Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Glamorous Paris

I was reading the blog of LaCoquette (www.lacoquette.blogs.com/) that she wrote on arriving back in Paris after a work vacation in the States. She described her trials and tribulations with the flight and then described her glee at being back in Paris. She spoke of the feeling of Paris . No other city feels the same. I agree with her. It is like nowhere else.

So why was I so anxious to return to New Jersey after working in Paris? Let me count the ways - oh no, that's something else. Anyway, first, we spent the Christmas holiday in Switzerland. My 11 year old son and I were on an elevator and someone asked him, in English, where he was from. He said, "Paris". That stuck in my craw. I wished he had said, at least, the United States, if not the town.

Then, one Saturday morning we were out of working flashlight batteries. I went down to the local Prisunic, a sort of prehistoric Walmart. A department store with everything from clothing to groceries. I doubt I've spelled it right. The manager had appointed a little girl as translater for our family. Her response was to hide every time she saw one of us. (You who are fluent in French know where this is going) In truth, her English was not a lot better than my French. I found her and started my charade game. But how the heck do you do a flashlight, say nothing about the thingy that makes it go. I know I should have brought one of the dead ones, but I didn't. She was completely baffled. Finally in frustration, I almost yelled, "BATTERY!" She said , "Oh, battery." And walked me right to them. When I got home I looked it up in the dictionary. Same word - two languages. I brooded about how much easier it is to do business when everyone speaks the same tongue.

The final straw was one morning at Orly Airport. I was on the way to somewhere and stopped in the men's room just before getting on the plane. I was standing there doing what I came in to do when a female voice behind me said, "Bon Jour". Without a thought, I looked over my shoulder and said, "Bon Jour, Mademoiselle". On the plane I thought about it and decided I really didn't want to get used to ladies in the men's room.

I decided we should go home.

Monday, February 27, 2006

I can't seem to get these posts into the correct order. It will make more sense if you read the following posts in reverse order. Thank you.


I can't seem to figure out how to reverse the two posts here. It will make more sense if you read "An Explosion" first and then come back to this one. Thanks.

The school year had progressed without major disruption and spring arrived. The war continued. We lived with rationing of food and fuel and with shortages of necessities. Johnny had gone off to dodge the German torpedoes. School was somewhat of an oasis of calm. Another friend, also named John, and I went to work at a Boy Scout Camp for the summer. As senior year of high school started we were met by the realization “this was it! The boys of the class would be heading into the service soon after graduation. Reports were coming back of casualties among people from classes that graduated before us and the war seemed closer every day. Maybe that had something to do with what happened six weeks or so before the end of the year. I was in English class and there was a stir. Classmates were smiling and waving toward the door. I looked over and through that clear glass pane in the center of the door window was the scarred face of Johnny, grinning in at us. Without a thought several of us just got up and walked out the class. We had a noisy reunion in the hallway and then at our urging Johnny started recounting his adventures sailing to Russia and back. The class bell rang and we ignored it and the last class of the day. We hung with Johnny, our own personal veteran.

I had a pretty good academic record in high school. I think I have written before this that I left for college before high school ended. I was there when I got my final high school report card. The English teacher gave me a “C” for walking out of her class. With all that was going on in my life I didn’t care much. But I heard later that she caught hell from some of the other teachers for messing up my record. We all have our war stories.

An Explosion

I recall it was one of those sparkling clear and chilly fall mornings. The war was all around us. The radio counted the dead each morning. There were reports of the night bombings over Europe. We lived with rationing of food and fuel and shortages of necessities. School, however, was something of an oasis of calm. I was a Junior in high school. We were sitting in our homeroom. I can’t remember why I was there. I didn’t have any classes with my homeroom teacher; but I was there, perhaps I had a study hour. I do remember that there was simultaneously a flash of light and a clap of thunder right outside our room. A bomb?/ We were all stunned and deafened. When we could hear, we were engulfed in the sharp, shrill sound of fire alarmseverywhere in the building. Our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Simms, bless her heart, took charge quickly. She herded us to the door, but having figured out what was happening, she headed us to the left down the long hall, toward the staircase in the center of the building. At fire drills we had always gone right, to the close-by staircase, but that led us by the chemistry lab. It was full of smoke which was pouring out into the hall. I don’t remember much more except faculty members all yelling, “DON”T RUN!” repeatedly and frantically.

Next day the newspaper headlines were “High School Explosion Hurts 4”. In those days of no TV, no cell phones and no local radio, we had lived on rumors since it happened. One of the rumors had a friend of mine as a culprit. The paper confirmed that and the fact he was the most seriously injured. He and two buddies had decided to makes some fireworks during Chemistry Club. Johnny, my friend, had been grinding ingredients in a mortar. Boom! Johnny lost an eye, several fingers and was cut up quite badly. Two others who were in kahoots with Johnny, had less serious injuries. Mr. Tome, the chemistry teacher had been with other students in the back of the room. He received some minor cuts.

By the time Johnny got out of the hospital and had fully recovered, it was spring and too late for him to get back to school. The school board had held an investigation and Johnny told them that the Mr. Tome had no idea what Johnny and his buddies were doing. He was a good teacher and a heck of a nice guy. It was wartime and teachers were hard to find, so they kept him on. Johnny and buddies got a public scolding which had them hanging head pretty low. Johnny tried to join the Army and the Navy, but both turned him down. The Merchant Marine accepted him and he went to sea.

Tomorrow...the rest of the story

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Upon Returning

Upon Returning

I realize that I have contributed little to the blathering online lately. I apologize, either for the lapse or for the return, which ever suits your mood. I have been occupied. Yesterday was the day we were to meet with the CPA to go over the income tax situation. Such a date inhibits my playing around on the computer. Every time I would sit down, I realized I should be working on the taxes. That is out of the way.

I’ve had tummy problems and so the GI man made arrangements for me to have a rather new test. Some emergency, I know not what, befell the nurse that was to set it up and I have been waiting almost a month. The thought of it rode around in the back of my mind for a long while. Tuesday, I swallowed the TV camera and went all day with a receiver for the signals from the camera strapped around my waist and to the sticky things stuck on my chest and abdomen. Couldn’t eat anything for almost 24 hours. Not something that induces one to write blogs. They tell me it can take up to two weeks to analyze the pictures the camera takes. Walgreen’s probably could develop them faster.

When soon I come back, I will tell about the chemistry lab explosion that livened up our Junior year in High School.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Early Air Travel

Today when we think of “Air Travel”, we imagine giant jets zooming in and out of Charles de Gaulle, Heathrow, JFK and the other modern city airports. Multiple gates for boarding and deplaning, trams and conveyers to carry passengers and luggage to and from wherever. The very image of “modern” with voices out of the sky and announcement boards that flash and point. It is all quite romantic and next-worldish with computers determining everything.

BUT... back in 1950, we were going to Lake Champlain in northern Vermont for vacation. We were taking my grandmother (“Gram”) and my wife’s mother (“Mimi”) along. Our car was small and with all the stuff and nonsense we felt it necessary to take, we didn’t have room for every one. It was agreed that Mimi, a certified character and willing to try anything, would fly to Burlington, Vermont, from Philadelphia. Mimi arrived at the Philadelphia airport early and decided to buy a new dress. (Why? Heaven knows! that was Mimi.) Her suitcase already given over to the airline, she carried the dress in its box until boarding time when it was checked. This was before “carry-ons”.

Her plane, on its way to Montreal, stopped at Burlington about 9:00PM. We were there to meet her. She got off and stood waiting beside the plane for her luggage. Her suitcase was dug out of the fuselage by the co-pilot, but there was no sign of the dress. Much arguing ensued. My wife and I were back behind a low chain link fence and couldn’t join the fray. But Mimi was doing fine. The Captain was insisting that there was no dress box on the plane and Mimi insisting she had seen it come on aboard. Finally, the Captain said he was going to take off and climbed aboard. Mimi said, “Not until I get my dress!” She walked right out in front of the two whirling propellers and stood with her arms folded. The Captain gunned the engines a couple times but this gray haired old lady stood perfectly still. He saw his on-time record going down the tube and he surrendered. He climbed down and at that time, my wife and I were drawn into the situation. The Captain asked us to pull her away from the plane (HA!) and she agreed to leave if we gave him directions to our camp on the lake and he promised to find her dress and have it delivered the next day.

Sure enough, a taxi from the Burlington Airport arrived the following day with her dress. Custom markings on the box showed it had crossed the border north into Canada the previous night and come south in the morning into the US again. I sort of wish I could tell you she never wore the dress while she was there, but I can’t. It was a very appropriate vacation dress and she wore it frequently. As usual, Mimi was right on all counts. And the Air Travel industry survived her first flight.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Times Change

Just one little story to illustrate the “Old Days”. Back in the early and mid- 50’s college graduates in the sciences capable of doing research were pretty well able to write their own ticket. All chemists with any clout would go to the annual convention of the American Chemical Society. My company would agree to send us, but they would only pay for three-in-a-room accommodations. I arrived in Atlantic City somewhat early and went to check-in to one of the big hotels there at that time. The stereotypical, supercilious room clerk took my name and, noting the three in a room reservation, rather haughtily told me, “Ah yes, you will be sharing a room with the Drs. ‘Smith’” I replied that I felt that wouldn’t be satisfactory. The poor jerk would not believe that one of the Doctors might be a Mrs. Dr. Smith that went with a Mr. Dr Smith. Then he blamed everyone else for what he called the “error”. Finally a Hotel Manager calmly gave me a single and left the Smiths alone in the triple. So all but the clerk were happy. It made for a standing joke between the Smiths and I for years. One of the Dr. Smiths went on to be a big wheel in the chemical industry. ...but I won’t tell you which.