Thursday, April 30, 2009

Interesting News (I think)

It's the end of April 2009 and the world is in turmoil. However, there are some news stories that one might ponder to get one's mind off of the turmoil. Here are a few:

01. Russian doctors found a fir tree growing in a man's lungs! (Wouldn't that make a great cartoon?)

02. An 89 year old man in Australia was mauled by a pack of wild mice.

03. Prince Charles met with the Pope to discuss the environment. (Papal warming?)

04. Scientists have announced that if a pulsar the size of a silver dollar landed on Earth, it would weigh 100 million tons.

05. A baby girl in New Zealand was named Zealand-New.

06. Many aeons ago, one of the Popes was named Hilarious. (look it up)

07. Years ago, Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore delivered lots of babies to indigent mothers. Usually, they would give the child a name. One of the names given to a newborn by a doctor was: Positive Wasserman Johnson. (look it up in Mencken's great book, The American Language.)

08. A man named Justin Brady changed his name to "Ynot Bubba." (Why not?)

09. A man shot his wife through the head and then killed himself. When the police arrived, she was busy making tea.

10. A cat in China adopted two puppies that she is teaching to catch mice. (needed in Australia.. see # 02 above.)

11. A woman dying of lung cancer in Massachusetts says: "Some people, like me, are just born to smoke."

12. United Airlines began demanding that people with fat butts buy a second seat.

13. There is a new scam to watch out for.. guys who enter restaurants and look for people (at table) who are ready to pay their bills, and tell them they will take the money (or credit card!) for them, and then disappear.

14. A nude man drove his pickup truck through the wall of an emergency room in North Dakota.

15. The magazine This Week reports that "Le Whif".. a lipstick sized mini inhaler shoots a calorie-free chocolate mist into your mouth for $2 for 4 puffs.

16. The @ sign for Internet use means "love him" in Chinese.

17. A New York worker is demanding pay for the lunch hour he lost when he was "locked down" during a shoot-out.

18. An overdue book returned to a Canadian library was taken out in 1899. The $9,000 fine was waived. (I have a book that I borrowed from the New Bedford, Massachusetts Public Library 50 years ago. I've been told to wait for "amnesty day" to return it... I know, I know... no excuse for my action.)

If you want to know more about these subjects, you might want to "google" them.

Auf wiedersehen.

Monday, April 27, 2009


It's a beautiful morning in Maryland.. the sky is blue.. its already nice and warm.. I got up with the sun and sat on my back porch accompanied by our two cats and watched the groundskeepers work to make the golf course grass even more green than it already is. As my grandfather entered his '80s, he remarked each year when Spring arrived: "The grass is greener this year than it ever has been." Although I'm not quite that old, I can understand his observation. As we age, I'm sure that we notice and appreciate everyday things more and more.

Something that I notice this morning but do not appreciate quite as much as some other things, is the pungent odor of the manure that nearby Carroll County farmers are applying to their fields. I don't really dislike the smell, and, of course, an abundance of agricultural produce requires an abundance of manure.

When my family moved into our new home in Gamber, every young boy within five miles suddenly descended upon us to welcome us. (After all, in our family were two beautiful teenage girls.) One of these boys arrived by horse. He noticed that I, as a former city boy, had not the slightest clue about digging a garden. He offered to help me and I'm glad I agreed. A few hours later he and his horse plowed about a quarter of an acre in my back yard. I then provided the seed and his trusty horse provided a wealth of fertilizer. This turned out to be the best garden I ever had and I could join my fellow Carroll County "farmers" in setting up a table in the driveway so that passers by could help themselves to free tomatoes and cucumbers.

What does all this have to do with "anxiety"? It doesn't.. this was just a segue.

As for anxiety? Well.. look at the newpaper.. listen to the radio.. watch TV. Look at these headlines:

Warnings as Swine Flu Virus Spreads.

Helpful Teacher attacked by vicious Squirrel.

Deputy involved in fatal Shooting.

Suspect arrested in Shooting Spree.

Man shot after Attack on Teen.

3 shot, 1 killed in Pittsburgh.

Man charged in Delaware Fires.

2 arrested in Philly Murders.

Police fire Pellets at Kent State Rioters.

Storms pound Midwest.

Va Men hurt in Shooting.

Bomb kills 2 Guards in Kabul.

Professor still at large after Murder of Wife and Others

Five killed in Jersey Turnpike Crash

..... and worse of all: Swiss Voters ban nude Hiking!

What is this world coming to? Don't headlines like this contribute to our feelings of anxiety?

Some of those headlines were on the Internet, some in today's Carroll County Times. The CC Times is a great local paper.. but, being a newspaper, they also have to report news that isn't local. I understand that and also realize that the nice local news in the paper far outweighs the reports of carnage and idiocy that must be reported on. So, even in bucolic Carroll County, we encounter news that causes anxiety.

On today's second hour of the Diane Rehm show (NPR), an author talked with Diane and her thousands of listeners about the types and causes of anxiety and gave some tips on how to cope with it. She has written a book on the subject. I'm not going to tell you her name or the title of her book, so that you can get the pleasure of downloading the archived show to your IPOD or finding out the information by a plug into TWITTER as a fan of the Diane Rehm Show.

The author did mention that suddenly, in Salzburg, Germany, as she looked out the window of a highly located fancy restaurant, she developed a fear of heights. For many years, she could not take an elevator to the tenth floor of a building or higher. She was able to overcome her anxiety by following some of the tips given in her book.

When I entered my thirties, I thought that I was getting too fat. At the time, there was a Maryland doctor who was supposed to be able to help anyone lose weight. There were lines of patients around the block waiting to get to see him and either get shots or pills. I took my place in line and finally got to see him. (He was kind of chubby.. hmm?) Anyway, he gave me some pills to raise my metabolism.. they stimulated me too much, I became a nervous wreck.

So.. he gave me some pills to "take me down" (do you see the early mention of "uppers" and "downers"?) .. they took me "down" too far, so he gave me more "uppers", then more "downers".. etc etc. After a while, I did not know what way was "up" or "down" and my wife had to take me to the Emergency Room. They were able to "purge" my system and I was told that without pills I would be able to be normal again. (BTW, the doctor eventually was disbarred and disgraced.)

In recouperating from this medication, I had to endure a few weeks of "anxiety". I was not able to drive; when I went into a room, a door or a window had to be open; I was afraid to meet new people; I walked and talked like a zombie. I would never want to go through that again.

After a couple of weeks, to ensure that I had flushed all of the "anxiety" out of my body along with those diet pills, my GP ordered me to talk to a psychiatrist, a nice old man who was very much interested in parts of my life that I did not really want to talk about. I met with him four or five times and gave him lots of money.. I don't think I learned anything about myself that I didn't already know, but I did get one piece of insight from him that has sustained me through the problems and bad situations affecting me and my family over the years.

That insight was (as Saint Theresa is supposed to have said): This too shall pass!

And it does.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Do you like to do tests? I do, and thanks in part to my Grandfather's coaching, I'm pretty good at them. Puzzles and tests.. they are a lot alike. Most Americans took an IQ test when they were in the 4th grade. Lots of companies give IQ-like tests before hiring employees. I've mentioned before that I was tested for my Social Security Administration job in Baltimore by being asked two questions: What do you think of the Orioles? What do you think of the Colts? Luckily, I liked birds and horses and they hired me.

When I tell this, people start to say "that's just like the Government!" And then I have to confess that in order to have the Social Security job, I also had to pass the FSEE (Federal Service Entrance Examination) and the O+M test. The O+M test (Organization and Management) was a tough test in which you were given theoretical problem situations and asked what you would do in such situations. The test was very easy for me once I had this "brain storm". Who was the top manager in the US? Of course, it was the President, and at that time it was Lyndon Johnson. So, all I had to do was ask myself "What would LBJ do in this situation?" That was the answer I chose, and I "Ace'd" the test.

Prior to getting the Social Security job, I tested for several other Government jobs. One test was called the "Foreign Service Entrance Examination". It consisted of several parts. I passed the general test, the French language test and the German test, but I completely screwed up the Geography test. This was a test where you were shown a map where the wording had been removed. You were supposed to figure out what part of the world the map represented. I had no clue. But, as I looked around the room I noticed that my fellow test takers were busily filling in their answers, without my look of panic on any of the faces. I later found out that some frat houses at Yale and Harvard conducted classes on these types of tests. This is, of course, perfectly legal.. I just was too dumb to find out what type of questions were going to be used on the test.

A similar test was given for the Secret Service. I passed all parts of the test and was told I had the job if I answered just one vital question. "Are you ashamed of any job you have ever had?" Like a jerk, I told them about one of the jobs I had while attending Boston University. I did telemarketing phone calls and talked some people into paying for entertainment that they probably didn't need and couldn't afford. I only had the job for a short time and got disgusted and quit. The Secret Service guys said that this was enough to disqualify me for the job.

Prior to my senior year at Boston University, I took a test for NSA (National Security Agency). I passed it and the interviewer said that the job was mine. When I asked if I could finish my degree work, he was surprized and thought that I had already graduated. However, he gave me his official NSA card and told me to call him on the day that I graduated and the job would be waiting for me. Accordingly, on the day that I graduated, I called the number on the card and asked to talk to him. "Nobody by that name works here." No matter what I did, I could not find anyone who had a record of my having been tested, interviewed, or promised a job. This was very disappointing to me because the type of work that NSA does is the type of work I had been trained to do.

IQ testing has also played an important part in my life and I would like to talk about that subject in another blog because what I say may shock you a bit.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Mornings

Because I am no longer an early riser, I miss the yard sales that I used to love. Instead, I get to enjoy two radio programs on NPR: Car Talk and Wait, Wail, Don't Tell Me. Sometimes, the only time I get to hear familiar Massachusett accents is by listening to Click and Clack give out their automotive advice. Most of the problems that people have with their cars, I have experienced at some time or other myself.. I think that if I had had the good fortune to hear their show years ago, I would have probably saved myself a lot of money.

But, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me is my favorite radio show. If you haven't heard it, you are in for a treat. Before you do, a trip to their internet site will fill you in on what its all about. Just google search for it and you will find a nice website with a video that shows you how the show is put together and what Peter and Carl and the other folks look like. Either there or at the NPR site, you can download copies of the show for free to put on your IPOD or listen to right from your computer.

I always learn a lot from the show. For instance, today I learned the following:

01. Way out in our galaxy, they have found evidence of ethel fornate, which is a chemical that allows us to smell raspberries. (Roy Blunt says that he went to school with a girl named Ethel Fornate, ... guess what else he said.)

02. Researchers have been working for months to try to find some kind of clothing item to take the place of the open-back gowns that hospitals subject you to. Besides being embarrassing, its gross-out time to see an old man in a gown doing rehab. During my recent bout at Mercy Hospital, I was pleased to see that they gave me 2 gowns, 1 to put on one way, and the other one the other way. That was very nice of them, but then again, I don't think that the Sisters of Mercy would have it any other way.

03. Tom Blunt said (relating to the statements that even though the torture methods may have been not exactly kosher, we did get good information from the practise.) .. that sounds like a person being accused of being a shoplifter saying: "call it what you will, but look at the great stuff I got."

04. There is an intersting story out of Stutgart, Germany, about sterility.

05. A researcher took fish on a plane trip to find that strong wave-like motion cause some of them to get seasick.. "they looked like they were getting ready to vomit."

06. Nazi-bred cow stock is being revived in Great Britain. "Someone saw these giant cows goose-stepping through the pasture."

07. An airline devoted to carrying animals is talking about its "pawsengers."

08. Susan Boyle says that she really has been kissed.

09. The Guinness brewery building, through the foresight of their founder 250 years ago, enjoys a 6,000 year lease.

10. Some people say that fish bladders are an ingredient in Guinness beer because the "fining agent" that makes it clear is made from those things. (I used it when I made beer and it didn't affect the taste in any way.)

11. In hearing the "strip search" case before the Supreme Court, one of the Justices mentioned that somebody had "put something" in his underwear when he was a kid.. "or not."

I hope that you are now interested enough to download today's program and listen to it.. I know you will like this classic show.

BTW: I forgot.. at one point a song was played and I finally learned the right English words to a song that I liked to sing at German and Polish functions:

In heaven there is no beer,
That is why we drink it here.
And when we're gone from here,
Our friends will be drinking all the beer.

Prosit! Salut! Cheers!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Westminster, Maryland, capital of Maryland?

The Carroll County Times reports that Governor O'Malley and members of his cabinet will be spending tomorrow (April 24, 2009) in the City of Westminster, Maryland. What the devil is going on? Doesn't he know that Westminster is a Republican City in a Republican County in the Democratic State of Maryland?

The Governor will "spend most of the day conversing with local government officials, touring city projects and visiting with community members." Westminster is the ""kickoff" city for a program entitled: Capital for a day."

When I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, I lived in a household with my Grandparents and an Aunt. Some time, during a National election, my grandfather learned that my grandmother and my aunt voted for a Republican candidate. From that day forward, he refused to eat with those "G D Republican B....rds!" He never boycotted me because he assumed that I was a Democrat like he was. And, guess what... I was.

The first National election that I voted in, JFK won.. and Massachusetts went wild! It was a lot like the recent Obama election. We saw JFK as a sort of savior, who was going to save us from decadence and/or communist invasion. By that time, my grandfather was in a nursing home (which just happened to be the home in which he was born!) and medication prevented him from getting excited over election issues.

Although I lived in Boston for a while, the only politician (outside of local ones) that I met was a lieutenant Governor who I met for just a few minutes in the 1950's. Over ten years later, when I had moved to Maryland and was a Social Security Administration employee, I passed him in a hall at the Woodlawn complex. All of a sudden, he turned to me and said: "Hi, Joe, how have you been since I saw you last?" After his Lieutenant Governor job ended, he had gotten a nice job at Social Security. .... and he remembered me after meeting me once.. years ago, in a different State!! Now, that guy was a politician!!

The Kennedy's knew how to get out the vote. On election day, buses would pull up to the largest nursing homes in the area and ferry people to the voting places. On the buses would be coffee and doughnuts. The buses were provided by the Kennedy's and guess who the riders voted for.

When I came to Maryland, I found the Democrats to be firmly in control, regardless of the party of the Governor.

In the 1970's, I was lured to Carroll County by several factors, including the following:

People in Carroll County grew so much produce that they set up stands and gave the surplus away free! People in Carroll County were extremely polite compared to people in the surounding counties. It was nice to hear "thank you" and "you're welcome" as part of everyday patter.

So, we moved to Carroll County as soon as we could afford it. And nobody bothered this Democrat boy. Maybe they didn't know. As the years went by, I learned that many of the Carroll County elected officials were originally Democrats and had switched parties so they could get elected. Smart move. Although tempted, I could not make a complete switch, so I became an Independent. I have both Republican ideals and Democratic ideals. I vote for the man or woman who I feel would do the best job for the position. My grandfather would have thought that was admirable, but he still would have insisted in my being a Democrat.

Expansion of Man's Knowledge?

Someone has written somewhere that the beginning of wisdom occurs when man realizes that he doesn't really know anything at all. Witness the amazing things going on in astronomy. With new telescopes and technology, we are able to see into the past of our universe, and as we see more and more, we find that there are new questions and a myriad of things that we cannot yet understand with our feeble intellect.

"When I was a child... " etc. The bible quote is probably right.. someday we may be able to see more clearly and understand more fully. But right now, our astronomers are having a great time finding new mysteries that invigorate their minds. One of the classes in college that I breezed through without studying was Astronomy 101. Parts of the course deeply interested me, but other parts seemed like a waste of time for me. For instance, I couldn't care less about doppler effects and "spectrum shifts", so I spent my time reading about the planets and galaxies. Because most of the technology utilized latin terminology, it was very easy to pass the tests without worrying about deep study. (Shame on me... but, my idea of college teaching is not to give or take tests, but rather to do the European method of attending lectures and self-study. Memorization of what a professor thinks is important does not impress me .. with one exception.)

One of my German professors.. the famous Dr. Budde .. more about him in a future blog.. did not "teach" German, but instead recited the Illiad from memory in his classes.. in classical Greek.. he assumed that we would read the German literature required for the class and therefore felt no need to discuss it until the end of the semester. I learned a lot from Dr. Budde, even though I don't like memorization, his usage of it was spectacular, and, of course, recitation of classic stories was the way knowledge was imparted before there were books.. and classical German writers referred to the Illiad and the Odyssee often in their works. Besides, a "classical education" requires one to know Latin and Greek.

Sorry about that segue.

Anyway, I see that recently astronomers, during their look through the Universe, have found a new "light" alien planet in the planetary system GLIESE 581, in the LIBRA constellation, 20.5 light years away from Earth. This planet (GLIESE 581 e) apparently is a rocky place which may have had water at some point in time (like Mars?); however, right now it is too close to its sun to support life. But... scientists had already found another planet (GLIESE 581 d) further (farther?) out from its sun, and its in the "habitable zone." Will our telescopes ever be able to "zero in" on this planet and get viewable images... like we do with our "spy satellites" or Google Earth? Star Trek here we come!

Today I read that astronomers, in looking back in time billions of years, have found a "giant space blob" that can't be explained by anything we know about. It has been dubbed "Himiko".. after a Japanese queen. Scientists are mystified by this phenomenon. I'll probably never know what this is all about, but I'll bet my grandson, Cameron will. There are exciting times ahead for him.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Arts and Artists (Number 1)

(If you find these blogs clogging up your Facebook activity, you can just click on the "remove" spot off to the right and they will go away. I won't get mad, I promise.)

The man who I thought was my father was a very accomplished marine painter and had his own studio at one time. I knew about the ship paintings but lately I have found that he was also gifted at both religious and humorous subjects.. and he worked in all kinds of media. Even though he wasn't really my father, I wish that I had gotten to know him. We could have talked "art".

As far back as I can remember I was interested in "the arts." It wasn't until I went into the Air Force that my interest blossomed. I was stationed on top of a mountain in Germany for 18 months with a group of guys who were mainly college graduates who were serving their Air Force commitment after graduation. They had received draft deferments while they finished school and now it was "pay back time." The duty wasn't too tough on them.. most were radar operators and technicians.

In the group were a number of Liberal Arts majors. One of them was planning to go for a PhD and had made himself an expert on James Joyce. He introduced me to: A Protrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Dubliners; Ulysses (banned in the US, but available in Paris); Finnegan's Wake. I did well with all these books except the last. If you don't know about the work but like literature and languages, you are in for a treat.. or a nervous breakdown. (It is a bit frustrating to study a long section of the Wake and later find in a review that some of the words had been misspelled by the printer.) But I thought it was great fun trying to translate mile-long sentences into something intelligible.

But I digress (as usual). These college grads were happy to share their knowledge with this high school grad. They let me go with them on trips to Paris, London and Amsterdamm, where we would visit the famous museums. As has always been usual with my life, I lived in a number of groups. The cultural group with these guys; the beer-drinking group with some of my other co-workers; the "pretend to be European" group with some of the other guys. Thank you, Uncle Sam, for letting me have these experiences. (You need to know that I also spent 8 to 12 hours a day 6 or 7 days a week working in a freezing 8 x 10 radio operators van, so I don't feel too guilty for having fun in my off hours.

My point telling you all this? No point.. I just like to write and I'm so glad that I survived my recent procedure that I must express myself in some way. Please remember that even if you feel that your are a "captive audience", you can shut me off.. click on "remove".

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How far back can you remember?

Lately, I have been trying to see how far back in my life I can remember. I seem to remember being caught in New Bedford's Buttonwood Park when I was 3 or 4. My Uncle Allen and my Great Uncle Will found me after I ran away from my home on Borden Street, about two miles away.

Elaine says she remembers her father catching a giant snapping turtle when she was between 1 and 3 years old.

Some people think that we are reincarnated and that we can remember events from our former lives for a year after we are born, when the memories fade away. Under hypnosis, some people have told about prior lives. (See: Bridey Murphy)

Knowledge from prior lives has been suggested as a reason that some children are idiot savants. These are people who can do fantastic mathematic puzzle solving. For instance, ask an idiot savant what 34792918 times 2397564 equals and they can immediately answer: 83,418,247,651,752. How do they do it?

My Grandfather told me I was an idiot savant when I was around 4 years old. I can remember people giving me complicated problems in addition, subtraction and multiplication and I can remember giving them an immediate answer. I'm sure I just made up the answers through no mental effort and they probably liked playing along with me. But did I make up the answers? I'll never know, because the exercises came to a halt when I began to go to kindergarten. Nobody gave me any more challenging problems until I took Algebra in High School.

My Cousin Charlie and I were in the same class and had a competition going to get the highest grade in the class. Every day we competed in Mr. Worden's class. He was a nice guy and I think it did his ego good to see Charlie and me showing what we had been learning in his class. Mr. Worden didn't know that we were cousins.. we waited until the last day of school to tell him.

Math came very easy for Charlie and he was able to master all aspects of it. He earned a PhD in Physics and co-authored procedures that have helped physicists solve mind-bending problems. I gave math up after that class, even though I have it as one of my life goals to learn some of maths higher aspects, such as calculus.

When I was about 7 years old, I discovered cartoons.. the family subscribed to the Saturday Evening Post and each time it arrived I would cut out all of the cartoons and keep them in separate piles by cartoonist. Then, I would copy and learn the style of each cartoonist. For example: Otto Soglow, who drew rather simplistic figures that were kind of easy for me to copy.. does anyone remember "The Little King?" Remember the simplified ermine robe and the easy-to-draw crown: three circles with a triangle on top. Or Virgil Partch (VIP) who drew people with gigantic noses.

This copying was fun for me, but it didn't do much for me. Now, 67 years later, I am still a copier. Unfortunately, my cartoons are never original.

Elaine is a great caption writer. Each week, the New Yorker magazine has a caption contest. They publish a special cartoon by one of their many contributing cartoonists. This special cartoon usually shows weird juxtapositions of activity and has no caption. It is left up to the New Yorker reader to supply one. Elaine has been doing so for several years. I personally find her captions to be head and shoulders above the ones that are picked as winners. She has a gift, and someday she will win the big prize.

This gives me an idea... to gain the originality that I desire in my cartoons, why don't I draw some off-beat cartoons and let Elaine put the captions on them. She can be my "originality fairy."

Granddaughters Kaitlin and Bridget are into Anime.. the Japanese comics art form. And they are good at the procedure. Their father, Chris, has a gift for cartooning, but I can't convince him to try to do it full time. I don't think he really knows how good he is.

Great Grandson Cameron, at 5 years old, is already showing a talent for drawing. I hope that we can encourage him in this path.

Well, I start with a subject to stick to in these blogs, but I get sidetracked. So be it!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


For some time, Carroll County, Maryland had Eagle newspapers.. the Westminster Eagle and the Eldersburg Eagle. They were nice little free sheets with local news. They have now been subsumed by the Baltimore Sun and one must get a subscription to that paper to see what is now called the Carroll Eagle. (I did so, and now I don't have to miss the column by Kevin Dayhoff.) I am pleased to see that Jim Joyner is still the editor.

Each month, I submit AARP meeting notices and I will have to learn if I can still do that. The issue for the Week of April 19th came today and I was surprized to see that there were no pictures of me or Edith Keeney or Don Champ. ;o) Our pictures have been dominating all of Carroll County papers for some time. Now its time to give others a chance.

I read that the Boston Globe may fold. That is almost unbelievable. When I lived in that area (many many moons ago) I had to get two daily fixes: Half and Half Coffee, and the Boston Globe.
That may just leave the Daily Record and the Christian Science Monitor for a metro area of many millions. I could be wrong.

The Baltimore Examiner has left town. I think that they had even built a skyscraper downtown in anticipation of making lots of money here. It was a free paper, dependant on ad revenue, and I guess the Recession got them.

A long time ago, I spent almost 4 years in Germany. My English language news came from the Stars and Stripes and the New York Herald (Paris edition). One of the writers for the Herald was Art Buchwald and I was privileged to meet him at a bar once in Paris.

When I was a kid we could not afford to buy toilet paper and instead used newspaper pages. (A whole lot cheaper. But really rough on the butt.) Sometimes, the newspapers used shiny paper and that was a bit tricky to manipulate.. the same as paper from magazines. Thank goodness things have changed since then.

Time for some humor: (I forgot who told this story.)

I was reading a newspaper while riding on a train. My eyes got tired, so I put down the paper, but I didn't want it to blow away or fall on the floor, so I sat on it. After a few minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder and a man asked me: "Are you reading that newspaper?" .. Seeing a comedic opportunity, I said: "Yes, but I'm finished with this part and now I'm going to read the sports page." I stood up, folded the newspaper so that the sports page was showing up, and sat down on it again.

See ya!

Friday, April 17, 2009

My Carotid is Clear and all's right with the World

On Wednesday, I had the carotid endarterectomy procedure and now my risk of stroke has diminished and I have more time to sit in my rocking chair and enjoy old age, or so I'm told.

Carotid endarterectomy is a procedure where plaque is removed from the major arteries in the neck area. That plaque sometimes causes the brain to get starved for nourishing blood and sometimes part of the plaque breaks off and causes a stroke. I was very nervous about having this done because there is some risk of stroke during the operation, and I definitely do not want to lose any of my brain faculties, such as they are.

Well, the procedure is done, and now my brain is getting more blood than it has been used to for some time. I'm anxious to see if my puzzle-solving ability is enhanced. Elaine seems to think that it might help me stop forgetting things, like names. I doubt it.

I had the operation done at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore. The people there are very solicitous and tried every way to make my life comfortable. My only complaint was with the breakfast on the morning after the operation. They advertised home fries, and scrambled eggs. Instead, I had two long slivers of shaved ham which was almost all fat. If you cut off the fat, you were left with only one inch of skinny meat. And the potatoes were kind of cool and uncooked. The coffee did not deserve the name. But, I didn't really expect much so I wasn't disappointed. At lunch time, the meal was much better.. barbeque chicken and vegetables.

At the hospital I had one experience that I wasn't prepared for. A young lady insisted on giving me a bath. She was from Capetown, South Africa and she was glad that someone was finally interested enough to talk to her about her home town, that she obviously was very homesick for.

I won't be able to shave for two weeks.. maybe I'll grow a beard. All I have right now for facial hair is a Wilfred Brimley mustache. My beard of a few years ago was supposed to make me look like Captain Ahab.. or at least, the Gregory Peck version. I like to think that I was a "trend-setter" in facial hair.. in high school when none of the other kids had sideburns, I did. Then when they began to grow them, I shaved mine off.

My son-in-law, John and Mat L.S. can both grow different types of facial hair very quickly. And Sam, the mayor of New Windsor can grow his annual Santa Claus beard very quickly also. There is a nice lady clerk in the area who has a luxuriant black mustache. I always have wondered what she would look like if she shaved it off.

My late wife and I were fans of the Alligator Man and the Monkey Lady. They were a nice married couple who traveled around in so-called Freak Shows. When he put on a suit, he covered up his alligator skin and nobody knew about it; however, she had a full beard and mustache that could not have been hidden. Maybe she used a mask when she went out.

XM Radio broadcast a 1950's Twilight Zone radio show that involved masks. A family was visiting the patriarch of the family who was dying. They wanted to make sure they were in the will. (a little like the opera).. The family consisted of the father who was completely avaricious, the mother who was a hypochondriac, the daughter who was only concerned with her appearance, and the son, who was cruel to small animals and children.

The visit took place in New Orleans and the patriarch asked a Juju priest to make 4 masks for him. Now the patriarch told the family that if they kept their masks on until midnight, they would be able to share all of the money in his estate. Because they wanted the old man's money they agreed to do that. They did not in any way care for the old man.

The father got a mask that showed the face of a distorted Silas Marner or Ebenezer Scrooge. The mother got a mask that showed the face of cry baby. The girl's mask was of an ugly old woman. The boy's mask showed a cruel ogre. While not happy, they wore their masks until midnight, when the old man died.

The masks came off quickly and as they started to think about all the money they would now have, they found that their faces had taken on the looks of the masks and they would have to live with that for the rest of their lives.

Well.. got to go.. time to see what's happening on Facebook.

"Martha, who was that masked man?" "Why, it must have been The Lone Ranger.".. roll the tape of the William Tell overture.

Monday, April 13, 2009

More Easter Stuff

When my son was about 4 years old, one of his sisters said: "Look at the Easter basket that the Easter Bunny has left you." My son said, "Dad is the Easter Bunny." "Why do you say that?"
"Because I saw him with his bunny ears on."

That Easter Bunny sure gets around. Lately, some of our red leaved plants show signs of being eaten by some creature.. Yesterday the culprit was seen running through our yard.. its large ears and white tail gleaming in the sun. (Since it wasn't one of our elderly neighbors.. it had to be the Easter Bunny.)

I wonder where the custom of colorful eggs began. Perhaps in Russia? The Merriwether Post museum in D.C. has a very large collection of Easter eggs.. some of which fit inside of each other. Most are encrusted with precious jewels. The Czars and Czarinas and their children received them from each other or from their subjects every Easter. I've never seen them outside of that museum except in Art books. That is, until I went to my Aunt Mary's viewing at a funeral home in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. They had a whole case full of these eggs!

I often wonder what would have happened if the Vaughan Funeral Home had survived the Depression. It, too, had a Mattapoisett connection. There was a kind of "Vaughan Compound" in that town. There were plenty of Vaughan's and a few were involved in the Funeral Home. I have done a lot of genealogical research on the family and this is my take on why the business failed. Others in the family have a different theory.

The Vaughan's all had farms and plenty of produce. When the depression hit, people in Mattapoisett kept dying, but their relatives had no money for burial expenses, so they brought in produce, that the Vaughan's didn't need. So the funeral home wasn't able to meet expenses and folded.

This theory has lots of holes in it. Questions that I need to resolve: Why were there Vaughan funeral home ads in the newspapers during the Lizzie Borden trial in New Bedford? Where was the funeral home located then? In what year did the funeral home "go bust?" Did the family live in Mattapoisett when the business was in New Bedford? etc.

In New Bedford, there is a statue dedicated to the men who went out in whaleboats to harpoon whales. It shows a large muscular man in a very small boat preparing to throw a large harpoon at a whale. This represents the days when whales had a sporting chance of escaping capture. (Read Moby Dick) The caption on the statue reads: "A dead whale or a stove boat!"

My grandfather liked to tell everyone that the model for the statue was a giant of a man.. 6 foot 8 inches tall (or so) weighing close to 400 pounds. He said that when the man died, he got to embalm him. That went ok, but they could not find a coffin that he would fit into. They finally had to stick him into a piano case. I wonder how many pall-bearers were required.

Did I tell you about the harpoon that my uncle Allen made for me? I'll check my blogs to see if I mentioned it.

Oh.. I wanted to tell you about Captain Andy. My son, Chris, has always been very artistic and one year when he was 6 or 7 years old, he helped his mother boil eggs for Easter egg painting. They left the eggs in the refrigerator to cool off and after a while Chris went in and drew faces on all of the eggs. They were very well drawn. One was of a whaling captain and Chris named it "Captain Andy".

Captain Andy was so well done that I put it into my lunch bag and took it to work to show everybody what a great artist my son was. One and all, they were impressed. At lunch time, I decided to make a big show of sacrificing Captain Andy for the good of my stomach, and, with several people attending, I said some appropriate words and then cracked Captain Andy right over my work-piled desk. You guessed it... Captain Andy, although looking like a tough whaling Captain, was not as hard-boiled as I thought!

Happy Easter Monday!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Thoughts

Its a beautiful sunny Easter day here in Maryland. Our cats are rolling around in the sun rays coming through the windows. The temperature is up to 50 degrees and the wind is in a good direction that will allow us (me and the cats) to sit outside for awhile and soak up vitamin D.

This is the first year that my family hasn't had an Easter egg hunt, and that is kind of sad. However, I'm sure that the young members will find some goodies in baskets that the "bunny" has left.

When Super 8 movies were in fashion, I recorded egg hunts that we always had when we lived in Randallstown, Maryland. The night before Easter, the "bunny" would hide about 100 eggs that she and her helper spent hours hard-boiling and painting. This usually lasted until about 3 am, and naturally the kids would be up around 7 am and bugging us to let them look for eggs.

I have three wonderful kids (now grown of course). Diane was an expert at finding eggs. She would methodically look and find eggs. She always found most of them. Elizabeth followed her around and got the few that Diane missed. Chris just lazily looked around and was satisfied if he found just a few. After the hunt, the girls would go into their Easter dance... they did dance steps that "Buck and Bubbles" would have liked to have learned. And I recorded it all on Super 8 movie film.

Sometimes the children's great Aunt Marjorie would come down from Massachusetts for Easter. She adored my children and would bring them all kinds of special Easter eggs. Some were even mechanical. I think that I wrote a blog about the hundreds of fuzzy bunnies that I bought at an auction in Gamber, Maryland. Marjorie took some home with her and decorated them with beads and bangles and would bring them back for Easter. Once, she even made one for me... fancy colored beads and ribbons.. this was the "mother bunny". I wanted to bring that to Social Security as part of my "bunny ploy", but the plan fell through when the bunnies began to disappear. (read my blog)

Aunt Marjorie was a favorite person to me and my family. She as well as my Grandparents brought me up and I'm sure she considered me as her child. I loved her as I did my mother and grandparents and I don't remember if I ever said "I love you" to her.. but perhaps my deeds conveyed it.

Once, when I was very young (7?) my Aunt Laurana gave me an old-style record that I could play on our wind-up Victrola. (This was long before 78's, 45's, discs, and CD's.) It was called "The Laughing Record".. and that is all that was on it... laughing.. laughing .. laughing.. over and over... I played it all the time. I loved that record. (I noticed that Aunt Marjorie seemed to get grumpy after I had played it for an hour or so.)

One day, I came home from school and looked for my record because I wanted to play it for a while before supper. I found it on the rocking chair, broken in half! Aunt Marjorie said that she hadn't seen it and had sat on it. I went ballistic! This was my favorite thing in the world. It took me a long time to forgive her.

Thirty years later, when my family had settled in Randallstown, a package arrived from Aunt Marjorie. It was a gift for me, a beautiful silver Christmas Tree ornament. Since we had already put up our Christmas Tree, we made room for the special ornament. That night, as we were sleeping at 2 am, we began to hear some laughter coming from the front room. Armed with a heavy book, I tiptoed out of the bedroom to protect my family. Nobody was there, but coming from the tree and Marjorie's ornament was laughter, over and over. It took a while to find the tiny shut-off button. (This had to be Marjorie's way of saying: "I'm sorry about the record, but listen to this ornament and understand my side of the story."

Easter moments with Aunt Marjorie were captured on film, as well as our Christmas adventures. I tried to splice all of this film together to make it easier to show. Over the years the family lost interest because of the effort that was needed to set up a screen, the projector and all those rolls of film. However, at one time a new employee of mine asked if I had film that he could put on a Beta tape. I brought him a bag of spliced, unspliced, unraveled, bent, inked, chewed by a cat, etc... super 8 film. He salvaged a bunch of it and dubbed appropriate music for each scene and gave me a "family treasure." We had hours of fun running the tape over and over on Sunday nights.

However, Beta went away. Somebody retaped it on VCR tape. It lost something in translation, but it is still viewed.. in fact, Elizabeth took it home to view last week.

In one of the many boxes of "stuff" that I didn't want to throw away in our last move, is a pile of that Super 8 film.. all mixed up and intertwined. I'm hoping that somebody in the family will volunteer to sort it all out and do a re-tape using modern methods. I don't want to lose the record of those wonderful holiday times.

PS. My Baltimore friend, Lee, says that when he was young all of the kids would play "crack eggs" on Easter. He says this is a German custom. I have never heard of it before and I can't figure out the rules or reason for it from what he says. I'll bet Kevin Dayhoff knows about it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good news?

I can't believe it.. some of my stocks actually went up, at least that is what my March 31st statement says. Not that I have a lot of stocks. I had a great idea one time, and that was to buy one or two shares of each of the Dow Jones picked stocks, the ones that give us the average each day. So, of course, these stocks go up or down in line with the market fluctuation... and in the last year, their value has taken a nosedive. But, since some of these have now gone up slightly in value... maybe the downturn is over. Maybe.

But actually, it doesn't really matter. With my small portfolio, even if the prices went to zero, I would not jump out of a window. Its just fun to follow the market, a little.

Twenty or so years ago, my late wife and I belonged to an investment club. It was a lot of fun. I think it cost us $30 a month. The club met 12 times a year to decide on which stocks to buy and sell. However, after a while, when some members started to take it all too seriously, the club disbanded and we sold off the stock. We made a little profit, which our Uncle Sam got a big cut of.

With hindsight, we should definitely have held on to a few of the stocks, which have continued to pay nice dividends, even in this recession.

One of my stocks, which I bought in the teen $ range, is now selling at 6 1/2 cents a share. Since the stock is related to the auto industry, I thought that it might jump in value as the US auto industry comes back to life, as I think it will. Anyway, I tried to buy a bunch of it .. 300 shares would only cost a little over $21, and even if the stock ever rose to at least $1 per share, I would anticipate a couple of hundred dollars profit when sold.

My computer, very grouchily, informed me that they would not handle a purchase of penny stocks. So now I will have to learn about how one does buy stocks like that. I have a lot to learn even though I was in that Investment Club.

Everybody tells me to buy bonds issued by municipalities. The subject of bonds has never been able to penetrate my brain. I have bought US bonds in the past, and I understand how they work, but how the other kinds of bonds work is a mystery to me.

Isn't this a wonderful world?! There is so much to learn and experience. It gives me great pleasure to follow (from afar) the activities of my grandchildren and great grandchild and feel (vicariously) the excitement as they learn new skills. And I learn new skills every day.. this is one of the reasons I bought a new laptop and an upscale cell phone.. and joined Facebook and Twitter.. and joined a new genealogy group and a new Civil War History group.. etc etc

I believe it was Robert Louis Stevenson who said: "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings!"

And of course, my old standby paraphrased saying of Auntie Mame: "Life is a banquet and most people are starving to death."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Avoid Alzheimers, try Cryptic Crosswords

Have you ever done Cryptic Crosswords? Not the usual ones you see in almost every newspaper, but the ones that British people love.

When I was a child, I sat next to my grandfather, in his smoke-filled stinky den while he compiled the world's greatest crossword puzzle dictionary. He would give me puzzles to solve and I became quite expert in the American style crosswords.

I became a member of the National Puzzlers League in 1974 and branched out into all kinds of mental puzzles, and discovered Cryptic Crosswords. These are the crossword puzzles that people in the British Empire enjoy solving. These employ tricky word-play. If you want to keep exercising your brain and you want to do something quite different from the normal crosswords, such as appear in most daily papers, I would highly recommend Cryptic Crosswords.

You can find these puzzles in magazines like The Nation and BBC Music. The Atlantic Monthly as well as The New Yorker used to have good ones each month, but they were dropped, apparently because there wasn't enough interest by ordinary subscribers.

British newspapers, like the Times and the Guardian publish cryptics. I hate to admit it, but I have NEVER completely finished even one of the Times cryptics. However, I have done some of the Guardians as well as ones from other British papers. BBC Music Magazine has a great music-themed cryptic each month. They are quite tough for me, but I learn something about classical music each month when I attempt to solve them. British puzzles naturally contain a lot of terms and words that Americans usually are not used to, and this makes them a bit tough, at least for me. But I love the challenge.

The cryptic in The Nation has been posed each month for years by a gentleman with a great sense of humor and a very wide knowledge of all kinds of things. I am able to solve almost all of them, but they do give my brain a workout.

Recently, the magazine THE WEEK has begun a regular crossword that is similar to a cryptic in humor and wordplay.

I have my regular puzzle "fixes". Every month, I do cryptics from The Nation, BBC Music Magazine, British newspapers, the National Puzzlers League, books from Borders, and wherever else I can find them. But I try not to ignore regular American crosswords, especially the tough ones in The Week magazine and the New York Times. (I'm sure you know that the American style puzzles in the Times start rather easily on Mondays and get progressively harder as the week progresses.)

Cryptic puzzles emply a number of different wordplay types.. such as anagrams, hidden words, charades, etc. If you haven't tried them, you are in for a mental treat.

Outside of the National Puzzlers League, I have only been acquainted with one other person who loved cryptic crosswords. His name was Chuck Adkins, and he worked for me at the Social Security Administration. Chuck was a puzzler and I got him interested in Cryptics.. and all of a sudden, he was submitting cryptic puzzles to Games Magazine. If you subscribe to that magazine, take a look at the names of the cryptics contributors, you may see a puzzle submitted by him. Even though Chuck passed away a couple of years ago, that magazine still publishes his cryptics periodically. Chuck was an amazing person and a good friend. I miss him.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


For 4 or 5 years I worked in (and worked out) the New Bedford, Massachusetts YMCA. At that time, it was truly a "Young Men(s)" organization, not the family-oriented gym club it has become. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) I loved my job at the YMCA.. I watched people's valuables, gave them their gym clothes and smelly sneakers, sold them combs (unofficially), showed men how to curl the famous 65 pound dumbbell, watched over the kids swimming in the pool (even saved one of them from drowning), and made lots of friends.

While I did my jobs, I always had a weight in my hand, doing curls and presses. I was in pretty good shape then .. BB (before belly).. in fact, there actually are pictures of me flexing some muscles (believe it or not). When I went into the service during the Korean War, I had planned to take my job back when I came home (at that time, employers were told to return jobs to returning servicemen.) However, when I came home, an older man was doing my job (parts of it) and I did not want to take it away from him. Anyway, I had decided to go to college then anyway, and would have only worked at the old job for a few months.

The YMCA was located in an old (c:1888) red brick building. It had 4 floors of gyms and classrooms and offices and a great cockroach-infested basement where the weight-lifting, swimming pool, showers, locker rooms areas were. But it also had secret passages. My friend, Casey and I found some of them and used to traverse them from time to time... that was lots of fun. It was a marvelous building.

Years later, when I lived in Maryland, someone wrote me that the old building had been torn down and a new facility built a few blocks away. I realized that they would need a new Y someday, but I had hoped that they would keep the wonderful old building. (It has been replaced by an ugly parking lot!)

The next time I visited New Bedford, I hurried to the new Y. I wanted to see the new facility. Also, a friend of mine was now the physical director and I wanted to talk over old times with him. When I got to the front desk, a lady said: "What do you want?" in what I thought was a rather snippy manner. But, I told her very politely that I had worked at the old Y for several years and wondered if I could take a tour of the new facility. She said: "No. You will have to pay for a membership." It was downhill from there. So, I never did get to see the place.

I was back in New Bedford for some funerals recently and learned that one of my relatives is now a manager at the Y. So, maybe someday I'll be able to visit.

Spirit, mind and body. That is (or was) the motto for the YMCA. I lived it for several years until I went into the service and got a little corrupted in the body part. However, in bringing up my children, I tried to instill the concept in them. They turned out to be amazing, thoughtful, and tolerant people, so I think that what I learned at the Y lives on.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

To Insure Promptness (TIPs)

My granddaughter, Kaitlin, commented on the fact that people neglect to leave tips in a coffee shop when the price of their coffee goes up. Unfortunately, people don't usually realize that the workers make minimum salaries and rely on tips to make enough money to live on. How well I remember when tips made a great difference in my life.

For a couple of years, as I attended Boston University, I drove a taxi evenings in New Bedford, Massachusetts. At the time, you were paid a very low percentage of the money you took in from riders. Some nights, when you only had a couple of riders, take home pay might be as low as $1. If the riders did not tip you, that was all you made for 6 hours of your time.

At the same time, my wife worked as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant, and had to put a crossover toe-hold on the owner every week to get him to pay her the minimum amount that he was obligated to pay. Her main income was from tips.. and she was a great waitress and made enough on tips to cover for the small amount that I made.

There were several reasons why I didn't make much in tips. One was that I was a sucker for a sob story. Many of the people I took in the cab were very poor, so they couldn't leave much if anything for a tip. And because I didn't complain when they stifted me, they always wanted me to take them for their trips. Also, I had a number of blind and disabled clients who did not have much money.

Another reason for low tips was that I would take the famous lady named "Fish Mary" in my cab. Nobody else would, because she was a "lumper". If you want to know what that is, check out my earlier blogs. Just be content to know that a "lumper" smells like dead and dying fish. Whenever she left my cab, I had to be side-lined for an hour to let the cab air out.

Another reason for low tips was because of cut-throating. We honest drivers were preyed upon by the old-timers, who would give money gifts to the dispatchers so they sent jobs their way. One of the dispatchers was a drunk and got a bottle of gin every night to take home with him from one of these old-timers.

However, even though I did not earn much money at this job, I did have lots and lots of interesting experiences. I got to see a side of my home town that very few people get to see. (And some church-goers would be very surprised to see who was doing what to whom.)

When I was driving my cab, another Vaughan was also driving. He was called "the dirty Vaughan"; I was called "the clean Vaughan". I could never figure out if he was related to me or not. I hope not, because he sure was a scroungy guy.

Driving cab in New Bedford was rather dangerous because many customers were rugged fishermen who had just come in after three weeks on the ocean. They were paid a share of the income from the catch and sometimes this pay was astronomical for a town of New Bedford's size. The wives of the fishermen usually stayed tuned to the fisherman's news on the radio so they could tell when their husbands' boats came in. Then they would stick their kids in strollers and hustle down to the barroom area near the docks and lay in wait for their husbands so that they could get some of that money before they blew it all on drinks.

The cab drivers would get the drunken fishermen to drive from bar to bar.. you can guess what often happened then. But, if they had any of their senses left they would give you pretty good tips. Sometimes they had no money left. It was useless to try to get them to pay when they were dead drunk and beligerent.

But I survived all that. And now, I do try to tip when deserved.. but not when the server is nasty. One has to be careful these days when some restaurants add an 18 or 20% tip automatically to the bill. I always wonder if the server gets that.

Usually this add-on is done for large parties. However, one of the local IHOP restaurants started adding 20% to all bills.. most of their clientele was senior citizens.. customers began to go to other restaurants instead.

The bottom line: Businesses that have servers who are able to get tips, usually pay their servers very little. If the customers do not tip the servers, they are not able to make a living wage. Besides that, they have to pay income tax on their tips!

So... go and tip some more!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Crazy News

There are a number of news stories today that make me think that the world has gone mad. Let me mention just a few of them. (Since I'm not privy to the actual facts and am just reading these stories in magazines or newspapers, I may be reporting on erroneous or misleading items in those media.) But anyway, here goes:

1. The Justice Department has said that they will drop corruption charges against former Alaskan Senator, Ted Stevens, because of prosecutorial misconduct. Huh? Was the whole thing a ploy to get the old-timer out of the Senate?

2.The Principal of Peabody High School in Massachusetts has shut down the students' monthly ice cream socials because everybody knows that ice cream is not good for you.

3. North Korea claims that it launched a satellite that is broadcasting communistic slogans. The world has yet to be able to tune in to this program.

4. A woman in Maryland walked into the propeller of an airplane. I wonder why.

5. In Pittsburgh, three policemen were killed when they responded to a 911 call for help in a fight between a woman and her son over a dog urinating in the house.

6. In Georgia, a jail inmate escaped, stole a lot of cigarettes, and then tried to break back into the jail.

7. A 79 year old Florida woman recieved a "priority" invitation to join the U.S. Marines.

8. A British chicken farmer has urged consumers to buy "medium" eggs, because he says it is painful for chickens to lay larger eggs.

9. A Pennsylvania man tried to do a hold-up at a convention of police officers.

10. Ex-President George W. Bush plans to give 10 speeches this year "to make some money".

11. A study has found that fidgeting kids are not being inattentive, they are just trying to stay focused. Parents are urged not to nag kids to "sit still" anymore.

12. Residents of Broughton in Southern England formed a human chain to turn away a car full of people shooting pictures for Google Street View.

13. A measure sponsored by Senator John Ensign of Nevada would repeal DC's strict gun registration requirements and its restrictions on semi-automatic weapons.

14. The father of a son who beat his mother to death in Maryland said that except for that one act, every man would be glad to have him as a son.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Opening Day for the Orioles

Today is a day when many people in Baltimore phone in on sick leave so they can attend the opening day at Camden Yards. The Orioles are playing the New York Yankees. The first 5,000 attendees age 18 or over will receive a scratch-off Maryland lottery ticket. So, you can go to the game and maybe get enough money from the lottery to cover the exorbitant amount of money you have to shell out for a day at the ballgame.

The last time my son and I went to Camden Yards, we thought that it might be smart to drive to Hunt Valley and take the light rail right down to the ballpark and not have to worry about traffic and parking. We got to the light rail station very early in the day, thinking that it probably would take 30 minutes to get to the park. Three hours later we arrived, 20 minutes after the game had started. On the way, the train stopped at least 50 times.. or it seemed like it to us.

At the park, I believe that my son paid for my ticket and I paid for food and beer. It might have been the other way around... anyway, we wondered how people taking their family to the ballpark could afford it. But, we had a good time watching the game.. of course, at the end of the game we had the fun of trying to get on a full train and spend some more hours to get back to Hunt Valley. (I think we were even on an "Express" train!)

I came to work for the Social Security Administration in 1960, when an important change was made to the Social Security Act, and the Government needed to hire thousands of workers in a short period of time. When I went for my interview, I was asked two very important questions: "How do you like the Orioles?" and "How do you like the Colts?"

I thought that they were talking about birds and horses and of course, I said that I liked them very much. Based on that, I was hired on the spot! (You do know that they had already reviewed my qualifications, so this was just an interview to make sure that I was a living, breathing person.)

Incidentally, before 1960, only lawyers were hired to become Claims Authorizers (the job I applied for). In 1960, not many lawyers wanted to give up lucrative careers in law to get a low-paying job with Uncle Sam. So, Social Security got dispensation to hire people who had done detective work. When I was going to Boston University, one of my many many many part-time jobs was as a Credit Investigator for a major credit company. So I qualified.

I'm very glad that I got my Social Security job.. during the 35 years that I worked in Woodlawn, Maryland, I couldn't wait to get to work every morning. I wonder how many people can say that?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Shooting Sprees

At least 47 people have been killed in mass shootings in the US in the past month. Why? What is this obsession for violence in our country? Does this happen in other countries? My hunting friends tell me that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." I'm sure that is right, but perhaps we should somehow keep guns out of the hands of killers and just in the hands of true hunters.

When I was 16, some of my friends invited me to go "coon hunting" with them. I didn't have a gun of any kind, so I declined. However, I did think that I might buy one so that I could hunt with my friends. Unfortunately, during that same hunt, one of my friends accidently shot and killed another of my 16 year old friends, a young man with great potential. That changed my mind, and I didn't want to have anything to do with guns.

When I was in the service, I visited the firing range one time. Even though I couldn't even see the targets, I was awarded the "sharpshooter" disignation. I think they must have mixed my scores up with someone elses. But what did it matter? After all, I was in the Air Force. Why would I need to use a gun. Boy, was I wrong.

For a year and a half, I was stationed near Nuernberg Germany, in a small place called Mausdorf (Mouse Village). I was more or less in charge of a Cryptography van, in which I had to have access to a "burp gun." This was a kind of machine gun that fired large '45 bullets. I was instructed to "shoot to kill" any of the "commies" that tried to break into the van. Luckily for me (and I guess for them also) the "commies" were over two hundred miles away, in the East Zone.

However, I did have a strange experience one day while I was in the van. (I usually worked alone in the van.) It was located next to the site entrance where an Air Policeman was always stationed. On this day, the cop was a guy who I had beaten in Black Jack the day before, when I discovered how he was cheating, and used it against him during the play. I took all his money and in desperation, he put up his elegant, very expensive sunglasses, and when I won them as well, he got very angry. (The sunglass story is much more detailed and worth a blog all by itself.)

My Airpoliceman friend was still stewing the next day when he was on duty. He knew I was alone in the van and decided to show his disdain for my card-playing prowess by firing his burp gun at the van. At first I thought that those commies had attacked, but when I peeped out an eyehole, I saw him firing dead-on at the sides of the van. The '45 size slugs were powerful, but no match for the armor on the van. In fact, you could hardly see any dents later. But, as the van got hit, it rocked back and forth violently. Finally, either he got tired of it, or ran out of ammunition, or somebody showed up to watch him. He quit firing, and when I got up enough courage to walk out, he came over, shook my hand and we became friends (kind of). He was the first person that I had ever met who came from Baltimore, and I wondered if all Baltimoreans were like him. I found out later that this was not the case.... thank God.

There were a few other times when I had encounters with guns and bullets. They took place when I was stationed on top of a mountain in the Schnee Eifel area of Germany. I was there for 18 months and had made a friendship with a very large Indian from Oklahoma. He was, of course, called Chief, and I saw him busted (very unfairly) from Master Sargeant to Airman Basic by a new 2nd Lieutenant. (Subject of another blog.) Oh.. Chief had been a Code-Talker in WWII.

Depressed by being busted, Chief decided to become a drunk.. every night. But, about once every month, Chief drank much more than usual and went on a "warpath".

We were billeted in a long quanset hut type of barracks and we slept in double-decker metal bunks. On these monthly adventures, Chief would burst into the quarters yelling and whooping and firing a '45, putting holes in walls and ceilings. We would quickly climb under the bottom bunks and hide until Chief got it all out of his system, usually in 5 or 10 minutes. And nobody ever got wounded. The next day, Chief would go around making apologies and swearing never to do it again.

One night, a new 2nd lieutenant (I did not like them, can't you tell), was in charge of the barracks. He didn't know about Chief's peccadilloes and came running into the quarters just after Chief had run out of ammunition. When he came in, he yelled "attention!" and we all came out of hiding and stood next to our bunks, including Chief. The Lt. asked who was firing a gun.. nobody replied, so he started an inspection.. he went from bunk to bunk, lifting up the bed clothes as he walked along, looking for the gun. When he came to Chief's bed, he lifted up the pillow and there was Chief's gun, still hot from firing. He got red in the face, then he looked up at the 6 foot 5 inch 300 pound wild-looking Indian standing before him, reached down, covered up the gun, and continued on with his inspection.

Last year, President Bush awarded a medal to one of the last WWII Code Talkers. I think it was given to Chief.

Some of my friends in Carroll County, and some of my relatives in Massachusetts are hunters. I know that the deer population is out of control and needs to be culled, but I also hope that the meat is put to good use and not just thrown away.

One of my relatives goes bear hunting in Maine. He baits an area under a big tree in which he has built a "blind" from which to shoot bears. The bears get used to coming to the bottom of the tree to get a treat and when my relative senses the time is right, he climbs the tree and shoots the bears as they come to eat. I told him that I read that bears are great tree climbers.. so isn't it dangerous? He said: YES.. so you have to get a perfect shot right away... or the bear will get you. ... Recently, I heard that my relative is suffering the early effects of Alzheimers. And, he is still hunting bears!!

More on this later.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Social Security Chorus

Today, I once again was able to see and hear again the Social Security chorus at the AARP meeting. They put on a very nice show. I don't think that I would be violating any rules if I told about their presentation.

This is a group of Social Security employees who love to sing. Some are still employed, and some are retired. (I seized the opportunity to give them a bunch of applications for the Social Security Alumni Association, after all, I am the National Vice President. Some of them did not know that you don't have to be retired to join. Now they do.)

Their program was very well put together.. "The SSA Chorus Presents..... Lights, Cameras, Action!" There were eleven parts:

01. Hooray for Hollywood! ... The lively song with references to Shirley Temple, Aimee Semple, Donald Duck and Tyrone Power. The words were provided so we could sing along.

02. Lollipop! ... Song from 1958 by the Chordettes. Lolliipops were provided to everyone.

03. Be Happy! ... Medley of two Happy songs: I want to be happy: from the 1920's. And Make someone Happy: from the 1960's.

04. That's Amore! ... The song that made Dean Martin famous and Italians everywhere excited. We all raised our arms in unison ... and love.

05. Don't Sit under the Apple Tree ... Famous World War II song that brings tears to the eyes of those who served in that conflict and/or remember the times.

06. Jambalaya ... New Orleans song full of joy and filet gumbo.

07. Those Fabulous Forties ... medley from that time. Started out with "Jumpin' at the Woodside".. a tune I don't remember. But I did remember the others, such as Pennsylvania 6 5 0 0 0, and Chattanuga Choo Choo.

08. I'd like to teach the World to Sing ... famous song that was commissioned by Coca Cola. If only the world could learn to sing together!

09. I'm a Believer! ... I must have been asleep for this one...?

10. Give me the Simple Life ... My family and some of the neighbors used to sit on the front steps in the evening and sing this song, Elmer's Tune and other songs of the era. I wonder if people do that anymore. Are the current songs singable? ?

11. TV Time! ... This was a medley of tunes that were connected with TV Shows we all loved over the years: Songs from:

Laverne and Shirley
3's Company
Brady Bunch
Green Acres
Adams Family
Mr. Ed
Beverly Hillbillies
I Love Lucy
Happy Days
Carole Burnett Show

We all had a great time singing along and watching the schtick. If you can catch them when they are not all booked up, your group is in for a treat.

And, of course, they provided some Social Security informational brochures. I think they are great ambassadors for SSA.

P.S. I took a bunch of pictures. I'll make them available to them if they care to have them. I hade fun taking the pictures, especially of the two young helpers they had with them.

William Penn

During the 1960's, I made a couple of trips to Philadelphia for the Social Security Administration. On one of the trips, I ventured to the top of the William Penn, on top of city hall. I remember climbing rickety stairs... but a co-worker, Gene McMahon, said he went up on a rickety elevator.

At the time, there weren't that many skyscrapers in Philly, and the view was spectacular.

Recently, as I traveled through Philly on a train, I looked around to try to see William, and finally spotted him, just half way up lots of the new skyscrapers. Times and cities change.

Around the same time, I took an elevator to the top of the highest building in Baltimore. I think it was 32 stories. I was let off at the penthouse level, which was empty at the time. The view from there was spectacular too. This was before the building of the marvelous "Inner Harbor."

Now, that same building is dwarfed by many many other buildings.

Now, it seems that American cities have been outclassed in terms of high buildings by cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai. And look at Dubai!

It might have been Buckminster Fuller who predicted mile-high skyscrapers that would hold 125,00 residents. In between these massive buildings, there might be beautiful parks and lakes.

Elaine is a sky-diver. I wonder if she would consider jumping off the top of a mile-high building? Sky-divers probably have to fly higher than a mile. I marvel at how they can jump out of a plane so high and land in an 18' circular target area on the ground. They have to do that in Salisbury, Maryland because the local farmer would pepper them with shot if they landed in his fields. "Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good plane?"

(Well, soon I will get back to posting about the news.)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

It's Tough to get Old - but consider the Alternative

How the devil did I get this old? I guess I'm not "good" if only the "good" die young.

I have done some bad things in my life (don't tell my grandchildren!).. But not real bad. However, apparently to make up for my badness, I have had to suffer most of the maladies that befall my fellow old-timers, and because I was probably a little worse than most people, I have had a few extra maladies.

Now, that gives me the opening to do something that all old folks like to do... talk about their illnesses. If you feel that this will be too boring (you are probably right about that), jump to a different and more pleasant blog.

I am told that I have "pre-diabetes" ... give me a break! Because my finger-tip tests are in the 100-120 range, I must watch what I eat, exercise and keep testing for the rest of my life. In talking to my fellow NARFE (National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association) members, I find that we all have "pre-diabetes."

Diabetes is a definite problem for my children, since it is hereditary. My late wife's mother died at 50 from diabetic complications. My grandmother had to take insulin for most of her life.
So now some of my progeny already have the disease, or the precurser to it. It's not a fun thing to have.

I have had a heart attack and I have a stent. Thank God for modern medicine and aspirins. When my attack started, before I called for help, I chewed two aspirins. My cardiologist says that this probably saved my life. The stent that he put into an artery helped too. They performed the procedure at Sinai and kicked me out early the next morning.

During cardiac rehab, I made lots of good friends and got into pretty good shape considering.

My next problem was a wound that wouldn't heal. It was on my leg and was not like your everyday run of the mill wound. It was at a ten level pain mark. The hospital thought that it was the result of the bite of a brown recluse spider. Normally, that spider would not live in Maryland, but anything goes during global warming. They treated me as though it was the result of a spider bite, but they were not really sure of the cause.

During the treatment, placement of a compression bandage caused another wound that had to be treated. Once the first and second wounds healed up, a few months later one appeared in my other leg. All had 10 level pain, and each took about a year to heal up. I went to Wound Care Centers in two hospitals and neither of them could find out the true cause of the non-healing. However, as a result, and just in case circulation is the problem, I will have to wear tight Jobst stockings for the rest of my life.

Basta! as the Italians say. Enough! I won't bore you anymore. Things are not that bad for me right now, except that my right carotid artery is 80% clogged and I will have to have surgery to get it unplugged. I don't really want the surgery, but everyone is telling me I should.

Damn! It sure is tough to get old!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April Fool

Well, so far, it looks like the "April Fool Worm" did not come to life on my PC, at least not on my laptop. I read somewhere that it probably would be confined to Government computer systems. But there are other things to watch out for on April Fools Day: yes, of course, everybody trying to fool us.

At one minute after midnight, I asked Elaine if there were some way to replace four of her collectible pink tumblers that I had just broken. April fool! I wonder what she is going to do to try to fool me... I'll have to think carefully about everything she says today.

My favorite April Fools Day caper took place at the Social Security Administration many years ago. Some of my six foot five inch tall friends took great pleasure in teasing me for being short, so I planned a little revenge. I had my secretary reserve a conference room and arrange for coffee and doughnuts.. then she sent letters to everybody I could think of who was over 6 feet 3 inches tall (maybe 20 people) requesting their presence at a ficticious meeting at the conference room on April first. She arranged the letters so nobody could tell who sent them.

I always wondered about that meeting. As they all waited for the meeting that never took place, did they look around to see who was there, and did they wonder why everybody at the meeting was a very tall person?

A few months ago, I met one of the attendees and tried to see if they remembered the meeting. They didn't. But that's OK. I like to visualize what happened in my imagination.

Another April Fool's day caper involved hundreds of fuzzy bunnies. It began on that day but lasted for a while. I think I will save that one for another blog.

If you are reading this on April Fool's Day.... watch out!