Sunday, December 31, 2006

Executive Training

The following paragraph was dictated using iListen software I received for Christmas. It's great fun seeing what a mush-mouth I must be and correcting all my errors. (Everytime I say "All", the computer thinks I say, "Old". Is there a message there?)

If you strive to be a successful executive, it is best not to be funny. A new technician arrived one morning and I assigned him to a chemist for training. Early that afternoon I saw the chemist standing idly by a lab bench with this new technician standing equally idly beside him. I went up to the chemist and said "What are you going?" The chemist replied that he was waiting for an adhesive to dry. I asked how long he thought that might take. He said that he thought about two hours. I said, "So you are doing nothing and you are teaching your new technician how to do that? I suspect he learned that before today." (Tough talk, huh?) Instead of the remorseful answer I expected , they both burst out laughing. I had great difficulty with them from then on. They couldn't seem to take me seriously.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Moderate Drinking Can Be Healthful

Lots of years ago a group from my company had a meeting at the reseach facility of a large chemical arm of a larger petroleum company. Because I have a poor memory, much of the preliminary details of this story may be hazy, but my memory of the high point is "like yesterday"! As I recall, the research buildings we were meeting in were in or near Oakland, California. Evening approached and our hosts announced that they wished to take us to dinner in a "quaint and arty" town on the other side of San Francisco Bay. I think the name of the town was Sausalito or some such spelling. Those of you familiar with the area may know the name of the restaurant. It is quite classy (read: expensive) and overlooks the bay. Four car loads of the cream of the research staffs of two corporations piled into four cars and set off around the north of the bay to reach Sausalito (sp?).

Traffic caused the four cars to get separated, but we saw the car in front of us pull off the road and flag us down. One of their passengers owned a cabin cruiser which was docked just a little way up the road. Would any of us like to cross San Franciso Bay in a boat? Six or seven of us said "sure". The cars drove off and left us at a marina with the captain. The marina was cozily protected by land and getties and this seemed to be a fun thing to do. I owned a boat on the east coast and knew a little about boating. So I became slightly nervous when the boat owner hopped on board, unlocked the cabin and started the engine. I much prefer to hear the exhaust fan in the engine compartment running for a few minutes before the engine is started. We rounded the getty and everyone aboard knew we were in trouble. We hadn't expected a tempest.

The wind was violent and combined with a wicked tide to create awesome waves. Instead of quickly turning to return to the marina (as I would have done), our fearless captain headed across the bay. The prop would come out of the water and race with a whine. Waves were coming over us. I stood by the door and slammed it when the water started in and opened it when it receded. I didn't want to get trapped inside if we went over. Life jackets were passed around along with questions of how anyone could survive in that sea. We rocked and we rolled and the engine kept stalling. The look on the white and perspiring face of our pilot improved no one's confidence. We could see the Coast Guard Station in front of us and just prayed that they were watching us. Finally, the captain's grinding of the starter couldn't get the engine to catch. Dead in the water, as each wave hit us we were turned more nearly broadside to them. Each assault of water rolled us closer to going over. At the last second the engine started again and turned us back into the waves. At last, the captain got the idea of turning and backing down on the engine speed to keep the prop in the water. When we reached the lee of land we felt cold, wet, and battered. And scared. We clung to the lee of land and made it to Sausalito.

The water in our shoes squished with each step into the restaurant. We dripped on the rug and while our table was prepared we were grateful to sit side by side on a long bench in the lobby. A classy lady with a "veddy" British accent went down the line taking drink orders. I was first in line and as she returned with a large tray of drink, I got mine first. She came back up the line after serving eveyone. I held out my empty perfect Manhattan glass and asked for another. She replied, "Oh sir, I think you have broken the record."

After dinner I, and most of the rest, returned by car, thank you.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Few Things I Have Been Busting to Say

The most sickening sight on the Florida Turnpike is the parade of car-carrier trucks hauling all those snow birds’ cars south for the winter. We have plenty of year round traffic without them. Snow Birds, Just leave your money and go on home.

Proven again by a visit from a friend with baby – Cute girls have cute kids.

I am convinced that it is pretty silly when we fight a war and can’t put a definitive name on the enemy and can’t give a simple answer to how we will know if we win.

Maybe their specialties are extraordinary, but the regular Starbucks coffee you pick up at rest stops along highways is just ordinary and not worth the premium price they charge.

I nominate SunPass and similar methods for paying highway tolls without stopping as one of the miracles and greatest conveniences of the past, present, and future centuries.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Land of my Fathers

Over in SeniorNet there is a hot discussion going on about racial discrimination. It mostly revolves around the treatment of aborigines by early settlers in the US and in New Zealand. Before you hurry over to join the fight, let me tell you a story I personally have an interest in. I came into possession of a genealogy of my father’s family that was written probably a century ago. Until my father’s generation, his family had lived in Vermont for years. The genealogy mixed the usual who married whom, where and when, and when they died; with a historical narrative of the times. It told for instance, of the great raid by Indian tribes led by King Philip in which all the settlers farms and houses in an area were destroyed “except those of Samuel Leonard, who was a friend of King Philip.” Several paragraphs later the wedding of Samuel Leonard’s son was recounted. He married Sara, daughter of Philip King. I suppose the authors thought they were getting away with something, but if they had seen a picture of my grandfather they would have known better. And I used to tell my father that he should have been proud to have had his portrait on the Indian nickel.

After the "ALL CLEAR"

One of the side benefits of a fall without hurricanes and power outages is that come December 1st we can start eating from the third shelf in the pantry where all the hurricane food has been hoarded. Today for lunch I had a whole can of Underwood’s White Meat Chicken Meat Spread on Mountain Bread. (OK, I gave each of the cats about half a teaspoon full because they put up such a fuss.) It tasted great, much better than it would have without bread or electric power in the days after a big storm. There are several cans of sardines that I have my eye on for future lunches. (I think we can count on seeing the felines again.) And I am sure those little containers of Cheese Ravioli will taste better after a few moments in the microwave than they would have cold. There are few absolute negatives in every day life in Florida.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Candlelight Processional 2006 at Disney World

Last year I believe I closed my post about the Processional by saying that God willing we would return this year. He was and we did. Last year I may have mentioned that it rained the entire two hours we were in line. This year the skies were beautiful, but the temperature was very un-Florida like. Not as cold as the previous evening, but cold enough to induce stomping of the feet and rubbing the ears. Nonetheless, the over-400 choir members and the Disney orchestra soon warmed the air with their music. It was grand. It was strong and loud and joyful just the way you love to hear Christmas music. The gentleman that narrated the story of the Nativity did a fine job. He was the Christian singer, Steven Curtis Chapman. Although he was new to me, he is apparently popular, judging by the audience reaction to him.

The choir members in gold who stand on either side of the "tree" consist of guest choirs from over fifteen states. In a season (111 performances) a total of 24,000 amateur vocalists will take part in this massed choir. The green garbed members of the "tree" are staff members of Disney World who audition to appear in the Candlelight show. The "base of the tree" in black and red are professional singers and members of an a cappella ensemble which entertains regularly at Epcot.

The visual effects this year were again impressive. The scarves worn by the choir had tiny lights that twinkled at appropriate moments. The theatical lighting enhanced a celebratory mood. And as in past years a signer translated the words sung into graceful motion. The latter is a wonderful addition to the otherwise static picture.

By all means, go and be inspired. And while you are there , be sure to visit the other parks and the Disney hotels to view the unique and delightful decorations with which Disney has honored Christmas . Merry Christmas to All!!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Holidays by Disney

Well, we are home again safe and sound. For those whom we don’t see on a face to face basis daily, an explanation is in order. After the receipt of some quite good medical news and some not so good medical news last week we decided it would be good for our morale to get away from the medical atmosphere we have been surrounded by for the last few months. On very short notice we were able to get a hotel room at DisneyWorld and off we went. Any complaints I ever had about Disney were evened out by the chunks of plaster, wood and concrete I knocked off their walls with my wheelchair with the jet-assisted engine. I spared small children, but convinced a number of adults never to come back. Unfortunately, S was in the way of some of my spurts of speed also. We thoroughly enjoyed the Candlelight Processional again this year. More about that in a separate post later. From our hotel we were able to reach Epcot and the Disney MGM Studios by boat. Boat is much easier than bus or driving with the rocket designed wheelchair. So we went in both directions. At MGM we viewed the Osbourne Christmas lights as they came on and then stayed for several sessions of the lights dancing to jolly Christmas music. That is a foot stomping adventure. But as far as a celebration of the true Christmas, the light display verges on the gauche, or even tacky. But spectacular! The pictures are still in the camera so I must fall back on the TV line – pictures at eleven. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Surprise Motivation

It was a dark and stormy night … NOT. Actually, it was a crisp cold, sunny Saturday afternoon. It was after football season and before baseball season. With no lawn to mow nor garden to plow and nothing to watch on television, I was sitting at the kitchen table making idle conversation with my wife. I decided to clean out my wallet. My credit cards, membership cards, gas cards, were soon spread out on the table while I decided which should go back to the wallet and which would do just as much good in my bureau drawer. (Now the following will give you a clue how long ago it was.) My wife looked at the table and said, “Why is your ESSO card different than mine?” She got out her card and we studied them for an embarrassing long while before we noticed the obvious difference. Hers had someone else's name on it.

We lived in a fairly small town and so I took a chance and looked in the phone book. Sure enough, he was listed. I called, but he wasn’t home so I explained to his wife that apparently the cards had been switched at a gas station. (In N.J. you weren’t allowed to pump gas for yourself. You stayed in the car and an attendant took your card, pumped the gas, and then gave you back the card. If two or more were getting gas at the same time, cards could easily get switched.) She said she would have her husband call when he got home. But he didn’t call; he arrived at the front door soon after, all flustered. He had my wife’s card and we switched. But he wasn’t through. He had his Esso bills for the last two months with him and nothing would do but that we figure out who owed who, how much.

The next month he was back again with his bill and we settled up again. The third time he came it was to say that there were no charges on his bill that weren’t his. He wanted to see our bill to be sure that none of his charges were on it. There weren’t. I was by then a little annoyed that he had made such a big deal out of a few dollars. Gas was cheap then. I made a not-too-friendly comment about being glad we had settled the mix-up without having gotten Esso involved in it. He practically gushed about how happy he was. He turned to leave, then returned and standing very close, in a hushed voice, he said, ”You see, I am a manager in the credit department of ESSO”.

PS For those reading this outside the US. The brand name "Esso" was changed to "Exxon" in 1972.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Darn, that hurts!

Everyone has those embarrassing moments that, by now, the rest of the world has forgotten, but live on in your memory and induce a cringe and a minor shudder each time they re-arise in your mind’s eye. Think how many guys watch video clips on TV and see the poor groom keel over just before the “I do’s”, and remember their own wedding with shame? After uncontrollable giggling at a funeral, fainting at the wrong time (among males, any time is the wrong time) ranks high among no-nos.

In my day, in the army, there was one forgivable, but not forgettable cause of fainting. In the fiery heat of the parade ground in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, or any tropical clime, the commands go :
• “Attennnn….Hut”:
• “Poortt..Harms” ;
• “ Inspectionnn… Harms”
• - a variable pause- followed by a repeat of,
• “Poortt …Harms”.

There is a brief nanosecond there after the last “Harms” during which you must remove your thumb from the path of the bolt crashing closed. If you fail, a searing pain shoots up to your shoulder, followed by a throbbing of the thumb, followed by a view directly into a blazing sun as you realize that you are flat on your back and your friends are stepping over you on their way off the field.

Now you have options – none of which solve your problem.
• Lie there until the sun goes down, then crawl back to the barracks.
• Get up and march off to your own music.
• Wait for a laughing medic, that by now you really don’t need.
• Lie there and cry for Mommy.
• Desert the Army and see if there are any openings in the CCC.

What ever you choose, the worst is yet to happen. You have to face the laughing and teasing in the barracks and the sarcasm of the sergeant.
* * * * * *
The only solace was that you knew that if they hadn’t done it themselves yet, they would.
Personal advice -- During the healing period, it is best not to try to use chopsticks.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Old Dogs Do Learn

After all these years of using the expression, "At your beck and call", it dawned on me that I never have heard the word "beck" in any other context. So I did the logical thing and looked it up. It means just what one would think it does, a beckoning gesture. But I am convinced I never heard anyone say, "Give me a beck." I think I took one too many Tylenol last night, because now I am wondering about the relationship between beckons and becks; and beacons and
beacs"? I must have something better to do.

For no reason, that brings to mind Quaker Parakeets. I spent the largest part of today searching for a picture I took several years ago of a Quaker Parakeet on a telegraph wire with a stem of three berries in his beak (that sound again!). I was very proud of that photo but I fear it is gone into a cyber wasteland somewhere. I did run across a very nice picture of this most beautiful of illegal immigrants. I don't know where I found it so I can't credit the photographer.

Quaker Parakeets, also called Monk Parakeets, first came to the US from South America as caged birds. But for all their beauty, they are loud, raucous talkers with unbeautiful voices. Soon, many were re-released into the wild in the states. They survived and colonies have formed in south Florida, the New York area, and even in the chill of the Chicago area. They travel and feed in flocks. They chatter as they fly and if a flock of green birds making a real racket zooms over your head, you can be pretty sure they are Monk Parakeets (named by someone with a sense of irony.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Little Moments We Remember

When I was in the kindergarten thru 5th grade I took the school bus to school. On the spot designated as our bus stop near the bottom of our street there grew a large old beech tree (or was it birch?). In my senior year in high school the tree with the pretty white bark was still there. In a romantic mood one day I carved the traditional heart and arrow with my initials and my girl friend’s initials into the bark. The tree and the romantic scar on its bark have been gone for many years now, but I was always kind of proud to have left that sort of Norman Rockwell impression on the environment. By the same token, I have been glad that carvings on the sides of trees didn’t constitute any kind of legal document. That gal went on the marry someone else and had ten children.

Actually, something of a chill settled in between us very shortly after I left for college. We didn’t meet again until years later when I was married. My wife and I were invited to a party on the street where my old girl friend and I had lived. She was there. I introduced the ladies politely. With feline fangs showing, the old flame hissed to my wife, “My gracious, you look just like Mrs. L---.” To which my good wife replied, “I am.” And turned away.

Ps. My mother and my wife didn’t look at all alike

Friday, November 17, 2006


It has been rendered trite but -- There is no place like home! I have slept 38 hours a day since arriving home Wednesday night.
I got checked out by a doctor here and declared to have not opened any of the work sites of the Mayo Clinic doctors. Will now try to get back in the routine.

Hide in Public

More Than Donuts just posted a beautiful piece about New York City. She relates how NY residents see the city differently (or not at all) depending on their state of mind. Thus there are a limitless number of NY’s. Add to those, the NY observed by the commuters at various times of their days, and the sensations that New York generates are infinite.

I think the best memories may arise from little out of place things one sees, knows they are there, and accepts as a part of the city. A fellow named Joe and I used to walk downtown once or twice a week. We went south on Park Ave to about 34th St. Then cross town to Herald Sq. and duck into the Hudson Tubes to Jersey. On the cross-town street, I think it was 34th, there was a large, staid, old bank. Beside the road they had trees planted in very large containers (pots). One evening we noticed a small marijuana plant which had taken root in one of the containers. We amused ourselves by wondering if “pot” planted in a “pot” qualified as a “potted plant” -- and variations. All summer we would walk by that plant and occasionally comment on its growth. Many thousands of New Yorkers walked by that plant every day. Probably a conservative 95% knew what a marijuana plant looked like. I hesitate to understate an estimate of the percentage that used pot. But yet it grew undisturbed. Did it suggest that that the locals believed that rights were attached to “As he sows, so shall he reap?” Some one sowed and it was his right to reap?

Anyway, come fall, one week the plant was gone. In a small town you might ask around and try to determine who did it. In NY, it was gone and that was the end of the story.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Coming Home

It is Wednesday morning and we are going to give it a try.The doctor instructed me to pull over and walk a bit every 45 minutes. S has taken the precaution of checking the AAA book for motels along the way so if the 300 miles seems overly long, we can stop for a night. I am sure that the cats will be pleased to see us. I know that pleasant as this place is, I will happy to be home.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Good Ship Mayo

Quite a few years ago, we took a cruise that started in New Zealand and ended in Sydney, Australia. We had a ball and enjoyed every minute but only because we are the kind of folks that can see the humor in minor misadventures. We were lined up one morning as we left a port to go on a tour of the ships bridge. The group before ours completed their turn and passed us on their way off the bridge. We stood and waited for what seemed a long time when a junior officer came to us and said the tour was cancelled. No explanation was given . Later that day we were up in the Observation Bar with another couple and one of us said to no one in particular, “Wonder why we have stopped!” We had just started across the Tasmanian Sea. When we started moving again it was somewhat slower that our own boat (the Sally Forth, a twenty-eight footer) could putt-putt up Barnegat Bay. That afternoon we were drinking in another bar and started buying drinks for an older Irish comedian entertainer on the ship’s staff. He gave us the inside story. Coming out of one of the previous ports we had stopped at, we had struck a rock. The rock was clearly marked on the ship’s charts. Thus, the staff captain in charge at the time earned himself an automatic and immediate discharge complete with exile to his cabin until we reached the next port. This had all been of little consequence to the operation of the ship until we had reached the point where the speed was to be increased for the crossing of the Tasmanian Sea. At that point the bent drive shaft made itself known.

It was a slow and rough-rough several days to Hobart, Tasmania where we were told that engineers were being flown in from the US. Each passenger was given $150 credit at the ship’s store plus free bus tours to visit the sights of Hobart. These were exhausted before the drive shaft could be straightened. Every 12 hours our departure was extended another 12 hours . An upscale mutiny was whispered. People had tickets to the Australian Open the date of which was upon us. Lawyers had cases to argue on schedule. Businessmen had deals to close. Meanwhile, S and I were shopping at the kiosks that local merchants had set up on the dock. We took long walks up and down the hills of the delightful city of Hobart. We were having a good time. When the propeller shaft was finally jerry-rigged, the ship headed north to Sydney non-stop, skipping Melbourne completely( For Sale : unused Open tickets).

We stayed a few days in Sydney. We went back down to the dock to see the new passengers as the ship took off for the next cruise. We waved and shouted , “Good Luck!” as they left the harbor.

This morning, we went down to the pharmacy to get a prescription filled. Waiting, we sat in the main Mayo waiting room where new patients check in. As they were told that since they were “on standby”, they should get some lunch and come back at 1:00PM. S said she felt like we were in Sydney waving to the departing cruise passengers. True! They were about to find out something needs fixing and it is going to take longer than they think.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Well, the deed is done and we hope to get back to our routine life as soon as possible. We were startled Wednesday when the surgeon finished his description of what he could do which he thought might help. We asked when he could fit us into his schedule, expecting we would have to come back to Jacksonville. Instead, he said , how about Friday afternoon? We went into the hospital at 11 AM Friday morning and arrived back at the Inn at the Mayo campus about 2 PM on Saturday.

Since it is a 300 mile drive to home, I am not going to attempt to leave for a day or two. Also, I am sure there are lots of humorous aspects of this adventure to blog about, but that will take a few days of mulling over. I am sure you will be happy to know that there will be no pictures.

Thank you for the comments and e-mails.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

We Did it Before and We Can Do it Again

Ok, we will be off again for another week of playing test animal for the good folk at the Mayo Clinic. This week we hope to find out what they think they can do for us and when they might do it. While waiting between consultations I am building quite a stock of half formed ideas for future posts.

Have a good week with lots of accomplishments to feel good about.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


I did, why can't you?

Most states allow early voting and most states have weekend hours.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cedar Closets

Do they still build houses with cedar closets? In fact, only one of the homes I’ve ever purchased has had one and that was a shore cottage. I think it was older than I was and all the aroma of cedar was long gone. For you of the younger generation, one of the plagues of “olden days” was the wool-eating moth. In Northern climes, wool was the primary fabric for winter clothing. During the warmer parts of the year when woolens were stored, they were vulnerable to moths (or the larvae of said moths). The first lines of defense against the holes caused by these hungry, mini-beasts were mothballs and flakes. Both were typically naphthalene and moth families disliked their odor. They usually found other quarters. This was not an altogether satisfactory solution to the problem because come fall, many folks were required to go to work or church in clothes that smelled strongly of something like cold medication.

The elegant solution was a closet lined with cedar wood planking. Apparently, moths were also put off by the somewhat more pleasant, fragrant (to people) odor of cedar.

Modern science has never proved decisively whether the demise of wool caused the demise of moths. In any event, a famine struck the moth population. Despite its best efforts, science has never succeeded in developing a moth species with an appetite for Orlon.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Career Buster

After my first promotion in Research and Development, I was in charge of a group responsible for formulating laundry detergents. In those days two factors determined the success of a detergent. First, of course, was how well it cleaned dirty clothes and second was how well it sudsed up. This was before automatic washers and back then lots of suds were a virtue. Before long a new machine, the front-loading Bendix, appeared on the scene. Simultaneously, the low sudsing detergent "All" had a market no other popular detergent could touch. Those were fighting words and we had to hustle to develop a competitive product. When we thought we had one, the top brass was invited to watch a demonstration early one morning. My boss’ boss’ boss’ boss was to do the demonstration in the “laundry lab” where we had a big assortment of washing machines. It was a big moment for me because the plan included introducing me to the CEO and the other big- wigs.

Matching loads of laundry were put in our pair of Bendix machines. "All" was added to one machine and our new wonderful formula to the other. Hot water was added to both and the wash cycles started. On schedule, the foam rose to the middle of the widows. Not scheduled, the foam rose to the top of the window of our product’s machine. The suds kept rising and soon were pouring out the little hole on top where the detergent was normally put in. As the suds started to cover the floor around the Bendix, the CEO and his cohorts quietly left the lab and crossed the bridge to their offices.

Such embarrassment does not go down well with the semi-brass who started a big investigation. Our formula easily proved its innocence in more tests where it behaved as we intended. After many days, this was what was discovered. The laundry lab was in a factory building. Down stairs were a variety of filling lines that were staffed by women. Business was good and the lines were running a night shift. Some of the women considered it a perk to bring their family laundry to work with them. During their breaks or before their shift started, they would sneak up to the laboratory and use the machines to do the week’s laundry. Some gal had decided to try out a new Bendix the night before our dog and pony show. She didn’t know that it required a special detergent and grabbed a box of Tide off the shelf. No one thought to clean out the machines in the morning and BINGO! We had a foaming Bendix. I was far enough down the food chain to think it was pretty clever of the production ladies and to laugh about it. But, oh, the inter-departmental wars that broke out. Thus do careers collapse!

Don't Discard Today's Pleasures

I unabashedly stole the following neat parable recounted by Dr. Morris Greenberg in an article which appeared in the “Classic Close Up”, the monthly newsletter of the Classic Residence of Hyatt at Lakeside Village. While I think all seniors will enjoy and nod knowingly, the lesson is really for the younger folk that happen to tune in here. Read it all the way through, then recall the last thoughts you stored away when you went to sleep last night
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The 92 year old, petite, well poised and proud lady who is fully dressed each morning by 8:30 a.m., with her hair fashionably coiffed and makeup perfectly applied even though she is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary. Maurine Jones is the most lovely, gracious, dignified woman that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. While I have never aspired to attain her depth of wisdom, I do pray that I will learn from her vast experience.

After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window.

“I love it”, she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight year old having just been presented with a new puppy.
“Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room …just wait”.
“That doesn’t have anything to do with it”, she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged, it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice. I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.
Old age is like a bank account…you withdraw from what you’ve put in,
”So my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories”.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Atlantic City

Among the really "older generation" most every one had a story about "their trip to Atlantic City". I remember mother told stories of loving what she thought of as gambling. She discovered pinball machines in Atlantic City. If you had a really successful game you were awarded a free game, hence, it was gambling. Atlantic City and the Catskills were the only resorts that middle income folk in the middle Atlantic states could aspire to visit.

We were lucky. One of my first wife's rich uncles gave us a trip to AC as a wedding present. After our honeymoon, we decided to cash in on that present before heading back to college for me, and a job for her. (She had graduated by then.)

Let me set the stage for our visit; it was 1947, well before gambling came to AC, we arrived on a blazing hot day. Atlantic City was on the way down hill. Only the boardwalk, a very few fine hotels, the annual Miss America contest, and the high diving horse on Steel Pier were left of the glory that had been. Whether the casinos have now restored the glory or an expensive form of tackiness can be debated.

We checked into the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall (I'm showing off that I remember the name if not the spelling). There starts the first story. When we pulled into the little alcove under Hadsdon Hall to leave our car with valet parking, I noticed that the rear tire was going flat. I didn't know what to do, so I took the way any spineless kid would do. We ignored it and proceeded into the hotel. To avoid any calls from the valet parking people we immediately went for a walk. We walked too far in the dressy clothes people wore on the boardwalk in those days. (This is the start of the second story. First story concludes later.) Dying of thirst, we went into a pleasant looking lounge and ordered vodka tonics. We knew little about drinking. I knew that in the army if you were thirsty you chugalugged the first beer and felt better. So we did the same with our "sophisticeted drinks". "That tasted good, let's order another!" When we ordered thirds, the fatherly waiter asked if we knew what we were drinking and informed us that the vodka was one hundred and something proof . We didn't really understand all that , but agreed the next would be our last and that we would drink it slowly.

On the way back to the hotel we had this very serious and rational conversation about how we hadn't noticed that the boardwalk was downhill on our walk to the lounge, but it was definately uphill back to the hotel. It dawned on one of us that, of course, the lounge was south and the hotel was north. South is always down and north is always up. There, that solved that.

When it was time to leave several days later, we approached valet parking with trepidation. When we handed in our ticket, the valet smiled and said, by the way, you had a flat tire and we had to tow your car. We had it fixed, but we have to add $1.15 to your bill. (It was 1947). What an anticlimax!

(What I forgot to tell is that I knew my spare was also flat. I had locked the trunk and taken the truck key with me. In those days there were separate keys for ignition and the trunk. 10-30)

Friday, October 27, 2006

In English, please

I may be repeating myself, but HEY! It is just my way of proving that I really am getting old.

When we learned that we were going to be transferred to France for a limited time, one of the first things we did was check with M’s college to see if she could get off from school for a semester without any huge problems. M had taken French in high school and could help us with a language the rest of the family was totally helpless with. She came with us and if not fun for her, I’d guess it was at least interesting. She taught me how to say, in French, “I do not speak French.” That is probably the most useless phrase a non- French speaking person can learn. Natives assume that since you said it in French, you must understand French.

There were a few other phrases that were useful. I was in charge and like any boss any where in the world, I was talked and joked about behind my back - and in my case. right in front of me. One day as we were assembling in the conference room for a meeting, the laughter, sly looks in my direction, and general ruckus reached a high pitch. So as the last person in came through the door, I said casually and in French, “Mrs. Herbert, please close the door”. The stunned silence was one of those priceless moments that commercials are written about. Of course, I got quite good at saying, “Stupid American!”, when stopped by a traffic cop. The phrase, “How much?” also came in handy almost daily. I specially appreciated the gas station attendants who would write the amount on their hand with a ball-point pen.

Now I find myself in southern Florida, where English is fast becoming a forgotten language. It confuses the hell out of the Spanish-speaking folks when I say, I don’t speak French, in French.

More Mayo

In the continuing medical saga that has been our lives the last week, we are home for a brief respite. We go back in a week for more tests and we hope a conclusion as to what to do. The positive thing so far is that we have been told not that there is nothing that can be done, but that there are a number of options which further testing will help in deciding which to try. If the Mayo Clinic had a football team, I would volunteer to be a cheer leader.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Where in the World is Lil' ole Me?

It was not my intention to be mysterious when I signed off a week ago. We are at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. I have been asking if there is any way to get me walking again. It looks like at the minimum I will be here another week, probably longer. I don't hope to run the Boston Marathon although my father did that and it was always in the back of my mind until I got fat and lazy. I don't even want to play golf again. I was never very good at that and why get all frustrated again? All I really want to do is stop feeling that every little Boy Scout thinks he should help me across the street.

Mayo Clinic is a beautiful campus, amazingly computerized, and quite sober. They claim serious respect for the patients' privacy. The patient's guide says that on-campus photograpy is prohibited out of respect for patients' privacy. At the head of the lines defined by velvet ropes, there is a sign saying, To preserve patients' privacy, please wait here until a consultant is free." Where there is a sign-in sheet the instructions are to use only your last preserve patients' privacy. Just when you have absorbed this good thought, you are startled by a voice over loud speakers everywhere shouting out, "HUGO CHAVEZ OF VENEZUELA, PLEASE GO TO WINDOW 8." A nurse will come out from the inner reaches and shout to the assembled patients, " Mr John Doe, Mr George Doe, Ms. Jane Doe, Please follow me." An hour in the waiting room and you can learn the name of everyone there.

Please don't think that everyone spends as much time in waiting rooms as we have (and will). I am here on a stand-by basis. As such, my unbelievably wonderful S has to wheel me over two buildings and up four floors by 6:45 AM tomorrow to start hoping someone has a flat tire on the way here. That is not nice, I will just hope they decide they don't want to get up that early.

This was a day off and I bought a book on blogging to read during the waits, so watch this space. I may start blogging in 3D

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Herculean Strength - One Day Only

Recently I wrote about the brook that was doing its babbling on two sides of our house and mentioned that in addition to being toxic to our lawn, it also went amok at one time. The rest of the story -- I was at work one summer day when I got a phone call from my wife who was at our shore house. She said she had just received a call from a neighbor who knew her number, but not mine at work. The neighbor wanted us to know that the creek was rising and water was well up in our back yard and approaching the house. I knew it had been raining all day, but I found out soon how hard a rain it was. I left quickly, but ran into road flooding and had to take a circuitous route to get home. It took a while and by the time I got there the water was getting very close to the house.

This to me is the part of that story of that day that I can’t believe even though I know it is true because I was there. With no one to help, I carried all of the furniture out of the room on the ground floor across a hall and up the four steps to the second level of our split-level house. There was a large sofa, two large easy chairs, two large bookcases full of books (I can’t remember how the books got up), our TV (a big old tube type) and the old phonograph-piece of furniture the TV sat on. Also assorted lighter stuff like end tables, floor lamps, a box of children’s toys, etc.

By then the water was coming into the utility room between the wall and the foundation. All my tools were in danger of a drowning, but I had only gotten most of them up to the top of the workbench when I decided there had to be a better way. I slammed the door to the utility room and the rec room and stuffed towels along the door bottoms. (This latter did no good at all.) Then I open the front door and finally the back door. Quickly, water was flowing straight through the house and back to the creek bed out front. However, at least six inches of dirty water did take up residence in the utility room and the rec room even after the storm abated. I hadn’t thought to try to save the rugs and they were a total loss. The next morning I carried them out to the curb for the trash men. I broomed and squee-geed muddy water out of the ground floor all day. Along the way I figured out that it was safe to turn on the furnace fans (no heat). These stayed on for a couple weeks until things dried out.

The downstairs furniture didn’t all get back where it belonged until my wife and kids came home at the end of the summer and helped. I found it too heavy and awkward to handle alone. Our day will never even be a footnote in the history of storms, but it gave me a mystery I never have resolved.

PS. I will not be able to blog for the next week or more. See you soon, I hope.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Justice Can Smell - A Not Nice Story

I believe it was around 1958. I was involved in the formulation of laundry detergents. Some one had the brilliant idea that what the world needed was a detergent with a special deodorizing ingredient. This brainstorm ignored the fact that the simple act of washing soiled fabrics would usually improve their odor. No, we had to have an ingredient that made this product better than any other. To test the product we needed some really stinky something to wash. So each morning a bunch of employees with young babies had to wake the poor baby, change its diaper and take the soiled diaper to work with them where it became a tool of performance evalution.

So I left for the job at 6:30 in the morning with briefcase in one hand and a securely wrapped diaper in the other. On the commuter train the package went into the overhead rack. When the train got to Hoboken, I was half way through the station when I realized I had left the package on the rack. I hurried back to the train, but there was no sign of the diaper. Asking the conductor yielded nothing. Lost and found had no package turned in that morning.

I continued on to the office wishing I could see the thief's face when he found out what he had swiped.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Travel Insurance

This is another post which, if the index is right, was never posted. I apparently wrote it last November. I hate to waste things, so here it is. If you do remember seeing it before, just skip it.

If you were to look into the deep recesses of my wallet you would find a $100 bill. It is my “mad money” and I have been sitting on the same bill for well over thirty years. It’s antique value may exceed the face value soon.

When I arrived in France to start work, a co-worker showed me a short-cut from our office to my home. It was through the back roads of metro-Paris, but avoided the twice daily traffic jams of the main roads. At one point it crossed a wide open area populated by real European gypsies living in shacks and “covered wagons”. The place teemed with children playing, interspersed with dogs chasing the kids and each other. It sounds romantic, but it wasn’t. Just a scene of poverty and grime. My guide informed me that the gypsies would train the dogs to come quickly when called. With the dog and the caller on opposite sides of the street, they would wait for a car to come along. The caller would attempt to time his call to have car and dog meet – to the detriment of the dog. The collision would bring crying children surrounding your car and wailing about the loss of the old family pet. It would then be suggested that the purchase price of a new “old family pet” would assuage their feelings.

My co-worker suggested always carrying a 100 franc note (about $20 US at the time) to stop the tears of gypsy children before your car was laid waste. And possibly you too.

When I returned to work in New York City, the streets of the city as well as the subways were not comfortable to walk alone. There was an epidemic of muggings. The wishful thinkers byword was that the victim would not be harmed severely if the “crime paid”. Familiar principle. Hence the $100 bill in my wallet.

Actually, I never killed a dog or met a mugger so I don’t know if my prevention measures were valid.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Taking Home Company Pencils and...

Back in the 1950’s corporate life more closely resembled the ideal “one big happy family” than later when computers largely replaced face-to-face communications. Personalities played a bigger role and, perhaps, more real friendships were formed. At least, I will use that as my excuse for the favors that were traded back and forth between departments. For instance, my section had lots of product where the packages were opened, but only a dollop of product removed for testing. There was no accountability and that product found its way home in many a briefcase. I once asked the engineers to make me a little dolly that a two-draw file could ride on. I got a lot of phone inquiries and I could pull the file over close when on the phone – and push it away when I needed the floor space. Now visualize me involved in a diligent search with the file more or less between my legs, feet close together – sole to sole. Now visualize me pulling the top drawer all the way out and the whole business tipping forward and the bottom drawer sliding out and slicing both my ankles. Next, picture my secretary driving me home and then to my doctor’s for stitches in both ankles.

After that adventure I established that I was not a fast learner. We had purchased a new home and the lawn had been seeded after we moved in. It was a hot summer and it was a struggle to get that seed growing into a lush lawn. It took lots of expensive watering to achieve that objective. The next summer it continued to drink water at an embarrassing rate. It was then my mouse trap mind snapped. There was a beautiful little creek that ran by the back and side of our property. Its babbling was a delight to go to sleep to, but all that “free” water was just running down to where ever water runs down to from New Jersey hills. I hustled into the engineers and described my idea. Within a week I had a small pump complete with electric motor delivered to the house. Whee! showers of free (almost, water cost more per hour than electricity) water poured onto my thirsty lawn.

Again, my calculations had missed a crucial item. Where did that pretty creek flow before it got to my house? To this day I’m not sure, but it was certainly polluted! . The lush lawn turned brown and never, as long as we lived there, did it regain its pre-pump glory.

The pump did come in handy years later. Our beautiful babbling brook became a raging river during a torrential summer storm. Thr river missed a turn and its course was diverted to one that took it in our back door and out the front door. But that is another story.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Practice of Tagging

Archana writes a delightful blog about her most interesting and fresh views of life. ( (or to the left under Links, click on A Rupee for my Thoughts) I would praise her further, BUT the other day she “tagged” me. She really shouldn’t have done that because I don’t do chain letters, inspirational posts that require that I pass them along to ten friends, or other forms of coercion. As I understand it, people that have been tagged are duty bound to post the name of the person that tagged them. Then they are to record eight things about themselves that aren’t widely known. I can’t do that, but it does remind me that I’ve been intending to post a bunch of miscellaneous stuff I’ve thought of recently.

Trivial Bits of Nothingness

• I dislike shaving, and have never found a razor I really feel right about. I keep buying new ones.
• I hate heights, but always wished I had taken flying lessons when I was younger.
• I take fifteen pills a day and still am going to hell in a hand basket.
• I never got to be an Eagle Scout because you needed Bird Study merit badge and I couldn’t memorize 40 bird songs.
• Before my voice changed I sang soprano in a church choir. Without an organ blasting in my ear I couldn’t (and can’t) carry a tune across the street.
• I owned my first tuxedo when I was a junior in high school.
• I was salutatorian of my high school class. Everyone thought it was a mistake.
• I detest bread pudding.

I am not going to tag any (or is it “either”) of my friends. Instead I am going to tell them to go read Archana’s blog. Maybe you will be lucky and she will tag you. You got that Fran, Steph, Bob, Mary, Babs, Sally, Al, and David?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Army Protocol

We all know the feeling when later all we can do is say to our self, “Gosh, I wish I had said….”. Once in my life the right words popped out of my mouth without a thought.

In my job as messenger and radioman (when it worked) I was standing by outside the tent being used as “A” Company Headquarters. The Company Commander was inside. The Company Commander for “B” Company wandered up. He was one of those foul mouthed individual that thought his dirty tongue made him tough. In a loud voice he said, “Is #&*()@ Blankity Blank John in there?” I wasn’t too strongly against cursing, but calling my CO names, in his hearing, created a problem of what to say. Consider the trap that either a yes or no presented. Quick as a wink, I said, “I don’t know, why don’t you ask Captain M--. He’s right inside.”.

I then moved away in a hurry -- feeling smug.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Be Happy!

When the war and school were over I went to work at a large corporation. I was in the R and D department and one of my immediate bosses was a doofus (we kids thought). He was older than most of us and we kids were snobbish about his lack of formal education. (His years of experience had taught him more than any PhD knew about commercial laundering.) But he was so likeable it was impossible not to seek his company. Always smiling, Joe spent his day complimenting people, especially the girls. He would say that their dress was beautiful, that he loved their hairdo, that their fingernail polish was “just the right color” for their complexion. Or he could just say something like, “Good morning, it’s a gorgeous day and so are you”. Pure malarkey, but he got a smile from the most dour sourpuss. Somewhere in his lifetime, Joe had learned the “spotters’” trade. He could take spots and stains out of clothes and neckties better than most dry cleaners. Lunch spills, mimeograph ink, he could clean up any misadventure. So employees would show up in his office in the labs all day long, often in tears because a favorite dress was apparently ruined. Joe would fix them up and leave them smiling. Everyone loved Joe. I jokingly confronted Joe once and asked why all the “phony” compliments and pats. (Oh yes, Joe was also a fanny patter. I’d have been killed for doing some of the things Joe got a smile and a giggle for.) He said that he knew that even a corny compliment or kindness could cheer up a gloomy day for some one and he felt better himself for doing that. Not deep, but worth thinking about.

Top management of the company was well aware of Joe. When the company headquarters and staff moved to a site away from Research, Joe was suddenly transferred to a job at their site. After all, they liked compliments and they occasionally spilled gravy on their ties at lunch.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Trivial Rants

Last evening I was merrily fooling around on the computer when S came in the room and said she had spent the last 30 minutes rearranging the kitchen cubboards. She told me that she moved the big dinner plates up high because we seldom use them (we normally eat dinner in the dining room down stairs here at the "retirement home"). The tall blue glasses seldom used were gone to the nether regions. All sorts of efficiency enhancing shifts had been made. When I went to make coffee this morning I was faced with a new adventure and it struck me. This it what it felt like when I switched from Windows to Mac. Everything is there, but you have to learn where all over again.

In the Department of Rules versus Common Sense -- There is an indoor pool here that we use most every morning. After ten years of this I finally noticed that there are "EXIT" signs over two of the doors but not the third. And the third is the only one that leads outdoors. Now there is a technicality that makes this the "legal" thing to do. The outdoors that the third door leads to is an enormous courtyard. Never the less, common sense tells us that if the fire alarm rings in the half the building with the pool, the smart thing to do is leave that half the building which is having a fire and walk to the side that doesn't. But like horses running bac k into a barn fire, our instructions which follow the rules say come into the burning building. Incidentally, there are eighteen fire sprinklers in the ceiling of the pool room -- nine over the water and nine over the surrounding concrete deck. Another code or rule or regulation followed in the the face of common sense that suggests otherwise

Friday, September 22, 2006


Earlier this week I was at the dentists doing my part to finance a new BMW for him. His nurse/technician/ assistant lost her grip on something. I couldn’t see what. She did the natural thing and said, “Ooops!” The dentist playfully chided her, informing her that there was a list of words that are never to be said in a dentist’s office and top of the list is “Ooops”. On the drive home, S and I started a different list – the people that shouldn’t be heard saying “Ooops”.

• Clerk in the china department.
• Airline pilots
• The guy carving the Thanksgiving turkey.
• High wire artists.
• Picture hangers at MOMA.
• Worker at the Naval Arsenal.
• Waitress pouring hot coffee.

..and many more not very clever ones. I do remember the nurse trying to take blood from my arm saying in repeatedly as she kept missing the vein. There must be a bunch of better ones than those. How about some contributions?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Grand Larceny

I am old, therefore I can tell this story. We eat dinner in a very fancy dining room with a bunch of cheerful, sometimes playful high school kids that wait on table. They are always polite, but occasionally their tone of voice communicates more than the words they say.

There is a resident that is notorious for stealing food from the dining room. The rules are clear. Dessert may be requested in a doggy bag, but nothing else is to be taken from the dining room. This gal (somewhere in her 90's) has plastic Baggies in her purse and makes off with entire salads or what ever she fancies to eat later or the following day. It has become a joke shared by all. I guess management has figured out that having her laughed at behind her back has deterred others from daring the same treatment and overall, reduced food loss.

Last night she was heard asking her partner at their table for two if the rolls were good. When he answered in the affirmative, she packed away the remaining roll in her purse. She immediately called the waiter over and asked for more rolls. He had observed the whole performance and his voice as he replied, "Yes ma'm, would you like two or three?" had the whole dining room with their faces muffled in napkins to hide the laughter. She remained oblivious, as usual. and went her merry way.

In the interest of total truth, I have been known to slip that little packet of two saltines that comes with soup into my pocket. But mine was a charitable crime. I later fed them to the ducks and fish down at the lake.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Power of Enthusiasm

My most memorable learning experience in the first semester of my freshman year in college did not occur in a classroom. The country was at war and a tension existed in everyone’s life. College was no escape and the war heightened in subtle ways the fears of being away from the snug comfort of home for the first time. Soon after the start of that semester, the president of the college declared that there should be a “Hello” spirit on campus. He declared that there was too much walking around with eyes down toward the ground and ignoring of fellow students. To encourage this new spirit, he would walk upstream in the flow of students on the malls heading for class. He would say “Hello” and smile, not to the crowd, but to individuals. He enlisted the faculty. To avoid being rude one had to say “Hello” back and smile in return. Soon , this spirit caught on and spread. And spread. Off campus it touched the streets of the town and into restaurants, diners, theaters, everywhere. In no time, the college was a happier place where days started and ended with a new lightness. It was magical, but it was also very real. It changed the emotional mood of an entire community. And this came about because of the action a single man. That was the lesson that I learned.

Sixty some years later I realize that religious analogies can be drawn from what I saw, but mine was a more pragmatic and immediate impression. Either way. all my life has been guided by the knowledge that anyone of us with enough gumption and passion can change our world.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Hudson and Manhattan Tubes—Now Known as PATH trains

For those not familiar with those terms: the H and M Tubes or more familiarly known as “The Tubes” was a dinky railroad that ran atop and below ground connecting New Jersey and New York City. There are two tunnels under the Hudson River.Map In 1962 the railroad was taken over by the Port Authority of NY-NJ. Thus it became the Port Authority Trans Hudson and quickly was known as PATH. The trackage and the tunnel sizes weren't and still aren’t compatible with the commuter trains in Jersey or the subways of New York. Net-net, I rode the “Tubes” or Path twice a day from 1949 until about 1980. I would ride the Erie-Lackawanna to Hoboken , then on to the Tubes to 34th Street, then walk a mile of take a subway to work (weather sensitive).That was a period of gradual disintegration of the whole transportation system around New York City.

A ride on the Tubes could be fun, or boring, or more claustrophobic than spelunking. It all depended on the time of day and where you got on and off. The most fun was standing up front right next to the engineer’s little cubbyhole. Looking out you could tell when next the train would slam from side to side around curves. You could spot the spooky images of an occasional track walker and knew the engineer was about to give a little toot on the train whistle. The trackwalker would wave his lantern in reply and at the last second, duck into one of those tiny safety alcoves along the track. It made you reflect that you would rather have the job you were going to than his. We never could figure out in advance when, car by car, the lights would go out leaving newspaper readers to find their place again when the lights came on again. And newbies to let out a squeal of fright. The weirdest mystery involved the occasional blue light. On a straight stretch, far ahead, would appear two lights, a reddish purple one and a blue one. As the train approached them, they gradually came closer together and merged into a single blue light as it was passed. Strange.

The few seats were occupied by women and the elderly (or unthinking men who wondered why their feet were so often stepped on while they sat in front of a woman in spike heels.) Standing in the middle of the car could be more intimate than...well, very intimate. Almost once a day someone would get their torso aboard and leave a leg or briefcase outside the closing doors -- leading to a moment of group panic. But the conductor would peek out between cars and look both ways before giving the engineer the go ahead. Seeing anything protruding, he would give the door control a quick open and close, yielding enough time for the human limb to be drawn in to safety. However, often, the human reflex to let go of a briefcase was faster than the conductor and the briefcase contents were strewn over the station platform.

In the later years, I was content to engage in a contest with myself. Sitting or standing, I would fold the NY Times so that only the crossword puzzle was visible. Then, using a pen, the trick was to finish the puzzle before arriving at 34th Street. This was feasible on Monday, most Tuesdays, sometimes on Wednesday, and rarely on Thursday or Friday. Those familiar with the Times puzzle know why.

Two days ago, 9/11, I wondered what the downtown station was called before the World Trade Center was built and what that station is called today. The second question was easy, it is still the WTC station. But I am going to have to research further to jog my memory on the olden days name. In the learning process I read of the $3.1 billion rehab the line is to undergo. Way to go, Port Authority!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Vacation Time

They tell me that after one has been retired for almost twenty-five years, the definition of a vacation is: doing nothing in a different place.

We will be on vacation for the next week. I will take the laptop and post if anything stirs me up, but we look forward to just sitting in rocking chairs on the porch and watching the ocean come and go. Might even dip a toe in the water if ambition strikes. Be back next weekend unless a hurricane threatens, in which case we will scurry home. See ya'.

Articles I Wish Someone Would Write

Whatever happened to fire towers and how have they been replaced? Back in the “olden days” when I was growing up there were fire towers scattered all over the place.

Around 1935-6, my parents and my grandparents (they had a car, we didn’t) took a vacation to Cape Cod. I suspect that the place we stayed resembled an RV camp of today more than anything else around today. It consisted of a group of tiny cabins grouped around a “clubhouse” and restaurant. Several nights a week they had dances in the clubhouse. Music was provided by a scratchy Victrola. I remember because my folks tried to get me to dance with a precocious little girl at the next table. I seem to remember diving under the table to escape.

But the chief feature of this vacation resort was the fire tower right on the property. The fire warden that spent every day in the little observatory on the top welcomed visitors. So, of course, nothing would do but that we climb the tower. Pop, Grandpa, and I started out. Not too far up, it dawned on me that I could see right though the metal mesh steps and down to the ground. I don’t know if it was then that I discovered I was frightened by heights ,or then that I developed the fear. Either way, I froze. This led to a lifetime of being told, “Don’t look down!” From there to the top was a struggle, but well worth it. The cabin on stilts where the warden worked was fully enclosed and very comfortable. He explained his maps and his instruments and pointed out other towers on the horizon with which he was in constant communication by phone. They would triangulate on smoke and pinpoint its source very quickly. He said that they usually waited to see if the smoke spread before dispatching fire crews. It could be a campfire or something else small and under control. Either I was fascinated or afraid of getting down via that open mesh. I stayed as long as possible.

Today I only know of one fire tower and as many times as I’ve driven by it, I don’t know if it is manned. How are beginning forest fires spotted now? Maybe I just live in an over-developed part of the country.

An aside: years later I was recalling that vacation with my mother. I asked why she and grandma didn’t go up the tower with us. Her answer was a reminder of the changing times. That was before “ladies” wore slacks or shorts on vacation. They wore skirts.
For only that fleeting moment in my life I thought being a woman or a Scotsman might have advantages.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

When we went to France to work, I was already starting to lose my hair. However, I still needed to get a haircut occasionally. I don’t really like to get a haircut (read the archives). But in the USA I did it when needed in a shop that featured barbers with hairy arms,“Field and Stream” to read and a strong odor of Witch Hazel and Wildroot. Soon after we settled in near Paris I started looking for a barbershop. Anything I saw that looked like the right kind of place also looked very expensive. I don’t really remember, but I think I didn’t ask the guys at work because I didn’t like their hairstyles. My wife suggested that I go where she went to get her hair done. I protested, but she insisted that there were men getting their hair cut while she was there and that there were male stylists that did it. She did smirk a little as I left, but I was slow witted that day. What she hadn’t told me was that these male stylists were more feminine than the women stylists. Arnold Swartzenager would have had a hissy fit and I felt a lot creepy-crawly. They chattered on in a French I couldn’t begin to understand and flitted about like butterflies. Once was enough.

Three or four weeks later I flew to Frankfurt for a big hush-hush meeting between our top brass and a large European company. I was there as camouflage I think. Another obvious American was also there and he and I sat on each side of our CEO. The meeting was being conducted in English and I was taking the minutes for our team. What the people we were negotiating with never figured out was that my counterpart spoke their language fluently. While he appeared to be doodling on a legal pad, he was actually writing notes to our boss about what the other team was saying to each other in their language.

But I digress. After the meeting we were standing around the Frankfurt airport and I said that I was going to find an airport barbershop. For reasons I have never understood, our chairman and CEO volunteered to show me the way. He led me upstairs and into a shop and in excellent German (sounded good to me anyway) instructed a gruff old barber how to cut my hair.

I became the only American I knew that lived in Paris and flew to Frankfurt for his haircuts. Of course, I had to have another reason for the trips so my schedule was a bit ragged and often so was my hair.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Seeing is Being

Anyone that has perfect vision without enhancement by glasses, contacts, lasik surgery, implants, etc., is indeed fortunate. I am envious. But I will say that you have missed one of the truly amazing examples of medicine and the physical sciences working together to accomplish what was surely considered impossible as recently as my youth. When I was about in third grade it dawned on the rest of the world that I could not see the blackboard. It mattered not much because I couldn’t see to write either. After a flurry of doctor, optometrist, and ophthalmologist visits, I was equipped with two pairs of glasses, one for distance (the blackboard) and the other for close-up.

When I had my physical for the army, we stood in line wearing the official physical uniform (nothing). One by one, we were asked to cover alternate eyes and read an eye chart with each eye. Since, as we waited our turn, the eye chart was right there to be read with both eyes, I easily memorized it and passed. Proud that I had cheated my way into the service, I since have long suspected the army knew what it was doing all along. Hey! I got an expert marksman medal in training.

By the early ‘80s it was time to worry about my fast forming cataracts. The basic operation had been developed, but still entailed a three-day stay in the hospital and four weeks out of work. They wouldn’t put in an implant because “they didn’t yet know how long the implant might last”. By the time I was ready to brave the second eye being done I was very tired of the contact lens that substituted for the real lens they removed. I insisted on an implant. More hospital time and no-work rest time. Today, it is a zip-ZAP-zip process and “stop at the deli and bring home something for dinner”. Measuring for the implant in the old days took up to an hour of the ophthalmologist staring through a telescope. Today you rest your chin on a support and look into a magic device. There is a click and the technician says “Thank you. Good bye.”

Thursday when we came down from the ophthalmologist’s office, the valet parking guy asked how I was doing. I told him my eyes had tested well and I didn’t have to come back for a year. He said I was lucky because his contact lenses were driving him crazy with all the perspiration involved in his job. He was planning to go for lasik surgery so he could go without any lenses. Miracles happen.

Friday, August 25, 2006

This is being posted via a widget on the dashboard of my iMac computer It is very difficult to keep track of technology these days. But if I don't sign-off soon that thunder storm outside is going to end my adventures with new and different things.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

I Lost It

We all know how one thing leads to another and another and so on until we have completely forgotten or lost interest in the first thing. That happened to me this last few days. I had a blog all blocked out in my mind and was about ready to start typing. I thought first that I would locate an old picture to use as an illustration. I remember it clearly. It was of me sitting on the loading dock in front of the A Company supply room in Camp Livingston, Louisiana in 1943 or 1944. I failed to find it anywhere in the computer and had to conclude that it wasn’t there. So I started thumbing through old albums and boxes of loose photos. Naturally, it was impossible not to get fascinated by the pictures. So, I decided to upload a bunch of them to the computer. Ok, no sense of just adding them helter-skelter so I undertook to classify them and then assign dates (mostly guesses at the year, no actual dates) . Of course, this led to day-dreaming about how when I am King of the world, I will declare it a felony to have pictures in one’s possession that do not have associated, by whatever appropriate method, data as to the subjects, date, location, camera, etc. A glitch then came up in my process for scanning that had me climbing the wall, To relax, I started watching the PGA Open Thursday.

So I apologize. I can not post a blog this night.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Too Much of a Good Thing

Back when I was working for the big soap company, “line extensions” were the big thing. Anything to expand your brand’s “shelf space”. The more “facings” the better. Put in aloe and call the extension “for tender skin”, for instance. Of course, every variation had to go through all the safety testing, patent clearance, trade mark clearance, legal approval of the label, ad infinitum. The one relatively easy line extension was a new size. Nothing in the product changed except the box or bottle it was in.

So we thought that getting all the approvals for king size bar of an existing soap brand would be a breeze. I practically ran – ranting and raving - to the office of the top safety guy when I received his rejection of our request for approval. When I cooled down enough to ask how he could reject a product that had been tested over and over again, he allowed how there was one more test to be run. He had assumed the answer. He told me to take off my shoe and sock. As I sensed what the test was he had in mind, I agreed to assume with him that a one pound bar of slippery soap dropped on a toe might be a hazard. I put my shoe and sock back on. I went back to my office to give marketing the bad news.

(Thank you, today’s Dilbert, for reminding me of this sad day.)

Heat Breeds Chills

The world is full of incongruities. For instance, in the height of the hottest season here in South Florida, look in the back of most of the senior citizens’ cars. You will see nice warm jackets and sweaters. Stand in front of a movie theater or a restaurant and you will see those warmers over the arms of incoming patrons. Managers of such places adjust their air conditioners to suit a younger crowd and we oldsters shiver. I am at the stage where I sigh with pleasure when I get in and sit down in a car that has been sitting in the sun for three hours. Great for arthritis!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Unwarrented Panic

In the Department of: Nothing is Easy. We had an appointment at noon today to pick up our new car. Putting together the paper work on the car we were turning in, I realized we didn't have the current registration. We had a pack of old, out-of-date ones in the glove compartment, but not a valid one. When I looked at the old ones, I suddenly knew where the current one was. In the trash. While cleaning out the car, I had thought it was just a useless piece of paper that the license plate sticker came on. I threw it away. That I remembered clearly, but which waste basket?

We arrived at the dealership and recognized the new car parked right out front. I explained to the salesman the missing registration expecting to be told the deal was off until a replacement was available. He scoffed and dismissed my concern with a quick, "Aw, we don't need that."

It would be nice to remember this day for the fun ride home inhaling lots of new car smell and stopping for ice cream to celebrate. Instead, my memory is of us unsucessfully pawing through dirty trash containers. Tomorrow will be better.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Now that I have remembered that cruise I mentioned a few days ago, I may be writing more about it in future days. Word got out in the community where we lived, that we were going on a Caribbean cruise. We got a call from a woman that said her daughter had recently married a man from Martinique. The woman was an artist and had painted a picture of the church in which the couple was married. She was afraid that it would get damaged if she mailed it, plus she said mail service was terrible to Martinique. Would we hand deliver it? What could we say? Of course, we would. We didn’t know that it would be about 3X4 feet. Big enough to be a constant conscious presence in a small ocean liner cabin. The cabin steward said storage with the luggage was “hazardous to its health”. So we put up with it and planned to just jauntily waltz ashore and , if necessary, tell customs what it was and take a taxi to deliver it.

But , Aha, the steward was a snitch. We receive a note to please, see the bursar post haste. He explained that at Martinique the custom officials come aboard prior to anyone being allowed ashore. And then nothing but personal property like camera and purses would be allowed off the ship. He suggested that perhaps we could bring the article to the ballroom where the custom officials would be going over the ships papers and passengers’ passports (all of which were in the possession of the bursar). When the officials had visibly finished their work we could slip in the room and ask one of them to check our parcel. This last was spoken with a tone of voice that a goofus like me did not “get”. I didn’t understand even when we realized that the officials duties included consuming a banquet-like breakfast. This was followed by stuffing their safari style uniforms with multiple sack style pockets with cigarette packs passed among them on huge silver trays.

When the orgy appeared to be slowing down we entered the room. We went up to a table and asked if we could take the painting ashore. “Oh,no,no,no. If you try it will be confiscated and go to a state warehouse.” Despite my pleadings, the answer was repeated several times. At the very moment that I “got” it and started to reach for my wallet, one of the French speaking custom fellows looked at the address on the package, grabbed the package away from me, and practically yelled, “Never mind, never mind! I will confiscate it right here and deliver it to Monsieur ‘I-forget-the-name’ immediately. We are sorry we did not understand.”

So it was that we learned that the artist’s daughter had not married a simple cane cutter, but a high government official. Ashore, we took a taxi to the groom’s office ("What an office”!) to tell him what was going on with his painting. He interrupted to inform us it had already arrived, he had looked at it, it was beautiful, and he had had it taken out to their home to his wife. She was thrilled and wished us to come to dinner. We had to decline due to the early departure of the ship, but I sure would have liked to see where they lived.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Doggone it; I’ve done it again! All my life when it was time to get a new car, I have planned to pit brand against brand, agency against agency, and salesman against salesman. Invariably, I would walk into an agency and walk out having bought a car. A terrible record for a guy whose career was a large part negotiating.

Yesterday, we stopped at an agency just for information on whether GMC was allowing people out of leases early (as we knew from experience they sometimes did). You know the rest. We left after signing the papers for a new, pretty, blue, crossover SUV.
Those guys are good.

This Day

This modern world!! The two youngest grandkids decided to set up a lemonade stand at the end of their driveway today. They live on a cul de sac that sees little traffic, but their optimism was high. It was so high that on the table holding the lemonade they also placed a small bowl labeled “Tips”.

Monday, August 07, 2006

For the last week or so I have been checking out blogs and websites that originate in Baghdad and in Iran. Don’t ask me why or what got me started. It’s the kind of thing you are apt to do when long retired and bored. I did find it interesting but fraught with suspicion and questionable origin. One, Riverbend’s “Baghdad Burning” is a first person journal of life in the city. It is written in English by a 27-year-old girl, educated overseas, who was a computer programmer before the arrival of the Americans. It doesn’t take much reading to understand that she is anti-American, but just a little more reading and you understand why. Her blog is beautifully written and has received awards for the writing and the content. I quickly learned, when I dared to suggest on another site that she be read, that many are convinced that she is some sort of latter day Tokyo Rose. My problem with that is I can’t figure out who might be her sponsor. She appears to be an equal opportunity people-hater. But whether she is amateur or professional, her blog is fascinating insight into every day life in a big city in Iraq.
( )

It all reminded me of when, around fifty years ago, we went on a cruise that stopped at the island of Martinique. With another couple we hired a taxi driver to take us into town on an errand. I will tell that weird story sometime in the future. When that was done, the driver convinced us to let him drive us on a scenic ride around the island. While a so-called overseas department of France, the Martinique people had no say in their government. We were conversing with the driver about the lack of any real traces of democracy. We passed a mean tropical hovel. He stopped the taxi and leaning back over the front seat to speak to us face to face. With real emotion, he told us that twelve people lived in that little shack. He said they spent everyday trying to obtain food to keep themselves alive. He almost shouted that they did not know what a vote would do for them when what they wanted was food and a decent place to live.

That was the day I learned that democracy was not the be all and end all in some parts of the world. I suspect Riverbend is trying to make the same point.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Interesting Poll Results

Someone, somewhere,( I admit to forgetting) posted the following: "There are 10 different kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary, and those who don't". After a pause for the gears to click, I laughed out loud. I thought it was hysterically funny. My ego also kicked in as it considered my reaction a sign of a brain younger than the bod - which is aging rapidly.

Now as most know, we live in a community of senior citizens. We all eat in the same dining room. The wait staff is made up of youngsters still in high school or just graduated and waiting for college. It is the one time of day that we get to interact with youth and these are delightful kids. I decided to do a survey. I typed the joke alone on a piece of paper and took it to dinner.

In a poll so unscientific and lacking in validity as to make a statistician quake, I got the surprise of the day. More senior citizens than high school scholars understood the joke.

All you youngsters, put that in your pipe and smoke it. And if you don't understand the joke, ask the grey haired one who walks with a walker.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Riding Running Boards

When I was in high school very few of my classmates had their own cars. The war had started and you needed a ration card to get gasoline. Besides that, most of us were too poor to be able to buy a car. My job ushering at the playhouse paid 67 cents a night and even in those days, that wouldn’t finance a car. My folks had a 1933 Ford, but only an “A” card entitling the family to three gallons of gas a week. I couldn’t do a lot of joy riding on that. Under those conditions in summer, we thought our friend, Ted, was a looney when he said that he had gotten a job delivering the yellow page phone books door to door. Then we realized that he had managed to upgrade his mother’s gas card on the basis of the delivery job. He drove his mother to her job in the morning then had her car to use all day until time to pick her up.

His territory for the delivery was in a section called Short Hills. The name should be your clue that most houses were up or down steps from the road. It was also a well-to-do area and the houses were big, far apart and a long way from the road. But Ted had that all figured out (in true Tom Sawyer fashion). Every day he enticed several of his friends to help with the lure of riding on the running board, a feature of all cars in those days. You stood on the running board and hooked an arm around the pillar between the front and rear doors. It was more fun that riding in a rumble seat. Anyway, the upshot of all this was that Ted got to sit behind the wheel getting paid to play supervisor while we knocked ourselves running up and down hills carrying phone books that got awfully heavy before the end of the day. By then our main motivation was to empty the car of phone books so there would be room to ride sitting inside on the way home.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What One Doesn’t Know, Can Hurt

While I was working in Paris a zkillion years ago, we had a big party one night. It was to celebrate the finishing of the annual budget. Spouses of Paris folks were invited, while the representatives of the other European countries came single. Previously I had been bemoaning the fact that I worked in Paris but saw very little of the high fashion that was reputed to have its roots there. That evening dashed that complaint. The big boss had invited his secretary who had worked hard on the number crunching in that day before computers. She was very French and far and away the youngest lady there. And she was the very picture of fashion personified. We all met on the second level of the Eiffel Tower at a then fancy nightclub. Unbelievable entertainment including an Edith Piaf-like singer and a meal supplemented with many wines, especially a steady flow of champagne. Our secretary danced the night away with a large percent of the men there and not a few of the women. The representative of the Italian company was a proud lady’s man and he demanded more than his share of dances with her.

Finally we all retired to the bar of a nearby hotel to slow down in order to manage the drive home. Now, the fellow from Italy was a known womanizer who thought himself quite the most dashing charmer there. He had come on to the lady-secretary all evening and since he had a room right there in the same hotel, he turned up his “pitch” to high. The rest of us found this very amusing. Finally, another single at the party spoke up. He was a certified nerd, a geek. He announced to the glamorous lady that he would be happy to drive her home. She accepted in a flash and the Italian went silently ballistic. When they had gone he really lost his cool. The international group that was left conspired, with only glances and facial gestures, not to tell him what everyone, including the geek, knew. She and her partner were, happy, well-adjusted Lesbians, respected and well liked by all that knew them.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Random Thoughts

I have a bunch of things I should be doing, but…

We drove down A1A yesterday to Fort Lauderdale. It was a beautiful day. There is much to see along the way but the ride isn’t what I would call scenic. Most of the scenery is manmade. The so-called Gault Miracle Mile is awesome. It is a line of gigantic condo buildings snuggled up to each other and rising up twenty stories or so. Not for me, but obviously a lot of folks think of that as sunny Florida. The way buildings and homes are going up, it will be true in future years.

Contrary to the forecasters we have had three beautiful days in a row. We have a delightful breeze coming in off the ocean. That keeps the temperature in the livable range. What I don’t understand is how come a breeze that comes from the ocean can provide low humidity. It is about 47% this noon and the temp is 87. Nice.

Our pool was frigid this morning. I like it that way but the majority of the residents here will be unhappy.

This is the first day for a new executive director of this fine institute. I wish her well and hope that the old bitties here can hold off on their griping and let her get off to a pleasant start. The army isn’t the only outfit that is happy only when it has something to complain about.

The shuttle landed safely this morning and we could hear the sighs of relief all the way from Cape Canaveral. It was a beautiful landing.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Why I Hunt and Peck

The other night in the middle of the night I was awake and out of bed with aching legs. I suppose it was the legs that got me thinking about my mother (she suffered from a similar malady). In turn, I began wondering about some of the simple mistakes we make without a semblance of a reasonable excuse. When I was in the early high school years, my mother tried to teach me Gregg shorthand and touch-typing.
Remember this was before the concept of computers had even appeared in “Popular Mechanics" or "Popular Science". I was aware the only people that took typing or shorthand in school were girls. Mom tried to convince me that these skills would be very useful in college, but I would have none of it.

I know, in the next generation, I would be called a male chauvinistic pig. I know and I suffer for it. On ordinary keyboards I see today’s youth (no matter the gender) type like the wind. These young people can type on a tiny blackberry with two thumbs almost faster than I can think. And I go along hunting and pecking with two fingers and an occasional thumb on the spacebar.

One thing leads to another. I bet if I had overcome my macho-ism and learned to type, I wouldn’t be so dependant on “spell-check” today. Of course, another misplaced some-thing-or-other had effects long after a simple goof. In my first years with a secretary I got fairly proficient at dictating memos, reports and the like. I could use a Dictaphone at home and bring the tapes in or at the office dictate directly to the secretary.

When I arrived in France, I was assigned a secretary. She was older and of the "bath-every-Saturday ,needed-or-not club". She also felt brushing the teeth was “sissy”. Her English was not the best and the dictating sessions were long. Air conditioning was rudimentary and these long sessions of the intimacy required for dictating became painful. I was too chicken to fire her. (There are corporate truths. She and the higher hierachy were long time buddies.) I requested a Dictaphone, but none was forthcoming so I (thinking to be out of options) took to writing out what needed to be typed. I got out of the habit of dictation and never really picked it up again. Of course, in retirement a secretary would be a ridiculous luxury so this message is brought to you via the same hunt and peck process first mastered in high school. Who says we were the generation of progress?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Cereal Boxes

This morning there was a time constraint on my getting breakfast. After 8:00AM I was not to eat or drink again until after a test scheduled for 12:00 noon. Since that meant nothing more to eat until 2:30 or so, I decided to eat a larger than normal breakfast. I would have an English muffin AND dry cereal. It was a new box of cereal, never opened. The box opened quickly and easily. There was my “Smart Start” right before my eyes protected by the plastic bag common to dry cereals. I tugged and I strained, my poor old arthritic thumbs could not open that pseudo-wax paper bag. Finally, in desperation I resorted to scissors, something I have never before had to do.

Have you ever noticed that packaging engineers cannot achieve a consistent amount of glue to seal cracker boxes, cereal boxes, detergent boxes and anything where the glue has to be applied after the product is in the container? I have never had much respect for packaging engineers. They are so imbued with the thought that their mission in life is to “protect the product”, that they ignore the consumer who must have the product in hand to use or eat it. But they don’t seem to monitor the volume of glue nor its tenacity used on a packaging line moving at the speed of a space shuttle. Bah!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Genius with Humor

I should save this story until Christmas, but it just popped into my conscious memory. Six months from now surely it will be back to where memories hide from us.

About fifty years ago I was living in a cozy suburban community in North New Jersey. We were only a mile or so from the vast research campus of Bell Telephone Laboratories. The result was that a big part of our social scene was made up of “Bell Lab” people. We participated in a little theatre group and one of our stars was a very unique Bell Lab engineer. He had a mind like few I have ever known. He would drive the director of a production to the brink with his habit of never learning his lines during rehearsals. On the night of the dress rehearsal (with an audience) he suddenly knew his part and everyone else’s too. But that isn’t the story I started to tell.

Gus, our actor friend, did not have a college education and worked midst thousands of PhDs. Some treated him with distain for his lack of formal education, but they didn’t know Gus’s wild imagination and skills. He had a lab of his own and one November he locked himself in his lab and relocked it whenever he left it. This went on for several weeks. In December he came out in the hall and accosted one of the snobbish PhDs. Gus asked him if he thought it might be nice to write a holiday message on an oscilloscope tube. The PhD explained to Gus (patronizingly) that it was an analyzing device. Aside from some known voltage patterns; a specific pattern could not be created. (see dictionary definition:

oscilloscope |əˈsiləˌskōp| |əˌsɪləˈskoʊp| |əˌsɪləskəʊp|
a device for viewing oscillations, as of electrical voltage or current, by a display on the screen of a cathode-ray tube)

Gus waved this fellow into the lab and asked him to throw a switch in front of his oscilloscope. It wrote out in script :
"Merry Christmas" and after a pause, added: "to all" on a second line.

Over the coming weeks there was a steady stream of people, including the President of Bell Telephone, who came to see this miracle that Gus had accomplished. Meanwhile Gus had gone home to play with his kids for the holiday. He was also the first that worked flex-time with management tolerance. They knew genius when they saw it.

You also have probably seen an example of Gus’s genius in a novelty shop. Bell Lab licensed this one to novelty manufacturers. Remember the small coffin with a switch, like a light switch, above the coffin. When you throw the switch, the lid of the coffin opens and from it a forearm and hand rise up and turn off the switch, then descent back into the coffin and the lid closes. A silly gimmick, which uses new electronic principals never conceived of previously. The original was the outcome of another sojourn of Gus in a locked lab. The original arm was lifesize and wore Gus’s watch and wedding ring.

Gus was another proof that humor can share a genius’s brain and be a part of true creativity.