Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2021

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Mipissssissippi, Misippiss, Mippiississ,…Texas

SOME DAYS THINGS WORK OUT FINE…and then other days – well…

Mipissssissippi, Misippiss, Mippiississ

I do believe that we have become “Snow Bunnies” of a sort. Consider that we have made three – count ’em, Three trips since October from our home in Terre Haute down to south Texas. It is only a two and a half hour flight, but we have done these trips earthbound. In these days of Nasty Viruses we feel better avoiding both Airplanes and Airports.

Driving to and from Hoosierland to the Coastal Territory near Corpus Christi, Texas is about 1200 miles each way. I say “about” because it depends on your route. You can save a few miles by driving through Arkansas and squeezing your nervous system through Downtown Houston. We have done that a couple of times and I will do almost anything to avoid doing it again. On this last trip to see the family and to NOT see Midwest ice and snow we followed a different route. It added about 100 miles each way, but it lowered my blood pressure and my heartbeat significantly.

Rather than drive through the Arkansas Pinball Machine of Route 40 where Big Rig Semis outnumber cars 25 to one and the speed limit is restricted only by Einstein’s Theory about the speed of light. Instead we cut straight south and went through the lovely State of Mississippi border to border.

Interstate 55 in Mississippi is my new favorite stretch of highway. It is well maintained, not overly busy, and goes through some beautiful countryside. They also had a Road sign that made my feeble mind drag up some old cliches and stereotypes. Hopefully, nobody will be offended, but if they are…too bad. I can’t let a joke get away from me so easily.

This is the sign that we saw posted every few miles.

What caught my jaundiced eye was the part about throwing trash on the highway. I read that and my twisted sense of tacky and tasteless humor kicked into high gear. It was a good thing that we made no stops inside Mississippi other than the obligitory rest stops to… relieve ourselves, shall we say.

As we plunged southward through the Magnolia State (As I learned from another sign) my mind concocted this short monologue.

“We were driving through Yalobusha County, heading south, when I saw a sign along side the road. Do you see that sign? The one about there being a $250 Dollar fine for throwing trash on the highway? Well, I saw it and it has brought back a sad memory that still haunts our Family to this day.

Seeing that sign made me remember about that unpleasant day when our beloved, though hard to live with, Cousin Billy Bob Beaureguard ran afoul of The Law. It was not that he hadn’t done the same thing dozens of times, but this time he got caught doing it in front of that State Trooper.

Billy Bob was caught up in a technicality when he was driving along and got into an argument with his youngest son, Jasper, and threw him out of his truck while driving down the highway just outside of Coffeeville. That boy, Jasper, was no good to begin with and everybody knew it. The Judge knew it too and instead of charging Billy Bob with any ‘Attempted This or That” he nicked him for that $250 dollar fine because everybody knew that boy, Jasper, was trash.”

You can see why I would not want to say that out loud in front of any Mississippians. They might either be offended by the cliches or upset that I was airing the Families dirty laundry in public. I thought of it and we wisely chose to continue driving until we were across the State Line.

(We are just skipping Louisiana here. I’m in enough trouble.)

 

 

 

 

 

Krakatoa Christmas

DON’T CALL ME SCROOGE, but I am glad that the Holiday Season is over. It’s not that I don’t enjoy getting together with family and friends, sharing good memories, and hopes for the future. I truly do love all of that. It is just that I find it all so very exhausting.

The “Holiday Season” starts with Halloween (Like it or not.) and doesn’t end until after the New Year’s Day festivities. For some people the end doesn’t come until the Super Bowl. Personally, I could not care less about that. I might care if the Cleveland Browns were in the game, but I‘m not holding my breath on that.

For over two months everything is in a whirl of shopping, eating WAAAAY too much, traveling, being pleasant with everybody, and wading through the tons of catalogs that overflow the mailbox. I find it all more than I can deal with calmly, maintaining a clear brain, and a digestive tract that doesn’t resemble Krakatoa West of my Liver. By the time the New Year starts I am a shambles. This year was even more difficult. I think I now know what all of those discarded Christmas trees feel like after a ride through the wood chipper.

This year we spent most of December in Texas. We drove there and back. Let me do the math for you – that was a round trip of about 2500 miles.

Ho Ho Ho

We split The Going and The Coming into three days each way. I can no longer do those marathon drives of 700 miles in a day. My butt just can’t take it anymore. Fifty years ago I could have made the Texas trip in two days, but no more. Back in 1970 I drove from Bar Harbor, Maine all the way to the Washington D.C. burbs in one day. That was about 750 miles in one day! I was young and foolish.

I’m not young anymore.

After traveling like that I need several days to recuperate. I can’t get up at 7 AM, make tea and coffee, and be a sociable breakfast companion. I need to stay in bed unconscious and eventually be a passable lunch companion.

I think what I need to start doing as the Holiday Season approaches again is to go into training as if I was going to compete in the Olympics.

I’ll start in July. I will spend hours sitting in an uncomfortable chair. I will start practicing on my Christmas present wrapping skills. This year everything I wrapped looked like it was done by an arthritic Orangutan.

Another area I’ll need to work on is Eating…Holiday Eating. That means eating too much, doing so at odd hours, and having a severely unbalanced diet. Cookies will become one of the major food groups. Did you know that there must be twenty different kinds of Oreo Cookies?

So you see…it’s not that I don’t like the Holidays. It is more like the Holidays have passed me by. I find that all of those things I took in stride in my youth now require some serious preparation. I’ll be ready when this year’s Holiday Season rolls around. I don’t want to face another year with my intestinal tract taking no prisoners.

Groundhog Day Redux…And A Few Days Early.

This is the last Friday in January. Groundhog Day is officially next Tuesday and I have no intention of doing anything on that day that might be considered work. So…

Here is a repeat of a Groundhog Day post from a few years ago. It was a tragic and bloody day. Everyone knows that Groundhog Day makes sense only in a small town in the hills of Pennsylvania – not in New York City.

HAPPY GROUNDHOG DAY!

Unless you live in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania today is just another Friday. If you do live in Punxutawney, Pennsylvania then this is the one day in the year that anyone gives a hedgehog’s patoot about your town. Today is the day when the Network Morning Shows will give you a 90 second live cutaway to see the annual Groundhog ceremony…and then that’s it until next year.

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How To Make A Killing In Massachusetts

I saw a little item in the Real Estate section of the news recently that had my brain come to a screeching halt.

Does the name “Lizzie Borden” mean anything to you? If it doesn’t, it should.

While the O. J. Simpson trial may have been The Trial of the 20th Century the Lizzie Borden trial has that title for the 19th Century.

Picture if you will: Fall River, Massachusetts, in August of 1892. It was a quiet day until the calm was ruptured by the horrifying screams from the Borden Home. Inside the house were the mutilated bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Borden. Both of them had been savagely attacked with an axe.

There have been Movies, TV Shows, Dramatic Stage Plays (I was in one a few years ago), and even Rock Musicals about Lizzie Borden. She was arrested and tried for the murders. There was evidence, but no one could believe that Lizzie could do such a horrible thing. She was acquitted. She walked out of that courtroom and lived in Fall River until her death in 1927.

Now the “Lizzie Borden House” in Fall River is up for sale for a cool $2 Million Dollars. In recent years the house has been a very spooky, if well appointed, Bed and Breakfast and Museum.

“You too can sit on the couch where Lizzie’s Daddy had his head sliced and diced!”

I suppose that there are people for whom this house and it’s morbid history make it a “must see” destination, but not for me. I would rather to stay in a luxurious hotel where the only meat cutting takes place in a four-star restaurant.

                 Daddy’s Last Nap

I can just imagine that there will be a string of “Looky-Loos” who will want to get a free tour of the house and snap a few pictures to show the relatives back home. 

  Don’t go into the Bedroom Momma!

If I was the Real Estate Agent trying to sell this house I would hire a few local Community Theater Performers to just wander around the house in period costumes…covered in blood. I’d have a Lizzie Look-a-Like, give her a bloody hatchet, and let her walk around singing”I’ve written a letter to Daddy.” Of course it would make no sense and be in terribly bad taste, but I don’t think that would scare away any potential buyers. They might even get a History Channel Special out of it.          

 

When I did that Theatrical Production a few years ago I learned an interesting tidbit of information about the whole bloody mess. It seems that after Lizzie’s Mother passed away Daddy remarried to a woman with a son (that was my role.). The story goes that on the day following the murders Daddy had an appointment scheduled with his attorney when he was going to be changing his will to leave the house to the new Step-Son and leaving Lizzie and her sister out in the cold. Daddy didn’t make it to that appointment.

Did Lizzie do it? You tell me, but I don’t think that the Real Estate Agent is the only one making a killing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real And Unreal…Estate That is.

SOME DAYS i WONDER IF WHAT I SEE BEFORE ME IS REAL. Some days I’m sure, but, then again…
Not long ago while we were down in Texas for the Holidays my wife, the lovely and native Texan, along with Alex our son, were on a grocery run. That involved ordering online and then going to the Supermarket to fetch our stuff like a pack of dogs.
My favorite part of these trips to the HEB Supermarket had nothing to do with groceries. A few hundred yards from the Supermarket was the only St. Arbucks in the area. I was burning through my accumulated Reward Points like a house afire, but that’s why I’d been saving them. I knew that we would be going for groceries via the Drive-Thru Lane at St. Arbucks. This one day, however, there was something different. 
I placed our order online before we even got close. When we arrived at the St. Arbucks there were at least a half dozen cars ahead of us. There was going to be a wait. We had time to just look around and gawk. Dawn noticed that the car in line ahead of us had California license plates inside a frame that proclaimed them to be L.A. Dodger fans. The fact that we were in a rental car was the only thing that kept us from ramming into him.
When we finally inched up to the ordering speaker I spotted something taped to the big Menu Board. It was a Business Card. Whoever had taped it there must have been waiting in line just like us and figured, “What the heck. Why not.” They had to have gotten out of their car, pulled out their tape dispenser, and walked over to the Menu Board.
I had to know what was up.
I didn’t get out of our car, but I did hang out of the window like an Irish Setter so I could read the card. It belonged to a local Real Estate Agent who will remain nameless here. How desperate she must have been for business that she would think to herself – “Hmmm, I’ll bet a lot of people decide to buy or sell their homes while waiting in line for a Frappuchino and a Cookie.”
After seeing her card sadly taped there we still had another ten minutes in line and I began to recall my last dealings with a Real Estate Agent.
Agent Dan sold me a house in Cleveland back in the Seventies. He also sold it for me a few years later. He was a real Pro. He was also an Ex-Luftwaffe Fighter Pilot.  After “The War” he bounced around Europe for a time and ended up in Cleveland along with thousands of other “Displaced Persons.” There were very few job openings in Cleveland for Ex-Luftwaffe pilots so he ended up selling houses. Somehow his war experience made him an Ace Real Estate Salesman. I doubt if the desperate card-taping St. Arbucks agent could match my Agent Dan’s resume. Few people could.
By the time I got my Venti Iced Coffee and Dawn and Alex got their Non-Coffee Confections I began to feel sorry for the woman who had stuck her business card in the waiting line at Starbucks. I think that maybe her career has been shot down by someone tougher.

There Has To Be A Better Way There

I MAY NOT KNOW WHERE I AM ALL THE TIME, BUT I’M NEVER LOST.

At least that is how I like to think I’m getting around in this world. One method that I use to find my way is with maps. I like maps. I love maps. I have always loved maps.

Maps are Functional Art.

Just before we started off on our latest One Conestoga Wagon pilgrimage to Texas I noticed that my Road Atlas was severely out of date. A 2015 Road Atlas ain’t gonna get me anywhere but lost. I needed an update. I toddled off to Amazon and ordered the 2021 edition of the “Rand McNally Road Atlas.” I was going to be up to date in The U.S., Canada and Mexico. All those maps would be like tossing candy bars in front of a crowd of kids. I wanted to curl up and look at them all, go over each page and imagine myself there. Did I mention that I love maps?

My Amazon order was not going to come in time for our Indiana to Texas trip so I had it sent to Texas for us to use – hopefully to get us a better routing for our way home. Driving from Terre Haute to just north of Corpus Christi is a little shy of 1150 miles and it’s not a fun drive. Our route took us from Indiana into Illinois, south into Missouri (boring), and then across Arkansas on the most crowded road I’ve ever driven on. Route 30 in Arkansas has about 25 fully loaded Semis for every car. The speed limit was…irrelevant. There were times when, just to keep from being run over, I was going close to 90 MPH. At that speed trucks with over-sized loads passed me like I was standing still. It was like being inside a Japanese Pachinko Machine.

My brand spanking new 2021 Road Atlas arrived the day after we arrived at our destination. For me it was an early Christmas Morning. My new toy had arrived!

OK…The way I look at it is that instead of driving through Houston again on the way north (Another Pachinko moment) and having to scream through Arkansas again like a .22 Caliber bullet in the middle of a Howitzer barrage we will drive East on I-10 into Louisiana and then north through Mississippi. It may add a few miles overall but it should significantly cut down on my stomach acid production and jaw clenching bad dreams.

Here’s Hoping.

Once our trip back to Indiana is complete I will report on how and if things went. I hope that there will be no “Film at 11!” links about our trip. It’s the Holiday Season and I don’t need any more Drama. I am already craving boredom.

Down at the end of today’s offering I have posted a link to a song that, to me, talks about maps and, again to me, about driving through Houston and Arkansas. It is called “Columbus” and is performed by an incredible Irish singer, Mary Black.

Haven’t We Seen This Movie Before?

WE’VE BEEN WATCHING A LOT OF TV LATELY.

The movie theaters are closed and most of our favorite eateries are Drive-Through only again.

Like most people we have been grounded by this virus thingy. As a result my wife, the lovely and Queen of All Cable Channels, Dawn, and I have been living in our sedative chairs in front of the 40″ Flat Screen. I have to admit that I am not as savvy as I should be about navigating my way around all of the channels that are available. Therefore, Dawn is also wearing the Captain’s Hat. she hits a few buttons on the remote and about five million options appear. I sit in awe. The World is our Oyster Pizza.

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Driving, Driving, Driving

Driving. Driving. Driving. Changing Lanes. Changing States.

It’s a long drive from Indiana to Southern Texas and back to Indiana. We just finished making that round trip and we are about to do it again.

We break each half of that Great Circle Route into a three day journey. Long gone are the days when I could spend 12 hours behind the wheel. These days after about 300 – 400 miles my brain turns to fudge and my butt turns to cheap plywood. Going on a trek of approximately 1150 miles each way is not to be taken lightly.

Driving. Driving. Driving.

Day One: On the road from near Corpus Christi heading north. After a full day of playing Dodgeball with 18-Wheelers and “Wide Load” Haulers we are still inside Texas. We drive from Corpus north through Houston on a Sunday afternoon. The roads are jammed and beyond comprehension. When I realize that I am beginning to babble we stop for the night in Lufkin, Texas. That is all I can do with my Old Geezer eyes and reflexes.

Moments later, really after a number of hours sleeping in a strange hotel bed it is time to get up, get gassed up, and coffeed up. Pulling out of the parking lot we head North again then veer to the East into Arkansas. We are entering a different world.

Yesterday I was driving North through the skyscraper forest of Houston and today it is rolling past

(c)Ken Steinhoff 561-727-9645

small town America – places like “Cooter,” Missouri. I don’t know the story behind a town named Cooter, but I can imagine anyone bragging about being from Cooter.

Driving. Driving. Driving.

The car thermometer says that the bright and sunny day is in the mid-80s, but for mile after mile along the side of the road it looks like there are the remnants of a wintertime blizzard clinging to the ground. It’s not snow that we are seeing but cotton. Along our route we have been seeing large trucks loaded with huge plastic wrapped bales of Cotton. For some reason the shippers have decided to leave the ends of each bale uncovered and the turbulent air along the highway plucks out a steady rain of Cotton onto the road.

Driving. Driving. Driving.

Most of our route is along the Interstate Highway System, but part of the way in Texas, Arkansas, and Illinois is on State Routes. That is where you can see the unusual and unique. Roadside attractions that are incredibly uninteresting. I’m sorry folks, but a historical marker and museum dedicated to an event or local hero I’ve never heard of just doesn’t make me want to pull over. To be truthful, the most unusual thing I saw along our trip was in Southern Illinois – a dead Armadillo belly up by the side of the road. I didn’t expect to see an Armadillo that far North. My guess is that it was hitching a ride on one of the Cotton Haulers and when he saw that he was heading toward Chicago he threw himself to the pavement in desperate attempt to avoid that.

It is a long drive from Terre Haute, Indiana all the way to Corpus Christi. I think the drive home is more difficult because of the curvature of the earth. Going from South to North is uphill. I wish that Carl Sagan was still around. I’d ask him about that.

“Billions and billions of bits of Cotton along the uphill drive through Texas, Arkansas, right past Cooter, Missouri, all the way to Indiana just made your trip seem longer.”

Shifting Gears

Sometimes changes are thrust upon us by circumstances beyond our control. Being the Wannabe control freak that I am I do not like such changes – but like everyone else I have to accept and live with them.

I’m dealing with one such change right now.

With all of the Fooferaw about this virus thing I’d been hearing about there was one change that really tossed my routine into the laundry hamper of my life.

For a number of years I was used to getting up in the morning, driving down to the nearby St. Arbucks and writing for an hour or two. Six days a week I did that – and then that Corona Sumptin or Other butted in.

St. Arbucks became a Drive-Thru only and I was left on the outside looking in. Horror of Horrors! Oh, the Humanity! My writing sanctuary was taken away from me. Why didn’t they just cut off my fingers and gouge out my eyes? I don’t care what any says – writing at the Kitchen Table just wasn’t the same. There were just too many distractions.

Circle The Wagons!

This sudden and sadistic exile didn’t completely stop me from going down the street and getting my coffee. It just changed the How and Why of it all. My trips for coffee became social outings rather than creative efforts. I would abase myself by going through the line and getting my coffee handed to me from a small window. Doing it that way ended my free refills (Sob, Sob).

After being handed my plastic cup of iced coffee I would drive around the building and into the Kroger supermarket parking lot and join four or five other exiled coffee sippers who had set up an impromptu and ad hoc Gypsy encampment. Instead of writing every morning I was now spending my time chewing the fat with other retirees. It was a pleasant diversion, but nothing was getting written.

It was during this caffeinated diaspora that I restarted this blog with a weekly rather than a daily output. Writing any longer Fiction became almost impossible. All I could produce were 500 – 700 word bursts of extended random thoughts.

This Parking Lot Coffeehenge of circled SUVs went on all through the Spring and Summer. It was in early September that things began to look up. It was then that they unlocked the doors at St. Arbucks. We could go inside to order, and we could stay inside but there were only a few randomly placed seats. Our solution was to loiter outside in what the Manager of the store called “The Patio.” The Patio was about five feet wide and thirty feet long – not a traditional design. This same crew of Geezers was happy to move from the parking lot to The Patio just because it also opened up their emergency access to the Men’s Room. There were a few available tables available I was additionally happy because I could now get my free refills! This “better than nothing” improvement was a relief but it was still not helping my writing.

In Mid-September my prayers were answered…to a degree. Actually it was a lack of degrees that made me smile. We had a cold snap that made our early morning Patio Parties unbearable. I was not going to sit out there when it was only 8 degrees above freezing! I was the first one of our Senior Citizen Play Group to move inside. They were nice fellows but I wasn’t going to freeze for them.

For the first few days I was inside all alone and, wonder of wonders, I was able to write again! After about a week of icy temperatures the guys began to join me inside. Their Senior Bones had begun to object to the chill. On most days this group would begin to arrive at about 7:30 AM. When I was inside all alone I began to be creative, but when they followed me into the warmer interior everything fell apart again. My only solution was to come in even earlier than they could handle.

The St. Arbucks had returned to their earlier business hours opening at 5:30 AM for the Insomniacs and Methheads who were still up from last Wednesday…and the odd writer or two. I altered my schedule to arrive at about 6:00 AM to give me a good 90 minutes of writing time. It works for me. I get my work done and I remain a Social Animal.

I am once again a Happy Scribbler.

Six Kolaches Over Texas – From 2017

 

kol1SOME THINGS ARE WORTH EATING.

Other things are not.

A nicely done “medium-rare” steak – Yes. A “well-done” steak – No.

 Fried Chicken – Yes. KFC – No.

Airline Cookies, Cheap Mexican Food, and Beets – No, No, and No.

Kolaches – YES!

Kolaches? Wazzat?

Sit and learn, my child.

kolaches-29

 

Few places in the world produce more delicious pastries than the kitchens of Eastern Europe. I grew up enjoying the wonderful delights from my Aunt Annette’s ancient cookbook. That may also be part of the reason I graduated from size Medium to Large before I could read.

Kolaches are a Czech creation I believe, although there are variations from all over Eastern Europe.

When we were down in Texas with Family for Christmas I learned that kolaches are BIG in Texas. A flock of Czech bakers must have avoided Ellis Island and came into the country through Houston.

A few days before Christmas, with all of us caught up in a severe holiday hunger, it was decided that kolaches were needed – Now – and lots of them. Somebody had the phone number of the local Tex-Czech Bakery and – Poof! Kolaches appeared on the dining room table. More like 6 dozen.

These Czech Old World pastries that are as popular as Dr. Pepper and Barbeque in South Texas are a phenomenon. Some people might say that they look like your basic Danish pastry, but I wouldn’t say that in front of any Tex-Czech baker. They take their Old Country kolaches roots very seriously. I think wars have started over less.

There were about a dozen people around that table, ready to pounce on the six dozen kolaches. Those kolaches didn’t have a chance.

whitetip

Picture, if you will, a school of Great White Sharks circling six dozen wounded sea bass. Apricot, Cheese (Not Danish), Prune (Still not Danish), and Cherry sea bass kolaches were devoured at a frightening rate.

Yumilicious!

Now, in complete honesty, I am not a big sweets person all that much anymore. Advancing age and A1C have tempered my childhood appetites – but I joined in the Great Kolache Feeding Frenzy of 2016. My personal score that day remains a family secret. I held my own, but there were a couple who could easily consider turning Pro.

20161226_124941

There were six dozen kolaches at the start. By the end of that session there were five dozen MIA. In its own way it was both soul stirring and frightening. The surviving kolaches quickly disappeared under aluminum foil and were secreted away only to be wolfed down in a midnight raid on the kitchen. There were no survivors.

Back in Terre Haute (That’s French for “I want another kolache.”) I had my mind set on visiting the one place in town I knew of where kolaches could be found. As I drove up to the front of the building I saw a sign in the window – Closed! Just shoot me now. Go ahead, get my taste buds all worked up into a dither and then close down my one and only hope.

That was no way to end 2016 or start off the New Year!

Illegal drugs can be found almost anywhere, but … but … I want my kolaches! What do I have to do to get some kolaches? It’s a long drive to both Texas or to the Czech Republic, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!

brucefromfindingnemolaughing1

Tangos, Accordions, And Something Else

As I’m sure you know by now if you have followed this blog very long – I am not a fan of cold weather. Cold weather to me is anytime the temperature drops below 70° F. When I see the thermometer head South I know that it is time to break out the Woolens.

When it starts to get cold, by my own personal definition, I am notified by my body that unless I do something soon, I can be considered certifiably insane. Cold weather just hurts and my ancient body screams at me that the warm weather is somewhere South of here.

This is all strictly a personal observation. While other people shout “Hooray!” when it gets icy cold and wax their skis while humming “Jingle Bells” I go out and buy the industrial size bottle of Aspirin and hum “We’re Having a Heatwave.”

I’m not a fun person to know for almost half of the year. I grumble and groan, wrap myself in electric blankets and guzzle hot coffee. You can always spot me – I’m the jittery guy wrapped up like an Egyptian mummy.

The reason I go through this Rite of Winter is that there is nary a joint in my body that fits right. To give you an Automotive Analogy – my body is like an old car that has been put together by a group of teenagers using parts scavenged from a junk yard filled with the remains of a 200 car pileup on the Interstate from outside of Butte, Montana. Nothing fits right. Never has. Never will. I’ve often wondered if WD – 40 might mix well in a Margarita.

Let’s face it … my body is like Satan’s Erector Set.

Despite all of this skeletal nonsense I have tried to never let it stop me from doing anything. By and large I’ve been successful – but not always. I cannot play the piano and I cannot juggle. I think my piano failings are more due to a complete lack of talent, but you never know.

When I walk across the room I have a limp, but I also learned to Tango for a show I was in some years ago. I’m not saying I was a great Tango dancer, but nobody threw things at me. I’ve raced cars, flown airplanes, and performed on some very famous stages.

OK, I’ll admit it…I can’t play the accordion either. That is something that many people I know are grateful about. My parents tried to get me to take lessons as a kid, but I couldn’t hold it right. I had to hook it on the wall to push and pull the darned thing. It looked like I was trying to give it artificial respiration.

All the beauty was lost.

I’ve been on this earth a long time now…a lot longer than some people expected, and I’m taking life one day at a time. I’ve outlived every man in my family going back three generations. There has to be a reason for that.

Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln…

Seven score and fifteen years ago (that’s 1865 in case you don’t want to do the math) Abraham Lincoln had a bad experience at the theater. OK…so it was a bad night for Mrs. Lincoln too, but at least she got to sleep in her own bed that night.

It was not the best of marriages to be sure. He was rather busy with that war thing and Mary, from all reports, was very loosely wrapped. A nineteenth century Dr. Phil might have been helpful, but Abe was 6’4″ and Mary was 5’2″ and they just couldn’t ever see eye to eye.

They did get together on one thing however – having children. They had four sons. Unfortunately only one of them lived to adulthood, Robert Todd Lincoln. The family line continued with Robert’s children and does so until today. I know this because I stumbled across a little news item about  this fellow.

 His name is Ralph Lincoln, an 11th generation Lincoln and a third cousin of Abraham Lincoln. This split screen picture (that’s Ralph on the left) does show a bit of a family resemblance but I don’t know if I wholly believe this. After all there have been mornings when, before my coffee, I think that I look a bit like that guy from Game of Thrones.

      Me before my morning coffee

People are always trying to claim a connection to famous people. There have been any number of people who will swear on a stack of bibles that they are descendants of the last Czar of Russia (and therefore entitled to a piece of the action.) The British Royal Family is always having to deal with “relatives” who pop up on a regular basis wanting a Palace and a Title.  My favorite connection to fame has to be the Barack Obama Plaza truck  stop in Ireland. I’ve been there and it’s a good place to have lunch and top off your tank. Rubbing gas caps with the rich and famous.

Back to Ralph Lincoln…

In the exhaustive research that I’ve done on this story (all 7 minutes of it) I read somewhere that there are no direct descendants of Abe Lincoln still alive…so, this means that Ralph is an “Indirect” descendant. He claims to be a third cousin of the late President. My guess he is one of those cousins who have been removed once too often. As far as that goofy picture of Ralph alongside of Abe is concerned all you need to do is put on a scruffy beard together with a soulful look and my third cousin Margery would look like Honest Abe.

I don’t know for sure if Ralph Lincoln if actually related to Abraham Lincoln. If he is he certainly has the makings of a unique pick-up line. “Hi, there, Gorgeous. How about if I Proclaim your Emancipation?” Of course, if he is not really related to our 16th President the only advice I can give him (other than “Don’t forget to take your meds) is “Don’t go to the theater. It’s a trap!”

Abbey Lincoln: has never claimed to be a cousin of Abe Lincoln

 

As I Was Saying…

“Why use ten words when a hundred will do quite nicely, eh?”

Those words were spoken to me by my wife this morning. I had been trying to explain something to her. I was simply trying to make myself understood when she made the comment above. I must admit that her synopsis of my explanation, which took only twelve words, was perfectly accurate. Twelve words that clearly stated what I was halfway through page two with.

All I want is to make sure that both you and I understand fully whatever it is that I’m trying to say. I want there to be no ambiguity or confusion so I will present a complete explanation of all… OK, I’ll acknowledge that I do tend to ramble on.

I’m doing it right now aren’t I?

What can I say? I’m a fan of words. Language to me is a great and wonderful toy. On some occasions it is like a Rubik’s Cube puzzle that needs twisting and turning to find the solution. Other times the words, any words, are like a cryptic and mysterious code that makes no sense at all until you find the key, the right words to make it sing.

This is the reality whether you are writing Fiction or Nonfiction. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between them anyway. At least it is with me.

I started writing when i was just a kid. I’d started reading even earlier. At the age of six I had my own library card. Once I learned how to read the books in the “Children’s Room” I knew that I could write better ones. I found a collaborator (Marty who lived down the block) and we began cranking out Cowboy and Indian stories that we thought would take the world by storm.

We were wrong.

Like any writers, of any age, we were always looking for approval (Positive Reviews). Marty went to the public elementary school nearby. I went to St. Mary’s Catholic elementary school. What better places to find critics? Marty took our stories to his teacher. I took them to Sister Mary Butch.

Marty’s teacher thought that our stories were the best thing since School Lunch Macaroni and Cheese. She praised our efforts and encouraged us mightily.

Sister Mary Butch said that we were wasting our time and that we were both going to Hell.

Marty got support and encouragement. He grew up to be a Doctor. I was belittled and damned to eternal perdition. I’m still looking for a sympathetic critic who isn’t my wife. Thanks, Sister.

As a result of these early literary traumas I’m still writing. Behind me I have left a trail of Fiction, Nonfiction, Textbooks, Speeches, Five years worth of Blogging, Jokes for Comedians, and the odd Theatrical opus or two. All of it just because that nun didn’t recognize juvenile genius. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And so I keep writing.

I have a number of the proverbial Works In Progress stacked up awaiting editing, a second draft, or a future as kindling. I am determined to finish these stories, but I’ll tell you one thing – I’m not taking any of them over to Sister Mary Butch.

A Little Face In The Crowd

I find that the older I get I spend more time, while sipping my coffee, thinking about my younger days. It doesn’t take much to get me wandering back to the days of my life when I lived in a narrow valley in Western Pennsylvania.

These days my time is filled with thoughts of hi-tech computers and low-tech viruses. Neither of these are the sort of things that make for lingering memories. The things that did, do, and will continue to generate memories involve the people I’ve known and the places I’ve been. Today and tomorrow interest me less than the thousands of my yesterdays.

When I woke up this morning and turned on the TV in the bedroom one of the first images I saw was of a classroom. It reminded me of one in the elementary school where I was introduced to the world outside of my family. St. Mary’s Catholic Grade School was already old when i was enrolled in 1952. The school was started in the 1870s.

I was born in 1946 smack in the middle of the first wave of the Post-War Baby Boom. The hundreds of thousands of soldiers returning home from the horror of World War Two were thankful to be alive and they celebrated by starting families. My father was too old to be taken into the military, but he  got caught up in the spirit of the day and there I was six years later sitting in a classroom alongside 59 other First Grade Boomers. I sat there with the others, all of us staring at Sister Avila standing by her desk in her black and white nun’s habit.

You read that right. There were 60 kids in my first grade classroom and there was another classroom just as full across the hall. We were packed into our rows of little wooden desks like sardines in a can.

And we learned.

We learned how to sit quietly with our hands neatly folded on the desktop. We learned to stand up every morning and say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. We learned how to read. We learned how to write in cursive. We also learned how to get along with 59 other kids.

We learned how to be the good kids everyone expected us to be.

That expanding bubble of Baby Boom kids continued all through my school years and it is still there even now. Now, however, all of us who sat in that crowded first grade classroom are hitting 75 years of age. We are the Senior Citizens who are filling up the hospitals, nursing homes, and cemeteries.

Today the desks at St. Mary’s are occupied with a new generation born in this century. The classes are smaller now. There isn’t a rush to build new schools like there was in the 1950s. The old schools that had been filled to the walls with the sons and daughters of the returning veterans are being torn down and replaced with Health Clubs and Organic Food Stores.

My generation – The Baby Boomers are now fading from the scene. The nation’s population is still growing but at a slower pace. There might never be another classroom with 60 little kids squirming in their seats and practicing their penmanship. Today’s teachers are horrified when they are faced with more than twenty curious faces staring at them.

In 1952 our stern-faced nuns in black and white struggled through the turmoil and managed to have most of those 60 youngsters turn out just fine. If there was one most important thing we learned in those crowded classrooms it was how to work together and not be afraid to ask questions. Those skills have served us well over the years.

Thank you, Sister.

 

 

 

 

My Childhood In The Distant Past

Reluctant as I am to say so I must admit something: I am an old man. My youth was in a Post-World War Two 1940s and 1950s.

I was born in 1946 in Cleveland and raised in a small town in the hills of Western Pennsylvania and, in many ways, I lived a childhood rooted in the 19th century. Whenever I tell someone of my daily life they react as if I was telling them a story about an earlier time. They find it hard to believe when I tell them that my mother bought her fruits and vegetables from a man with a horse drawn wagon, we had bearded hobos knocking on our door for a handout, and quarantine signs on our front door whenever a kid got one of the many childhood diseases.

When I moved from The Valley to go to college in The Big City people were amazed and amused when I told them about The Pony Man.

There were few times more exciting for the neighborhood kids than those days when the old wooden wagon piled high with fruits and vegetables and pulled by a pinto pony came down the street. The Pony Man’s name was Carmine and the pony was Tony. My mother would make her selections and drop her money into the basket that sat on the seat next to Carmine. Business concluded Tony would move on to their next stop. Tony knew the route by heart.

A remnant of the Great Depression were the Hobos who “Rode the rails” from coast to coast looking for work. Many of them had been wandering for decades unable to leave the life on “The Road.” Our house was just two blocks up from the river and the main railroad tracks that carried passengers and

freight up and down the Valley. It was not unusual for a Bearded Hobo to knock on our back door looking for a handout and/or an odd job. My mother was a soft touch and handed out a lot of sandwiches. I once found this symbol scrawled on a tree near the house. It meant that a nice lady lived there.

There were also “Tinkerers” who would walk through the neighborhood shouting out “Knives sharpened! Pots Fixed!” Tinkerers were itinerant repairmen, the original “Jack of all trades” workers. They would help the neighborhood Mothers by pounding out dents in their pots and pans and grinding the kitchen knives sharp again. Those were not throw-away items.

Given recent events in our world most people are seeing the word “Quarantine” for the first time. I grew up seeing that word a dozen times a year.

In the 1950s there were a number of highly contagious diseases that were often called “Childhood diseases.” Measles (3 different versions), Mumps, Chicken Pox, and others would sweep through every

year and the local Board of Health would try to control the diseases by posting “Quarantine” signs on our front door. It meant that no one got in or out of that house until the disease had run its course. My father had several bouts of staying in local motels while I and my brother were sick.

In the Summertime the Quarantine was sometimes violated on purpose. When the word got around that a kid had measles or whatever the neighborhood mothers would throw a “Measles Party” to deliberately expose their kids to the disease just to get it over with before school started again in September. It was somewhat perilous, but effective.

A child’s life in those days in my small town was certainly different. It was a much simpler time in many ways than today. However, it also had its own terrors that no longer exist. Every Summer there was the looming fear of another epidemic of Polio, a disease that is rare today thanks to two men names Salk and Sabin.

I could tell you more stories of my childhood in the time-warp Valley where the modern world collided with earlier days when everyone knew everyone else, your child’s milk came to your door in glass bottles and three cents would send a letter across the country.

Perhaps I will. Let me know what you think I should do.

You Have To Keep Active

I must admit that since I retired, lo these nine years ago, I have experimented with any number of ways to creatively waste time. There are many people who would say that this blog shows that I have elevated it all to an Art. I’m not going to argue with them. I don’t think that I could win such an argument.

So…(aside from this blog) some of my other temporal thumb twiddlings have included belonging to a Dart League for three years. I suck at darts but that doesn’t stop me from proudly displaying my three championship trophies. I was the worst player on the team, but that was my role – to lower the team handicap to balance the presence of a Dart Savant on our team. That guy couldn’t miss. He was scary good. I was just scary bad.

In another effort to fill my days with something passably interesting that would also get me out of the house before my wife, the lovely and patient beyond the statute of limitations, Dawn, started arranging kayak lessons for me, I began doing plays with the local Community Theatre. I did four shows with them before my endurance for late rehearsals wore thin. I’m a Geezer. I need my sleep.

Other avenues needed to be explored.

I think I may have found the perfect thing to occupy my mind that doesn’t involve sharp objects or driving home at midnight when the streets are filled with marauding raccoons. I am part of a Barroom Trivia Team.

Every Monday evening at 7:00 PM I haul my trivia loaded brain to a nearby Pub for a two hour long test to see who knows more useless information. My kind of game!

I feel that I’m there representing all of those Liberal Arts Majors who are still under-employed twenty years after graduation, but who can to this day name every major artist in 16th century Belgium. On our team I am far and away the oldest member. That gives me an edge when the question involves History or Early Television Programs. Most of the other players are under 30 years of age. They wouldn’t know Calvin Coolidge if he walked into the room or who played Tonto on The Lone Ranger . Of course, I’m totally in the dark when it comes to things like “Who was the biggest selling Rapper in 2014?”

I had a birthday recently. Which one is not important except to my Cardiologist and to the people who keep sending me junk mail peddling Hearing Aids and Cemetery Plots. I did receive one gift from my lovely and forward thinking wife, Dawn, who knows what I need even if I don’t.

She bought me a book – “The Ultimate Book Of Trivia.”

This thing is 349 pages jam packed with more trivial information than PBS and Congress combined! It is the ideal book to have with you when you are seated in the loo after a Twelve Course Taco Bell Banquet or entering that Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest I see on ESPN. You will have plenty to read.

I hope that this book will help me on my Monday night Trivia contest. It couldn’t hurt…unless i drop it onto my foot. It could easily break a toe or two. Next week I am going to wow them all at the Pub when I toss out the fact that the shortest U.S. President was James Madison who was only 5’4″ tall. If they ever make a movie about him Tom Cruise will play him…in lifts.

Circling The Wagons

One of the things that I used to write about rather frequently in this blog (Pre-Virus) was my early morning Playgroup at St. Arbucks, AKA – “The Usual Suspects.” It was my wife, the lovely and always welcome, Dawn, who named this gathering of Geezers as my Playgroup. I came up with “the “Usual Suspects.” I think her choice is more accurate.

We are a bunch of mainly retired gentlemen who get together to get out of the house and give our wives some peace. Our ages range from early 60s up to the mid 80s. Some of us were teachers while others were Chiropractors, Store Owners, and Whatever I was. We have one fellow who is still working. The rest of us look down on him. We had one female member of our group, but she wised up and moved out of state.

Almost everyday of the week we meet over coffee to discuss just about any topic except politics. We have that restriction as a health measure to avoid heart attacks and assault and battery issues. If one of the crew does start to bring up something political I will loudly interrupt with, “How about them Cubbies?” just to change the subject.

During this time of restricted social gatherings and face masks our normal meetings inside the nearby Starbucks were seriously disrupted. An alternate solution was called for.

Fortunately our Chapel of St. Arbucks (Patron Saint of Jittery People) is located adjacent to the parking lot of a Strip Mall that can accommodate several hundred parked cars. Each morning we would get our coffee via the Drive-Thru Lane and then move over to the larger parking lot.  We circled our wagons (SUVs and Sedans), pulled some lawn chairs from the trunk, and carried on without missing a beat. On most mornings we had a circle of 5 to 7 vehicles. The only problems that ever arose with this arrangement were the occasional rain and swarms of gnats that found us much too attractive. 

Actually there was one other problem that plagued our Parking Lot Playgroup. One of our noble Geezers had a real hearing problem and maintaining a good Social Distance caused a lot of shouting of “WHAT?” It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had remembered to put in his hearing aids. His hearing was bad, but so was his memory. Too many mornings he would leave his hearing aids at home on the kitchen table so everyone ended up shouting at him over their coffee. 

A couple of weeks ago our prayers to Juan Valdez were answered and we were blessed when the Starbucks reopened the doors to their cafe. So far the weather has been pleasant and we have been meeting on their outdoor seating area. The lawn chairs are back in the trunk and the gnats haven’t found us. As far as I’m concerned this arrangement has an even better positive aspect: By ditching the Drive-Thru lane and ordering inside I am getting my iced coffee free refill once again. That’s all that is really important.

Life as we know it on this planet will continue.

At 5AM All Time Is Warped

Ever since I retired I no longer have to get up early to get to the office and solve the problems of the world. I can sleep in and start my day whenever I darn well please.

Well, that’s the theory anyway.

The reality is considerably different. I know that I’m retired. My coffee maker knows that I’m retired. The world knows that I’m retired.

My body does not know I’m retired. Or at least it is pretending to not know.

No matter what time I crawl into bed my internal alarm clock pries open my eyes at about 5 AM. Try as I might to roll over and sleep until later it just doesn’t work. Once my eyes pop open at 5 AM I am up. 

There is not a lot for me to do at 5 AM. No stores are open – not even Starbucks. The sun isn’t even up yet. So, I end up watching TV while I’m getting dressed. And there is not much of a selection at that hour even with 200 channels. That means that while I am struggling to figure out how socks work I am tuning into “The Cowboy Channel.”

At 5 AM I am treated to ancient reruns of “The Roy Rogers Show – Starring Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys!”  It’s his show so he gets top billing. Second billing goes to his horse, Trigger. After the horse comes Roy’s wife “Dale Evans – Queen of the West.” She may be the Queen, but Roy’s horse gets better placement in the credits. She must not have had a very good agent that she lost out to a horse for all those years.

Poor Dale lost out on another thing too. Roy (Real name: Leonard) had his horse named “Trigger” and a dog called “Bullet” – all rough and tough. Real macho for the “King of the Cowboys” even though dressed like a member of the Village People. Dale on the other hand, even though she is a Queen, has to ride around on a horse named “Buttermilk.”

“Buttermilk?” What kind of a name is that for a horse? I’ll bet that if she had had a dog it would have been called “Cottage Cheese” or something equally non-threatening.

That whole show was a collection of weird stuff and anachronisms. On one hand it was your classic western shoot-em-up with posses and outlaws. Their town (Mineral City) had wooden sidewalks and hitching posts. Everyone wore gunbelts and rode horses – except for one guy who drove around town in a Post-World War Two Jeep. I never could figure out that bit of business. In the confusing Old West setting of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans where did their “Comedic Sidekick”, Pat Brady,  get his gasoline? His Jeep always seemed to be possessed by evil automotive demons, driving off on its own. 

Was it a Cowboy show or was it a Sci-Fi  Western? Nothing made sense to me. I’ve been watching that show for years, since I was a kid, and I always found it to be one of the most confusing things on television. Even the Three Stooges made more sense to me. I’m hoping that there is a lost episode that might show up one morning where we might get to see Buttermilk kick Trigger’s Palomino butt.

L to R – Dale Evans, Trigger, Roy Rogers

 

Throwback Day After Thursday !!

 

OK, OK, OK! I will admit it. This old blog post from 2017 is considered by some people to be of questionable taste. They are entitled to their opinion. They’re wrong.

I’m also entitled to my opinion. I think it’s funny.

So there!

Let’s Hear It For Gluttony

THERE AIN’T NUTHIN’ LIKE A GOOD BURGER. It doesn’t have to be fancy (and probably shouldn’t be). It doesn’t have to be expensive. It sure doesn’t have to be in some high class restaurant. But it has to be prepared with gluttony in mind.

About a five minute drive or twenty minute crawl from home is a small neighborhood joint (that’s the only appropriate word) that does a burger right.

This particular watering hole has been around for about two million years. It is on its third or fourth owners now and doing well. It is probably also on the Hit List of the American Heart Association.

Over the years it has grown from a serious drinker’s bar, into a Punch Palace where the main attraction was drunken brawls, into a neighborhood friendly gathering spot. With each reincarnation the food menu has grown and improved. Today it has become a place for Breakfast as well as for Lunch and Dinner –with no brawling allowed.

It is more of a “Sports Bar” now. That means that there are multiple big screen TVs mounted high on the walls. They are generally ignored in favor of the food.

The Star of the Show – foodwise – is the “Tweety Burger.” It has nothing to do with a small yellow canary and Sylvester the Cat. “Tweety” was the name of one of the original owners back in the Dark Ages.

The current owner is a young (30ish) gent who is trying to turn the place from a “Joint” into something more socially acceptable – a place where you could take a date for a nosh without having to worry about a fist fight breaking out. The new Boss is also expanding the definition of the “Tweety Burger.” For the longest time it was just a very tasty ½ pound burger with fries – yumilicious to be sure. But now, the sky is the limit.

Every month now there is new version of the “Tweety” on the menu. Last month’s burger had Ghost Pepper Chiles and Creamy Marshmallow between the buns. I passed on that one, although it did sell well. I like spicy, but I don’t think that food should hurt.

This month the Special is the “All-American Tweety” – a burger that goes where no cardiologist has ever gone before.

Read the description for yourself.

 

I was in there last night and my wife, the lovely and ever tasteful, Dawn, suggested that each “All-American Tweety” should come with the business card of a good heart specialist. That is being taken under advisement.

I asked our waitress, Susie, who has worked there for years, if many people are ordering that monster of a burger. She shook her head and said, “More than you would believe.” She had a look of concern on her face. I think she was going to be expected to administer CPR if one of her customers keels over mid-burger.

The owner is counting on some seriously hungry (or deranged) people who will down that full pound famine-buster – and then want dessert. That is when Susie will trot out the “Fresh, Hot Donuts,” drizzled with hot chocolate sauce and powdered sugar.

Just what the Anesthesiologist ordered!

I think I’ll stick to my usual order – the Tweety Junior, which is more than enough for me. When it shows up at the table I tell Susie, “I thank you, My Doctor thanks you, and my Aorta thanks you. Pass the ketchup.”

It Either Is Or It Isn’t…Isn’t it?

I learned something new recently and while that isn’t Front Page News it does merit mention on these pages. What surprised me about this is that it had to do with the English language. I’m pretty good with my native language but this was something completely new to me.

I’m talking about: CONTRONYMS.

Growing up I learned about Synonyms, Homonyms, Antonyms, Paronyms, Pseudonyms, and even Acronyms, but I never heard of Contronyms.

Contronyms are words that have two contradictory meanings. They are really their own opposites.

I think I like Contronyms. They appeal to the rebel in me. They also may be an explanation I can fall back on when I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.

While they may be somewhat rare in the Wide World of Nyms they are not obscure words. It’s their usage that makes them unusual. For Example…

“Apology” – A statement of contrition for an action, or a defense of one.

“Dust” – To add fine particles, or to remove them.

“Left” – To Remain, or to Depart

“Bound” – Heading to a destination, or restrained from movement.

These words, literally, can have you coming and going, hither and yon, to and fro, or even this and that. 

I’m a fan of language. Without it I would have a really hard time writing this Blog. There would be a lot of blank space between the punctuation marks. It might be difficult to get my meaning across if my sentence looked like ”      “, –  ” !”

That might work if I wrote only on Monday mornings after a rough weekend and the readers had taken their vows of silence very seriously.

If I had never learned about Contronyms my life and my writing would not have changed all that much. When I am working on a Fiction Project it is usually a story with distinctively “Noirish” overtones. I try to create a shadowy mood and dialogue that is basic and to the point. Symbolism doesn’t get a lot of space on my page. I can’t imagine that my Fedora-wearing hero would be using very many Contronyms while skulking down the dark alleys down by the Waterfront. It might be a challenge though.

” I asked the night watchman if he’d seen the burglars.” He told me “I seen the men bolt.”

“Bolt I said? Was he telling me that the crooks had fled or that they were securely tied up?”

“Oh, No, Mister Detective. Bad guys left here.”

“He was at it again. They left or they were left here waiting to ambush me? What was this guy trying to do – confuse me?”

You see how using Contronyms would be an unneeded complication? If there is one thing I don’t need in my writing it is any sort of “Handicap.” 

“Handicap” – An advantage provided to ensure equality, or a disadvantage that prevents equal achievement.

 

 

 

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