girl scouts away from home for their first camp-out, their laughs and cheerfulness were wonderful medicine for the nervous among us. Our security people were heroic. They stayed in touch with 911 and assisted in cases of serious need. Under stress, the wisdom of old age sometimes gives way to childish pettiness. While I was wolfing down a breakfast of cereal, hot and cold, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, juice, coffee (oh how we suffered!), I listened to a lady ask a staff member for fat-free milk for her cereal. He told her that it was all gone. I can’t begin to repeat her tantrum word for word, but it was a beaut! He tried to explain, but when that obviously wouldn’t work, he just stood by until she ran down. He then convinced her that her doctor would forgive her a day or two of two percent fat. He smiled a lot while being sympathetic and more or less calmed her. (I’d have booped her on the head with the cereal dish.)

Meanwhile, the bridge marathon game went on.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Are we Having Fun Yet

Our Fate
Just label me “Mr. Preparation”. Perhaps “Mr. Cautious”. -- Three days before we left on the great adventure, I took the car to the dealer for a pre-trip check-up. I asked that they look at the brakes, tires, fluids, etc. After we had consumed bad coffee and dry donuts in the waiting room for awhile, the mechanic came in and solemnly informed us that the front wheels had been out of alignment for a long time and had totally worn out the front tires. After a deep breath we OK’ed new tires on the front and alignment. This, plus all new juices in crucial joints and bearers, or wherever the go, came to a sum that would have handled three nights at a Super 8. Ouch!

The day we left we dilly-dallied because we had only a four hour drive to the motel where we were staying (in our old home town-one of many). As we drove into town we noticed a soft front tire. I tried to put air in it, but it wouldn’t take. It was ten past five, so in hopes that the Buick guy was open until five thirty, we hurried there. Big sign – Closed at 5:00 PM.

The next morning we were at the Buick place before they opened. They were sympathetic and took the car right away. We had explained we had to be at the Auto Train at 2PM for early boarding because we were those sinful sort of people that drive SUVs and must be loaded first. Back to stale coffee and rancid donuts. Finally, the service manager took us to our car and showed us the soft tire. There was an industrial size staple stuck through that portion of the tire which can’t be repaired with a plug. The previous repair had put the old, “good” pair of tires on the front and that was where the staple was. More bad luck, he did not have a matching tire in stock and he had called around and no one in town had one. Yes, he did have a matching pair.

We arrived at the Auto Train loading station before two o’clock, having traveled only 250 miles from home and already purchased four new tires not included in our planned budget. That was what I would label a disasterous start, but I am easily touched by money matters.

There goes "Goody Four Shoes" on board now

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Living in Clover

It was mid-October. It was rainy and cold. But these two clover had stayed open to accommodate these poor bees. It is a sweet thought, but actually, I have always had slightly negative feelings about bees. I suspect bees of being frauds. Remember “The Birds and the Bees!” Phooey! That story gets a lot of kids off in the wrong direction. But my real complaint is that we had a lawn full of clover when I was very young. One Fourth of July I was running around the yard barefoot. I stepped on one of the bees that enjoyed the clover. I had to sit on the front stoop with my swollen foot in ice and toss firecrackers from there all day. No cherry bombs in mail boxes, no running a bunch of crackers up a kite string to go off in the sky. And no chasing the cat around with the little crackers watching the hair on his tail stand up. Never forgot that.

But I also resent the bum deal that clover seems to have been given. Sixty or sixty five years ago suburban homes had lawns of half clover. It crowded out weeds, it stayed low, and it was attractive. On the afternoon before a date, I would go out scouting. I was pretty good at finding four leaf clover. So I would find one under a street light and mark it with a twig or such. As we walked to the movies, I would suddenly stop and say, “Wait, I think I saw something.” I would lean down, pick the four leaf clover and present it to the girl.

Then the faddish desire to have your lawn look like a golf course green came on the scene. Golf courses couldn’t abide clover because it was too easy to lose a ball in it. So the forerunners of Scott’s and other super fertilizer companies started including herbicides in their fertilizer mixes. Clover was no longer fashionable. There went a great courting trick.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

!! POWER'S ON !!

Huzzah! We have power! Wilma was without doubt the worst we've had in years. Our phones are still down - cell phone are back on, though - and most important, the power came back about an hour ago. That meant we could raise our electric shutters and get out of flashlight living for 24 hours a day. Much damage,but will detail later after hot coffee and a hot shower!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

October the Great

We were away from home for 19 days. To be home again is my idea of bliss. Make no mistake, we had a blast, but it was time to return to reality. We met great people, but not in the class with friends.

We did travel with one unwelcome companion. We had rain almost every step of the way. We decided to look on the positive side of it. For instance, while the FDR Memorial in Washington is impressively memorable on a sunny day, a visit after dark in a falling mist is truly awesome. An ocean front room on the Jersey coast in gale force winds that blows the rain horizontally can be adventuresome. All along the trip there were sights and sounds that were altered in a positive way by rain. The fall leaves of Vermont were nothing like they are depicted on calendars, but had a unique and unexpected beauty.

The self designed excursion started with a near disaster, but ended with a tremendous surprise which was breath taking. Tell you all about in future posts.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Rain has followed us north from Florida to Vermont. We have had a wonderful time, but feel slightly guilty to have imposed this weather on the residents of every community we've visited. This post is coming from Albany, NY. A banner has been running across the TV screen this evening announcing flood warnings for four counties in the area.

Growing out of S's head is Barnegat Lighthouse on Long Beach Island. Not great photography, but, hey! it was pouring.

Will head further west tomorrow to try to find a dry route home.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Month's Furlough

Last year at almost the same time, S- and I had a trip all lined up. We had our reservations and AAA triptiks tied into a schedule which would give us a peek at the fall leaves of Vermont. Along the way we would visit old homesteads of ours. We would check out the WWII Memorial in Washington Just a day or so before we were to leave, I had an inconvenient heart attack with accessories. I spent three weeks in a hospital and three more weeks in a nursing home. All of that is to explain why this blog may suffer an interruption lasting most of October. We are going to update the triptiks, repack our bags and get new reservations. We are going to try again. This time we will take the Auto Train from Florida to the Capital, then drive the rest of the way. I will be carrying the laptop with the hope I will be able to post some picture here, but super-geek I am not. So check in now and then so judge my technical abilities. rsl

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Dean

One of the few truly great men that I have been fortunate enough to meet was a fellow named Frank C. Whitmore. Dr. Whitmore was the Dean of the School of Chemistry and Physics at the Pennsylvania State College while I studied there. He was also an active participant on the War Production Board in Washington and dozens of other academic societies and boards. As a genius should, Dr. Whitmore had his eccentricities. The most apparent was his time saving habit of dictating notes to convey his thoughts rather than calling on the phone, writing a letter, or seeking a meeting. No matter the subject, a simple, typed “Best Wishes, FCW” closed each note.

A PhD candidate lived in the same rooming house as I. Irv had an occasion to write Dr. Whitmore with a request concerning his work. He wrote and rewrote, editing until he felt the letter was clear, concise, and everything a letter to God should be. He paid a secretary to type it for him, then confidently sent it off.

When he received a reply, I happened to be with him. Without a word he passed it to me. I looked at him and so help me, he was laughing and crying at the same time. He had mailed the letter to the Dean and forgotten to sign it. The reply was a severe rebuke informing him of how rude it was to not personally sign a letter. And, of course, the last line was followed by “Best Wishes, FCW”, neatly typed.

More FCW

For a naïve freshman, the walls of the booths in the first floor men’s bathroom in Pond Laboratory Building were a real education. One could pick from chemistry formulas and lessons to the bluest of blue humor containing hints the birds and the bees never dreamed of. (And some phone numbers in the women’s dormitories.) The writings were always new since the janitorial staff washed the walls down once a week. I had learned the respect for (and fear of) Dean Whitmore all the college community had for him early after my arrival. So in the spirit of true research and a bit of authority defiance, I took pen in hand. In a small open spot just at eye level, I printed, “Please do not write on this wall! Best Wishes, FCW” I drew a little box around it.

Sure enough, each week the walls were washed clean, all but the little memo that was signed, “Best Wishes, FCS”.

But there is more – I left for the army and when I came back 3 + years later, the phony Dean’s instruction was still in place. I doubt that a single inscription was deterred. After all, it was the perfect crime.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Nickel's Worth

This flood of newly designed coins is apparently not a new policy as I thought, but a return to the frequent issuing of new designs as practiced in the years before the early 1900’s. (Coin collectors, feel free to correct me. My vast knowledge of this subject was obtained in about two minutes on Google.) In any event, I have done my part to help the economy by setting aside the new quarters as they showed up in change which I put on top of the bureau every night. I save them because of their novelty and not because I think they are particularly beautiful. And, of course, there is the challenge of accumulating all 50 as they become available. Actually, I’ve decided they look quite like the gold-plated medallions issued by states or fairs or anyone to commemorate and finance some one-time event. I think somewhere I have one from the New York World’s Fair.

But I digress, I started this to say how classy the new Buffalo Nickel is. I have only seen two and I understand (google) that they are already out of production. Pictures of the one to follow (in production now.) suggest it may be equally impressive. I gather there are going to be a bunch of new nickels. In my opinion, when they finish playing around, they should return to this Buffalo design for the long haul. Of course, during my life, a very similar buffalo appeared on the nickel until it was replaced when I was in my teens and stayed in circulation for years after production had been stopped. I may be biased.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


When I was a boy we took our summer vacations in New England. A few times we went to Cape Cod, but more often we went to Lake Champlain on the Vermont side. Both my parents were from Vermont and so there were relatives all over the place. My folks would rent a cottage on Hathaway’s Bay at St. Albans Bay.

One of the things I most liked to do while in Vermont was to visit Uncle Sant’s farm, also in St. Albans Bay. His name was Sanford and I don’t know how that morphed to Sant. He was a widower and while he had a fine old Vermont farm house, he had reduced the part in which he lived to two rooms. They were the sparsest, most livable and most efficient living quarters I’ve ever seen. He was a very intelligent man. He read every book and magazine he could get his hands on. His ability to hold his own in discussing sophisticated national and international politics was in breathtaking contrast to his farmer dress.

My folks took me to the Vermont State Fair one year to meet Uncle Sant’s son. He traveled with the fairs selling popcorn made in a small corn popper that he stood behind. To this day I can remember him pitching his corn calling out, “Hot, Freshly Popped Pop Corn! Made with Dairy-fresh Butter!” As we stood chatting with him behind his machine, I watched him pour Mazola oil into the machine. But have no fear, before I lost track he was a very successful man. He had a real corporation that sent large shiny trailers all over the country to set up at fairs and sell the whole gamut of fair fast foods.

I learned that horses are afraid of dead animals the day I stayed with Uncle Sant and he slaughtered a hog. None of today’s fancy “humane procedures”. He chased the terrified hog around a little pen with a sledge hammer until he hit it once on the head and then hit it again for good measure. He tied the rear legs to a rope that went through a pulley on a big tree limb. He backed two horses up and attached them to the other end of the rope in order to haul the dead hog up to hang from the limb. This was a major undertaking because the horses wanted to be out of the county. It appeared the remainder of the procedure was going to be even less fun to watch, so I went looking for eggs in the chicken house. It took me several years to enjoy bacon again.

There was an enormous French Canadian man that worked for Uncle Sant and lived in a house on the farm with his enormous family. His kids were big! I, on the other hand, was a skinny kid. The French man decided it was to be his mission to fatten me up. Whenever he caught me (I avoided him as much as possible.) he would lead me into the cooler room and hand me a quart of whole, raw milk. He would stand there insisting I chug-a-lug the entire bottle. This, without speaking a word of English.

We will be up in Vermont in a couple of weeks and I expect a lot more memories will come back.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Definition of a Good Day

People are always saying, “Have a good day!” I suppose that is a nice wish, but it doesn’t do much to make itself come true.

The other day I had a good day and just a few people made it. I had an appointment with my doctor. As his nurse was leading my wife and I to the examining room, the nurse said I was looking good, better than she had seen me look in a long time. That got the vanity juices flowing and I hardly listened to what the doctor said.

I have to tell you a little secret now. That doctor is the one that keeps track of my cholesterol and tells me I should lose weight, etc. Every time after I have seen him my wife and I head for Krispy Kremes and get a dozen of our favorites donuts. I figure there are three months to the next appointment – plenty of time to repair the damage.

The gal at the cash register was totaling up our bill when she got to the discount part (my favorite part), she looked up and said that she assumed I was over 65. I said yes, about 15 years over 65. There was a pause while she figured it out and then she practically screamed, “You’re not 80. You don’t look 80!” I insisted I was. She said, “But you’re so sharp. You can even do arithmetic!” I took my donuts and change and got out of there.

My day was made. We went home and I took a nap.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hiss and Boo

This morning I went to use Google and I DON"T LIKE THE CHANGES! I was looking for trans global amnesia and all I could find was car parts and hotels in Scotland. Hey, Google, it werent broke, ya shoodna' fixed it. TGA is a memory lapse, sort of a two-hour senior moment.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Friendly IRS

The IRS has changed over the last fifty years.

Back in 1950, I was faced with paying taxes for the first time. In the year 1949 I had worked for the six months after college graduation. Prior to that, for the first half of the year my wife had a job working for a grant based-foundation run by a professor at the college. I was going to be conscientious about this tax thing and went over everything very, very carefully. I had known that my wife and several other employees on occasion had been given extra pay checks by the professor on the understanding that they would cash them and give the money back to the professor. We had kept records so I calmly deducted those amounts from our tax return and sent a polite and naive letter with the return explaining how the extra checks weren’t really income and so we weren’t going to pay tax on them. Ah, youth! (Please understand the amount of money involved was only large in the eyes of a couple making $263 a month.)

Several weeks later I received a friendly, personal (honest) letter from someone at the IRS explaining how they were obligated to use the information they received from the employer and not the employee’s records. He advised me to write the college and ask for a revised W2 form based on my info and resubmit to the IRS. In the meanwhile, this fellow suggested I pay the full tax and then ask for a rebate when I sent in the new W2.

It sounded logical, so I did just that. I sent my data to the college and asked for a new W2. Again I received a friendly reply, saying they would look into it. That, however, was the last I heard directly in response to my letter. About four months later I went to a large convention. At the college cocktail party, the dean stood up on a chair and gave an update on what was new at school. Among the items was the appointment of a new director of the foundation my wife had worked for and the resignation from the faculty of the former head. Thou shalt not cheat.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Post-retirement II

You know, we old folks cannot DO many things as well as young people. But when it comes to things that we do not want to do, we can NOT DO them with tenacity unmatched by the young. Parents approaching the age when total self-care is not feasible may surprise their children with the vehemence with which they resist moving, especially to a facility designed and operated to make things easier for seniors. While my wife and I thoroughly enjoy, even revel in, our lifestyle here in a Life Care Center, it must be recognized that there are those that are completely convinced that they don’t want this life. They can dig their heels into bedrock and simply refuse to concede.

This presents a problem for all concerned. We know of a resident here whose relatives “put” her here. She didn’t want to be here from the very beginning. She never made the adjustment or gave up her resistance. She is a delightful lady in conversation, but she wants out and is finally getting her wish. (Rumor suggests a nudge from management is helping her get her wish.) Dollars to doughnuts, her next destination will be less satisfactory.

I am sure that the people who have invested in lifestyles for seniors have tried to find ways to overcome preconceived ideas that the life is not for them. (And with some success. Look! we are here.) But largely what is happening is a skimming of the elder population for those that like the idea of not having to cook for themselves and/or other of the “not having to’s” that come with residence.

The point of all this is to suggest that while you are young enough to be a flexible thinker, find out about life care facilities. Go visit one. Talk to residents. Think about extending those fun retirement years by bringing the fun close by. Listen to the voice that says “Leave the driving to us”.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Katrina Breeds Hypocrisy

The horror that was Katrina and the horror that is the aftermath can only be exceeded by the hypocrisy spewing from the mouths of politicians of both parties. Two US Congressmen from Florida each raised hypocrisy to the level of a political anthem the other day. Each purports to represent districts in Florida. One I vote for and the other is only a district away. Each ranted about the necessity to find out the who and why the dikes surrounding New Orleans have not been strengthened in recent years.

Now, I would like to point out that the 2nd largest fresh water lake (after Lake Michigan) in the United States is Lake Okeechobee in Florida. It is surrounded by a 150 mile, 40-45 foot dike. This was built in the early 1930’s after a hurricane caused Lake O to flow over its banks. The result was 2300 plus deaths. At that time the total population of South Florida was only 50,000. That dike is apparently nothing more than piled up dirt, mud, sand, and pieces of rock and broken pieces of concrete. In other words, the contents of any “clean dirt” dump. There are no concrete supporting structures. It continually springs leaks which are patched using materials stocked and spaced nearby around the lake. The problem I have with that is that I can’t imagine repairs being attempted in winds exceeding one hundred miles per hour. Lake O is shallow and covers almost 700 square miles. In an ordinary breeze it can whip up some good size waves. The Army Corps of Engineers says that it is “highly unlikely” that a Category 5 hurricane would reach 30 miles inland to Lake O. The winds of the 1928 storm were estimated to hit the lake with winds of 140 miles per hour. The South Florida Water Management District allows as how it is remotely possible a hurricane could overwhelm the dike. In any event, the Corps says that rebuilding the dike to provide assurance would be “too expensive”. I hope Messrs Wexler and Foley are comfortable that their districts will not become the New Orleans of the future given their lack of action at home.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Two Weeks

First, and I think and hope, the good news. Two weeks ago, I suffered two frightening episodes unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I kept the first to myself, but when it happened again I was properly scared and called our doctor. He took it seriously and had me see a specialist. In turn, the neurologist set me up for an MRI and MRA. Then I saw the cardiologist who set me up for more tests (Echo sonogram and a Holter Monitor and a blood test just for ??? ). Then, of course, one sits around waiting for results. Yesterday a nurse called about the Echo test but I couldn’t understand what the results meant. She confessed she didn’t know either. Then today I saw the brain guy and he explained that those results and the MRI and MRA results were all normal for my age. (When you get up here in years you will find that doctors seldom say that you are getting old. Things become “normal for your age”) Anyway, tomorrow -- more results, but I am full of confidence.

I blame malpractice insurance and Medicare for a nervous couple weeks. This is the second time this year that a doctor has told me what he is “reasonably sure” what my problem was, but then set up all sorts of tests to eliminate other things such as strokes. I don’t think he would be quite so cautious if malpractice insurance weren’t in the picture. (I don’t think my family would sue, but how would a doctor know that?) Further, if Medicare wasn’t there to allow me to pay only a small fraction of the cost, I would say, “that’s alright, doc, I’ll trust your diagnosis.”

For those curious about what the episodes were --- gee, I can’t remember! Hint, hint.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Pancakes and...YUCK!

There were advantages and disadvantages to working in the mess kitchen in the army. Perhaps the most annoying disadvantage was the requirement (in our outfit at least) that clean fatigue uniforms be worn each day. This meant washing every evening since standard issue was only two sets and drying time in the Philippines was often more than 24 hours. As supply sergeant I managed to come up with extra fatigues for our cooking crew to cut the frequency of laundering. In return, I would often wander into the mess hall after breakfast and receive a privately prepared meal of my choosing.

One morning, for reasons I can’t remember, I decided to eat with the troops. Breakfast that morning was pancakes. They were served by having the troops line up next to a very large griddle onto which batter prepared the previous evening was ladled from an equally over-sized vat. As the pancakes were done, they were plopped onto a guy’s mess kit and he made way for the next in line. It was military style mass-production. I was in line when one of the cooks saw me. He came around and whispered to me to “come back later”. I told him I was a democratic type guy and I was willing to eat with common folk. His next “Come back later” sounded very much like an order so I stepped out of line and went back to my tent.

After breakfast service, I strolled over to the mess hall. The cooks were having a jolly time laughing at a steady stream of wise-cracks which I gathered were related to the pancakes. When I asked what the joke was, I was beckoned over to the still not empty vat of batter. Paddling around in the batter was a tiring, very large rat. They had ladled from around him all morning. I stuck to black coffee.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Buff, Super Buddy

I was six or seven years old when my chart of excitement in one day went through the roof. The Becker Milk man told my mother that a neighbor of his was trying to get rid of a litter of puppies. He offered to take me in his horse driven wagon on the rest of his route, then back to the barn, pick up his car and go to see the puppies. As I first saw them they were in a squirmy yellow bundle of long ears, tails to match, and soft fur, playing and nipping at each other. It was hard to pick but we drove back with “Buff,” soon to be a full partner in the family firm. (Despite the fact that she became car sick on the way home and so embarrassed me that I could barely thank the milk man.) Imagine, in one day I got to ride in a horse drawn wagon, see the horses get fed and bedded down, and got to pick out a puppy for myself.She became my buddy for the next twelve years. I chatted with her and told her my secrets. She slept in my room, she tracked me everywhere I went. She hiked with me to the top of the “mountain” near town. I would lose sight of her but I could hear her thrashing through the leaves. If I called, she would stick her head up and decide whether to come to me or be playfully stubborn.

When I went off to school, she helped Mom with the empty nest syndrome and helped Dad with the yard work. She was a family member until she died while I was in the army.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Day on Lake Champlain

All of my family was originally from Vermont so there was logic to my parents having a “camp” on the shore of northern Lake Champlain. My grandmother’s brother lived nearby in town during the winter and in the summer he had another “camp” a couple hundred feet from the folks. He looked after the folk’s place, pulling the water pipe out of the lake and draining the house pipes and pump in the fall. Then in the spring he would reverse the procedure, open the place up, chase the wild life out and generally get it ready for the folk’s vacation. They would let my wife and I use it for a couple weeks each summer.

Uncle Jesse would loan us his rowboat while we were there. It was a big lunk of a beast in which there was no illusion of gliding over the water. More of a Volga boatman feel. I enjoyed fishing, but the good fishing spots were not anywhere near where the cottage/camp was. Out of the blue, one evening, Uncle Jesse suggested that we take his motorboat the next day and do some real fishing. His boat was no Chris Craft, but it did have a modest motor and we jumped to take his offer. At that time, we had one child, our daughter Melis. Next morning the three of us were equipped with two fishing poles and a bucket of worms as we took off across the mirrored surface of Lake Champlain. Our destination was a large island about two miles off shore. The word was that behind that island there was a great fishing hole. We anchored close to shore in the lee of island and settled down for some serious fishing.

Young parents have so much to learn. Melis, who was six or seven then, soon realized that she didn’t have a fishing pole and cried discrimination. No, she didn’t want to use her mommy’s pole. No, she didn’t want her daddy’s pole. She wanted her own fishing pole. On the bottom of the boat I found one of those wooden slats they used to put in the bottom of a window shade (Gosh knows how it got there.) With three or four feet of fish line tied on the end and a rusty hook and worm on its end, it became Melis’s own fishing pole. Peace was restored.

Time went by without a nibble and we were all getting a little antsy. Antsy turned to mayhem with a screech, flailing of arms, splashing of water. Melis had caught a fish. She did the right thing and just hung on tight. We looked down to see a gigantic lake pike, the biggest I had ever seen. Of course, in no time the window shade slat proved no match for a big pike. Melis was left with the other end of a broken slat. Such a thrill will most often convince a beginner that fishing is their sport and they will continue fishing the same spot for hours. Not Melis, she wanted to go back immediately and tell Uncle Jesse about her big catch. She was not at all disturbed by the fine point of it having gotten away. The weather was deteriorating and so we acceded to her wishes. We were all charged up by Melis’s success and thought that was our excitement for the day.

Coming out from behind the island we learned otherwise. We had been shielded from a potent wind and very choppy water. I was frightened because I had no experience with a power boat in rough water and my wife was frightened because she knew how dumb I was about water and boats and wind. My first instinct was to gun the engine, I soon figured out that in this boat, at least, you don’t skip over the waves but slam into them at full speed. It took a lot of splashing and bumps before I figured out slow was better and angling into the waves was good. I gave up any thought of steering to Uncle Jesse’s dock and decided to settle on any landfall on the main land. Of course, when we got close to shore we were again sheltered and had an easy run to the dock.

Uncle Jesse was on the dock waiting. He had watched us from the moment we had turned from behind the island. He looked ready to give me hell, and I think he would have if Melis hadn’t been jumping all over him telling him about the big fish she caught. Love yuh, Melis.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Breaking News - Katrina Now

I am not a total oaf. I deleted my former post about Katrina which was written before she grew up. At this point we can only pray that the poor fools that plan to ride her out GET SMART AND GET OUT FAST!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

After Ken-eta-wa-pec

I’ve mentioned before that I worked at a Boy Scout camp between the junior year and senior year of high school. At the end of that summer my parents (and the parents of my friend, Johnny) showed themselves to be the kind of parents that are great to have. For the last half of the camp season Johnny and I had hatched a plan and broadcast it widely. We were going to tell our parents that camp closed a week later than it actually was going to. We would use the week to go on an ambitious hitchhiking trip. Idiots that we were, we even discussed it with the camp director. Boy Scout that he was, the director phoned our parents and snitched on us. Together, he and our parents decided that they wouldn’t tell us that they knew. They would just let us think we were being sneaky.

When our duties at the camp were completed, we packed our blankets and spare clothes and started out walking. Our back packs were heavy before we had hiked our way down the seven miles to the first paved road. The fact that some time we had to go back up the mountain put a small chill on the thrill of first sticking our thumbs out and having a truck slow and stop for us.

Rides weren’t as easy to get as we had hoped and we gradually abandoned our concentration on the planned destination and accepted any ride that was offered. The result was a route that looked like a dying top might take. It was wobbly and tended to circle eccentrically. We learned lots of things. For instance we learned that it doesn’t have to rain, --- dew can do an effective job of soaking you when you sleep out of doors without roof or tent. Food is not as easy to come by when riding with people that had breakfast at home and don’t plan to eat again until after they have dropped you off along a highway miles from anywhere. We learned we should have brought a map. A creeping fear grew that we might not be able to find our way back to the camp in time to meet our folks. And we learned how fast you can get how dirty. Sixty three years ago your average ESSO gas station did not offer deluxe bathroom facilities. We also figured out that the chance of getting a ride bore an inverse relationship with how dirty we were. Enthusiasm paled.

We arrived back at the beginning of the dirt road up the mountain to camp on the evening of the fourth day. It was dark, we were totally pooped, so we decided to sleep behind the little corner store there that night. We saw a large dog house or maybe it was a hen house. It smelled as bad as we did. Anyway it was our Holiday Inn for the night.

As soon as the store opened, we went to buy food for the next three days. It was a shock to find that between us we had sixty-some cents left. We managed a loaf of bread and a giant size jar of apple butter. We rationalized that the camp ranger would be a Samaritan. (Much later we found out that he was in cahoots with our parents, which helped explain why any man could smile while depriving fellow humans of food.) We thought that by breaking into the camp kitchen we would have revenge – and a good meal. All we could find was an unlimited supply of big #10 cans of apples for pies. The perfect complement to our apple butter.

Actually, the ranger was not as bad as I suggest. He opened a cabin so we had a place to sleep and he opened a latrine for us to shower in. (That was probably self-defense.)
He cooked us a meal the second night and even gave us a taste of his treasured whiskey. And in the department of “learned later”, he had unbeknownst to us phoned our parents the minute he saw us trudging up the road to report we were safe and well.

Darn, that was fun! It was even sort of a nice feeling to find our folks had given permission without ever telling us. The following February John and I went back to the camp and spent a week during school break helping the ranger shovel fire paths through the snow and doing minor repairs. We brought real food this trip and shared a steak or two with the ranger.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Dirty Camel

I just thought I needed a little color at this juncture. If you can see a point to to it, you have missed the point.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Follow Me!

"Follow me!" was the motto of the Infantry School Officers’ Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia back in WWII. Right next door in Benning was the Harmony Church Area, where Basic Training was administered to raw recruits about to fill the non-commissioned ranks of the our outfit and many others. Among the hard-done-to recruits, the phrase “follow me” was treated with a lack of reverence which reflected the infantryman’s usual distain for officers.

Months after training ended, we were plugging along through the depths of Germany. We were going through a small city and came to a wide rail line consisting of about five or six tracks, side by side. When we tried to cross it, a sniper would fire down the length of the tracks. The company fired cover fire in the general direction of the sniper and one of our guys at a time dashed across the tracks to safety on the other side. He would then take up the cover fire from that side. This maneuver was slow but working great. (The sniper was a lousy shot.)

One of the final guys to go was Charlie and he got about half way when – he stopped still. We realized that his cartridge belt had slipped down to his ankles and had him hog tied. Advice was screamed from both sides of the tracks, “Unbuckle it! Drop it! Drop and crawl!” But Charlie continued to struggle with the darned belt. Finally, he got it back up to his waist. But instead of running, he stood there and calmly shouted,

“Follow Me … and I’ll lead you to Hell!”

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Jiffy Memories II

Our Chemistry class included 4-hour labs twice a week. The one on Tuesday afternoon was OK, but from 8AM until 12 noon on Saturday was just plain mean. There was nothing like ending a romantic date and having to look forward to four hours in a hot, smelly chem lab. It ruined one’s mood.

So on one Saturday early morning when I saw the guy across the lab hooking up his Bunsen burner, I didn’t give him a long technical analysis. I just said, “It’ll never work.”
He was in an equally snarley mood and ignored me. That briefly, is why he was caught having switched the water and the gas hoses and trying to light the large stream of water issuing from the top of the gas burner. Awful mess.

On another gloomy Saturday morning the guy next to me dropped a liter bottle of concentrated Ammonium Hydroxide. The fellow that dropped it was jumping up and down asking one and all, “What Shall I Do!!” repeatedly. To be funny, I thought, I told him to pour a bottle of concentrated Hydrochloric Acid over the mess. He did. We evacuated the building.

If you are not familiar with chemistry at its basic level—that combination makes a very caustic, thick, smoke screen. It smells of whichever component is present in excess. Also an awful mess.

Jiffy Memories

Jiffy Memories

Memory is a strange partner. As we get older we spend an ever larger part of our time with our memory. Yet, at the same time our memory is so imperfect. Why, for instance, do I recall, out of all the little seconds in the past eighty years, the following few?
We (Johnny S. and I) we on an Army twenty-mile hike in Georgia. We got a ten minute break and sat on side of the road. After a few minutes, I calmly said, “John, get up.”
He didn’t reply and didn’t move. So I repeated, “Get up, John.”
Lazily, he gave me a gruff, “Why?”
“Because there is a damned rattlesnake right beside your ass’”

I am not sure when he, in full-field pack, stopped running. But, when next I saw him he was MAD! He was mad at me. Boy! Was he mad! Why me???

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Case Study in Ethics

A Case Study in Ethics
Wednesday afternoon in preparation for a long auto trip we are planning, we were looking at suitcases in Macy’s. We found one on sale which was about what we wanted. Its major virtue was the ridiculous low price ($44.99). Problem was they only had one and we wanted two. We grabbed the one and the clerk gave us a list of other Macy’s branches in the area that might have more in stock. (Note, he didn’t offer to call them.)

Thursday morning early, we were in another Macy’s and sure enough there were three of the case we wanted. We even had our choice of colors. Now, have you ever wanted to buy something in a large department store in Florida, off-season and early in the day? It is possible that you could steal the item, get caught, serve your sentence and get out in less time than it would take to find a clerk. Nonetheless, I favored waiting, but my wife who has more experience than I with department stores, took off in search of a counter laughingly labeled “Consumer Service”. She activated the wheels on the suitcase and dragged it along. We came upon such a place with a gal waiting on someone while listening to a potential customer’s sad story of a credit card that wasn’t being accepted by store cash registers. The clerk took our credit card and rang up our purchase, then she rattled off the price, tax, etc and total. I had specifically noticed that the price label was $37.99 -- $7.00 less than we had paid the day before. What the clerk had just charged us was $31.99! As a Boy Scout emeritus, I pointed out her error. She looked at the 1500 feet or so back to the luggage department and muttered, “I’m not going all the way back there for that.” She handed us the paperwork and the suitcase and turned to the next customer.

How much remorse should we feel because we will have part of our vacation subsidized by Macy’s due to a clerk with sore feet?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Hazards of the Morning Fog

As previously noted, I do not wake up quickly. I do like morning, but prefer to adsorb it very gradually. Otherwise it can be hardardous. When we were on "maneuvers", the Army's euphemism for plodding around in the mud of rural Louisiana, some military genius decided that wars are best fought while clean shaven. I was trying to prepare for the day's fake battle down by a creek. As usual at dawn, I was dreaming of other things when a Louisiana fly lit on my ear. In fast response without a pause for thought (as taught by the Army) I swiped at the fly with my razor. I think the fly escaped, but it was hard to tell with all the blood from my ear flying around. The medics did enjoy it with fun questions having to do with finding an Army manual on applying tourniquets to the ear. The irony of it was that I was too young to shave, having neither the skill nor the beard for the job.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Up and At 'em

How one starts his day tells a lot about a person. My life can be divided into blocks, each characterized by the “get up and go” routine. While in elementary and high school I was awakened by my exuberant father pounding down the stairs calling out, “Rise and shine, hit the deck!” If that didn’t snap me out of bed, he would try several choruses of “Good morning, Mr. Zip, zip, zip with your hair cut just as short as mine.” Shortly after, he was followed down the stairs by a bleary-eyed mother, muttering (I thought) something that sounded like, “Why did I ever marry that man?” Finally, half-dressed and half-alive, I came down thinking, not out loud, “Yeah, Why?” Hot oatmeal and a banana, consumed without thought, and off to school.

For me, the Army was not as big a change as for others. There was a uniformed clone of my father yelling morning greetings. I remember them, but won’t repeat them. The language was from a war later than my father’s, but no more effective. Predawn calisthenics was the memorable high point. Try that on a sweltering Georgia morning after several too many beers at the PX the night before.

There was no routine about mornings in combat. Let’s skip it.

By the return to college a wonderful scientific device was on the market – the radio alarm clock complete with snooze button. However, a new impediment to the painless wakeup had arrived -- the need to shave in the morning. With a little practice and minimal loss of blood, this could be done without waking up. I started taking breakfast at Mrs. Fletcher’s boarding house. Chronic tardiness led to the mutual decision that the diner downtown was good move. This worked well. After the waitresses got to know you, they would yell your order to the cook before you remembered why you were there. Marriage changed things a lot. From the diner’s “two over lightly with” it became, “You want Wheaties or Corn Flakes?” The freedom this allowed led to my copying other slug-abeds and entering ground floor classes through the window just at the bell.

Working and commuting made the morning get-up and get to work a real bore. Have you ever had that terrifying moment when you come to that you are some place between home and work and you can’t remember how you got there? You can’t even remember if you kissed anyone good-bye or whether you drove to the train station or got a ride. I graduated to a soft boiled egg from the dry cereal, but then cholesterol checking sent me back to dry cereal (and the gym). But throughout your glorious career pushing back the frontiers of science, or marketing, of finance, of anything – the thought exists that freedom lies ahead when there are no constraints or inhibitions. Retirement!! You can start your day anyway you want.

“You want Wheaties or Corn Flakes?”

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Structured Incoherence

Thought #1
– Most older folks will tell you that they dislike doctors and nurses calling them by their first name, particularly if it is a first meeting. So what does the government do? It passes a law that when writing your name on the appointment sheet in the doctor’s office you must use your first name only -- to “preserve your privacy”. Fortunately receptionists, doctors, nurses, and patients are ignoring this bit of stupidity.

Opinion #1 – “On Star” is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Recently I took my wife to a clinic for some out-patient eye surgery. After a long time in the recovery room the powers that be declared her ready to go home. She was transferred to a wheel chair and wheeled to the front door. I went to the parking lot to get the car. Oooops! Panic time! There are my car keys lying on the floor of the locked car. Back to wife to see if she brought her keys. Of course not. Should I call the nearest Buick agency, try to locate a friend? What to do? Wife is amused at this point, she is a great sport. The clinic was less sporting as they wheeled her back in and tucked her back in bed. Then I had a vision, then I had religion! I went through my wallet and found my On Star card. I called them, told them my problem and presto! I heard the driver’s door clicking. On Star had unlocked the door and we went on our merry way home. I love On Star!

Observation #1-- We took our 17 year old, six pound, healthy person-phobic cat to the Vet the other day for her annual physical and shots. Strictly a routine, but it cost more than I pay for a physical (OK, Medicare pays for me). I am still trying to figure out the true meaning of that.

Reflection #1 – Next time you are in the super market early in the morning and a disheveled woman wearing slippers shuffles by, consider that she may be a nightshift nurse on the way home from standing twelve hours caring for and comforting a very ill patient.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Cold Delaware

My all-time favorite photo-blog has to be A Walk Through Durham Township. Pennsylvania. ( ). August 11, Kathleen posted a picture of five happy kids jumping into the Delaware River and it brought back the memory of an adventure I never told many people about.

While working at a Boy Scout camp for the summer, a buddy and I used our day off to hike over to the Delaware. It was the kind of day that one dares to call splendid. With boyish thought processes we jumped in and swam across the river from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. Once there, we sunned awhile on some rocks before heading back. We were self-taught swimmers, awkward and slow. As we approached the Jersey side, it dawned on us - "The river has a current." We were going to reach shore about a mile or more south of where we embarked. This would have been a minor problem except for the fact that we had left our clothes at our point of origin. When we realized that juvenile swearing wasn't going to help, we started walking up stream in the water. This all happened way out in the country, but there was still an occasional car that passed by on the dirt road along the bank. Each caused us to duck under water. As seventeen year-olds and with the emergence of youthful machoism, we sure didn't want to be seen after 2 and 1/2 hours in frigid, frgid water.
Ah, youth!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

SeniorNet - Worthwhile yet Flawed

Everyone who has reached the point in life when they start thinking about retirement (not just worrying about how to pay for it, but thinking about what to do with the rest of their life) should get familiar with SeniorNet. Most of us want to have that first splurge and visit the Rockies, Las Vegas, Switzerland, one or all of the places we have dreamed of during our confined (working) years. But what to do with the rest of your allotted time? There is a very real possibility you are going to be retired for as many years as you worked. You won’t enjoy just “playing it by ear” for 40 or so years. If you go to you will find discussions (over 600 that you can sample) which will take you into the lives of diverse folks who have made diverse choices – or no choice at all. Think you would like to live overseas? Chances are you can find expatriots to give you a first-hand, live synopsis of their day in Timbuktu. Want to get seriously into quilting, you can find quilters galore.

But there is a flaw (a fly?) in the ointment.

SeniorNet made its mark by providing training centers around the world to teach elders how to use computers. It is a non-profit outfit and, hence, believes ardently in volunteerism. It has been wonderfully successful. The number of elderly in the population is about to spurt upward. Right now the the SeniorNet management is putting together recommendations for a conference. They have invited input from the membership. The title of the current endeavor is:
Independent Aging Agenda Forum to Prepare for 2005 White House Conference on Aging.

My sense of the 100 or so postings so far is that the end result will be a list of ways to spend government money. It will be written in stilted, government gobblely-dy-gook. So that obvious omissions can be claimed to be covered under Section III paragraph 16a. Or something that raises objections can be claimed to be a misunderstanding of another foggy, fussy Paragraph something or other. What seems to be the objective of all this is gobs of money and ten years to spend it.

No thought is apparently being given to given to getting the business community involved. Capitalism has solved many problems before. Let's lobby the high-tech product makers to expand into this tremendous and fast growing market sector. Computer makers design products for a youth market, advertise them to the youth market, then say, “See, seniors didn’t buy any!” The computer makers celebrate “Back to School” with special products and ad campaigns. But you never hear about a “Retirement Ready” computer aimed at an older target and supported by advertising offering reasons why purchasers should buy. Like it or not, good advertising works. Believe me, Seniors have buttons that can be pushed.

They will say the elders don’t have the money. This is, of course, plain myth and bunk. There is also the crowd that thinks that over-fifty people suddenly become stupid. Maybe the stupid ones are the marketing guys that can’t figure out how to convince the over-fifty crowd they should want to have, or to use computers. SeniorNet’s own success in teaching proves motivated students can learn at any age. Enough for this day. I’m really steamed and will come back with more of the notes I’ve scribbled on this subject.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

High Class Nothings

Saturday we bought a new laptop for my wife. It is an HP and quite classy. It is only an ounce or two over five pounds. We’re “Buy American” type people. It wasn’t until we got home that we found the “Product of China” label on it. Foiled again! But it is a good computer. Should that be scary?
Wednesday is our movie day when there is something potenially interesting playing. We took what we thought was a chance and saw a winner. "MUST LIKE DOGS" is light fluff, but worth seeing for a lot of reasons. One, it is funny at a rat-a-tat pace. Two, late on in the movie, if you take a moment from laughing, you will notice that it has a clever, different structure than most. It is made up of somewhat related one liners, each with its own scene. When joined together, they tell a smooth story. A goodly portion of the cast appear in single, almost cameo spots and appear again only momentarily to reprise their sole joke. OK, the butcher shows up three or four times in a running gag, but he's the exception. Finally, the principal players are excellent and they are backed by a fabulous bunch of "old" pros. Together they find ways to slip emotion into the humorous mix.
Oh, yes. The dogs are lovable too.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Where Have You Been?

I will, today, disclose our secret life. Our second childhood has taken the form of an addiction. We try to break away. We tell ourselves we spend too much money pursuing this fetish. But alas, we must admit to being Disney Freaks! This has been going on since we first bought annual passes to DisneyWorld. At that time we lived just thirty minutes away from FantasyLand, Epcot, and MGMStudios. We had a very nice home right on the green of a par three hole on our club golf course. Problem was, the only excitement was a duffer lofting a golf ball to the top of the house or into our bushes. We took to just popping down to DisneyWorld for lunch or dinner or just to stroll around and people – watch. We did all the rides, shows, and exhibits. We took backstage tours. We gradually felt a part on the whole operation.
About ten years ago, it became apparent we should move into a lifecare facility. At that point we had been driving down to Palm Beach County about once a month and spending a couple nights at the Airport Hilton while we visited the daughters that live in this area. After we moved down here to the Hyatt Classic, we found it easy to reverse our former itineraries. We stayed in motels near Disney until we were seduced into staying at the on-premise Disney hotels.They really know how to run a hotel that caters to all ages. We have settled on our “favorite”, but venture afield to check out new hotels as they are opened. (Animal Kingdom Lodge is great.)
Quite rightly, Disney Parks are thought of as having been conceived of for children’s enjoyment. Disney planners are no fools, however. They realize that children are accompanied by parents and often grandparents. They make sure that “old-folks” have good and easy times while the kids are entertained. Double entendre reaches an art form within Disney. They know well what they are doing at the mature level too. As my walking ability and endurance deteriorated, I took to renting an electric wheelchair to get around the parks, but it was a struggle to get inside the parks to pick one up. I finally asked, while making a hotel reservation, if I could rent an electric go-go mobile (my name for them.) right at the hotel. I was told, “Sure, we can give you the phone number of a company outside the park that provides that service.” The hassle to get one of those things onto or off a bus, a boat, the monorail, or into your hotel room overnight to recharge the beast; is tough. Disney makes it possible, but they pass the responsibility along to the people that rent you the machine. Disney assumes pride on the “in-park” beasts they provide and can control . Smart. As for me, I am back to struggling into the parks. Once inside I cruise around like Jeff Gordon on a tear.
I’ll come back to this obsession in the future. Right now I must guide the astronauts down safely.