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.