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

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.

Let’s Start A New Year

New Year 2016 2

We made it through 2020, more or less, and now that we have crossed into 2021 I suggest that we start it off correctly – as God intended.

Watch a lot of football.

Spend time with Family

Nurse your aching head and make no sudden moves.

OK?

We’ll start over next Friday with more of the usual nonsense.

Merry Christmas! 

 

Merry Christmas To You All Around The World !

christmas

 

 

 

Enjoy this day with your Family and Friends!

 

Fa, la, la, la, la.

We Have Ways Of Making You Jolly

Throwback Thursday – 12/31/14

Berlin_Checkpoint_Charlie_089

PART OF VISITING family for the Holidays is going to drop in on those relatives you don’t get to see very often. We devoted part of yesterday to that.

I must admit that Rose and Ray are the only people I know who actually live in a “Gated Community.”  Well, that is, if you exclude from “Gated Community” those places where the gates are topped with razor wire and all the residents have colorful nicknames. Rose and Ray don’t have colorful nicknames and I didn’t see any razor wire. But there was one disturbing element, not counting the fact that all of the homes inside the gates cost more than some U. S. Navy warships. Let me explain.

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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 cannot 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.

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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.

Games… Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

I’m not very athletic. No, let’s face it – I’m not at all athletic in any way shape or form. It’s not that I haven’t tried. As a kid I played baseball with the other kids. I played touch football in the streets. I was embarrassingly bad at basketball, but I tried.

As an adult I tried to play golf. It is supposed to be a very sociable game, except the way I played it I was always off by myself limping through the shrubbery looking for my ball. I gave up on golf and other Sports in favor of Games. Games don’t require any physical skill or talents of me.

Of course, it is important to know the difference between Sports and Games. Getting them mixed up can be both shameful and dangerous. If you aren’t sure which is which, there is a simple way to differentiate between the two.

If you have to say, “Hold my beer” before playing – it is a Sport. If the activity is one that you can do while still holding your beer – it is a Game. Can you play Basketball while holding onto your bottle of Bud? Of course not – ergo, Basketball is a Sport. But there is no problem holding onto your Brewski when it is your turn in Chess. Chess is a Game.

Checkmate!

This bit of knowledge has really helped to cut down on my pain of public embarrassment as well as my pain of pulled muscles and scraped knees. I’m never the last one picked to be on the team when playing Games. When I was still trying to play Sports most of the time teams were being chosen I got picked last just so both teams could have the same number of players.

These days it’s all Games for me. I played on a Dart team for three years. I wasn’t any good, but that was my role. I helped to mess with the team handicap, so I contributed in my own special inept way.

Lately I have been playing on a Trivia team. Monday nights at a local watering hole I call upon my trash bin of a brain to come up with obscure bits of information from deep within my nooks and crannies of gray matter. If I come up with the right answer I can do my own end zone dance and hoist my Diet Pepsi (I don’t drink alcohol any longer). If my Random Access Memory Software comes up with the wrong answer (Oh, the Humanity!), I can just shrug and move on. I have never pulled a muscle playing on Trivia Night. I came close one time when I chug-a-lugged my soft drink and had a serious episode of Brain Freeze.

As Clint Eastwood said in his Dirty Harry movie, “Magnum Force,” –

“A MAN’S GOT TO KNOW HIS LIMITATIONS.”

It has taken me most of my lifetime, but I know that I am a man who knows his limitations. I know that I can only eat so much chili before I turn into a gaseous fire hazard. I know that I can stay up only so late before I fall asleep in front of the TV curled up in the Rip Van Winkle Memorial Chair.

I know my limitations….and I also know a lot of useless information and I can hold my drink while playing.

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.

Cutting Remarks

 

“If you prick me do I not bleed?”

I have never seen the “Merchant of Venice,” but that line is part of a famous monologue from that Shakespearean play. It came into my mind recently when I went to get a haircut.

What with all of the disruptions to our lives this year the little things like haircuts have been few and far between. My last ride in the Barber’s Chair was in January of 2020. As I write this the calendar on the wall insists that today is September 9, 2020. That is a long time to go without getting a haircut.

I get haircuts not “Styling,” so I’m not terribly picky about where I get my hair cut. All I ask is that the person doing the cutting has been trained and that they listen to me. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

It was 10 AM when I trundled myself and my nine months worth of increasingly graying hair through the door of the franchise hair cutting place. I hesitate to call it a “Barber Shop.” There was no revolving barber pole by the door. There was no “Barber” in there, just a very nice young lady who looked about 12 years old to me. She was going to cut my hair. I’m sure she has never given anyone a shave…other than her own legs perhaps. I wasn’t there for that. It was my head or nothing.

Whenever I have a new person cutting my hair I always start by telling them that I have a bump on the back of my head. It’s not a tumor. It’s not going to explode. It’s not going to bleed unless you stab it (See quote at the beginning). It is just a reservoir of fat and miscellaneous tissue. My doctors have expressed no concern about it. The only uproar came a few years ago when a newbie haircutter freaked out in mid haircut.

But not today.

The 12 year old reminded me that she was the person who cut my hair in January. At least there would be no screaming today.

When I sat down in her chair she commented on the mountain of hair on my skull.

“Shall I just get out my Sheep Shears?”

“Ha…Ha…Ha”

Those Sheep Shears might have worked, but I didn’t want to get involved in all the wrestling on the floor I’ve seen in real sheep shearing.

That gal may have been younger than the shirt I was wearing, but she knew her way around a head. She had me shorn and shaped within fifteen minutes. It would have been quicker if I had not had ears that needed navigating around. Fifteen minutes (Van Gogh would have been done in half the time) after I sat down I was feeling the breeze for the first time in months.

 

I’ll tell you one thing – the next time there is a Pandemic around here I’m going to get my head shaved and start over from scratch.

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.

 

 

 

 

Old Dog … New Tricks

JUST BECAUSE I’m retired doesn’t mean that my brain is sitting on a shelf in a dusty glass jar labeled “Abnormal.” Far from it! I am always looking to add new skills – new arrows in my quiver if you will.

It has been almost eight months since some pesky virus I’ve been reading about began throwing monkey wrenches into everyone’s daily lives.

This stop at the Malfunction Junction in our lives has given me the opportunity to discover and master a new skill. It may be that a new avenue could be opening up before me because this Old Dog has learned a New Trick.

The reality is that we are all doing less out in the world and are relying on having the world shipped to us. We are getting groceries, clothing, books, cosmetics, medications, and some things that are none of your business, delivered right to our front door. Everything comes securely shipped in sturdy cardboard boxes.

I love unpacking all of our deliveries. It’s almost like Christmas Morning without the electric trains and the pine needles. I take the scissors and neatly cut the sealing tape, open up the flaps, and lift out our goodies. After that I set the empty cardboard boxes to the side, out of the way.

Aha!

It was on a day like that when the handsome young UPS guy stopped by our house so often that we considered adoption that we were faced with a pile of empty boxes. I spent a couple hours struggling with those boxes to get them crammed into our recycling bin. That was not a good solution to the growing population of boxes that were filling up the downstairs bathroom. They were coming in faster than I could get them out. This problem was going to require some thought.

I sat in the kitchen with a large box. There was not enough room for the both of us. One of us had to go. Finally, I saw the solution in front of me. I began to tear the blasted box to pieces. I was stronger

than the box and in less than a minute I had that humungous container reduced to a neat little stack of cardboard pieces no bigger than the crock pot. I was deliriously happy. I knew how Einstein must have felt when he realized the “E” did, in fact, equal “MC².”

It didn’t take me very long to get into a destructive groove and those boxes were disappearing faster than taxis in a thunderstorm. I was disassembling the boxes like a tornado going through a trailer park. That Recycling bin in the back yard was taking all I could give it with room to spare.

I am living proof that “Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks.”

I can already roll over, heel, stay, and sit up and beg. Now I can add “Knows how to destroy cardboard boxes.”

It may not be much, but it’s better than nothing.

Isn’t it?

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.

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