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?
 Posted by Picasa
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, CafĂ©, 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.