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.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Beginning Memories

Before I was old enough to go to school, my best friend was a little girl that lived two doors away. We lived in a forerunner of the modern suburban development. The designs of the houses were different but all were the same size and were on lots of the same size. Such things didn't cross my mind in those days, but I assume they were all about the same price. The fathers mostly commuted to Newark, NJ or New York City. (Except for the family directly across the street. He owned and operated the local saloon. Truckloads of bootleg liquor arrived in their driveway in the middle of the night often. Mind you, I wasn't then aware of his income source but thought he was an awfully nice man.) You will note that suburban women did not work outside the home in those days. They stayed home and bandaged knees.
My friend, Mildred, and I largely played out of doors. Mil and I picked wild strawberries in the fields beyond Mil's house. We built forts and climbed trees. We made dams in the gutters along the street out of sticks and the tar that melted in the street in the summer. Also, we did chew melted tar like chewing gum. A bad thing to do. Most of the summer, we wore calamime lotion and scratched our poison ivy if the folks weren't watching. In the evenings of spring we would catch lightening bugs and wonder how they did that. That was when we started being alert for the sound of the Good Humor truck, several blocks over.
In the winter, with our parents helping, we rode sleds down our hill . That was when we built forts of snow. Where the plow piled snow up at intersections we carved our igloos. As the neighborhood grew, so did we - and we wandered farther afield. We and the kids from a few blocks around, ice skated in the winter on the pond in a little park at the bottom of our street. A few years later the town filled in and grassed over the pond, yielding us a baseball and football field. We were quite a bit older, probably almost out of grammar school, before the games became uni-sex. This was during the depression so the game equipment was quite quite modest, but it didn't spoil the fun. Gradually, we entered into a more organized world. There were Boy Scouts, Cubs, Girl Scouts, Brownies, and girls. More later about these extracurricular activities and even later about the wonders of school.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Ancient School Memories

While reviewing pld posts looking to see if I had ever posted n old army story I was reminded of this AM, I found the following. It was listed as a draft, ei., never posted. Being of the "waste not, want not"school of thought - here it is, a year later.

I prefer to believe that as I was extraordinarily curious in kindergarden. Some did not agree. They felt that stupid was a better word for a kid that would put his hand in the cage with the rats and get bitten. Then as that healed he was reputed to annoy the class garden snake and get bitten again. In retrospect, I think I was getting a jump start for my career in research. When I offered the squirrel my finger instead of a peanut, I learned, even at five years of age, that a squirrel bites lots harder than a rat or a snake. Even though my teacher ranked me as a slow learner I was promoted to first grade.

By the time I moved on from first grade, my hand writing had reached its high point. It was every bit as good as it is now. I remember enjoying the ink well at the top corner of the desk. We were allowed two nibs for our pens and replacements cost 2 cents each. My biggest educational expense at the time.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

French Frustration

When we moved to France thirty five or six years ago, we were met at Orly Airport by someone delivering a company car for us. I said thanks, but no thanks. After 24 hours with no real sleep escorting a very excited family of five to their strange new home, I wasn’t going to try driving a strange new car through Paris streets to an unfamiliar address. To get our car to the airport, the driver had driven it and his wife had followed in their personal car. So it was agreed that the driver and his wife would split our luggage and us between the two cars and take us to our hotel. That became one of those never to be forgotten events. You think New York drivers are bad?

Gradually we became quite attached to this brand new snappy Renault. But back at the airport we had been warned that this was a rental car (Hertz - even then and there). When a true company car became available, we would be assigned that and the Hertz car would be returned. Months later I was in a meeting when my secretary sidled into the room and whispered to me that now was the hour. She needed my car keys. Later that afternoon she gave me a different set of keys explaining that my car had been returned to Hertz and telling me where the new one was parked.

I worked quite late that day. No one was around when I left. I found the car. It was noticeably older than the one I had enjoyed. The next thing I noticed was that the gear shift was totally different. This led to the discovery that I couldn’t back the darn thing. Every time I tried, I got closer to the BIG stone wall the car was nosed into. When I had exhausted the space I could creep forward, I went looking for help. It was dark and spooky in the offices and the plant . I began to wonder if I would get home that night. I finally found a big guy sitting on a bench in front of the president’s office. He acted incommunicado or mute. I had to resort to pantomime, but I finally convinced him to come with me. Before we left, he stuck his head in the office and said (!) something to the president who laughed uproariously. About then I realized I was being teased again. The French think it is a great joke to pretend they don’t understand English when, in fact, they go home and listen to the news on BBC. At the car, the game continued. I put on a Oscar-worthy performance before he relented and showed me how to put the gears into reverse.

Next day I learned he was the president’s body guard. He was a tough, mean looking 6 foot, 9” brute. He had traveled the world as a top level race driver. His English was fine as I personally learned in later months.

I never did like that car and he also didn’t enhance my affection for the French.