Sunday, October 24, 2010

Can you believe it?

Auntie Mame said (paraphrasing): "Life is a banquet, and yet some poor chumps are starving to death!"

This seems especially true to me when I observe the election activity this year. Negativity seems to be a new way of life, and I don't like it at all. We have always had some negative ads, but this is ridiculous. Elaine and I took advantage of early voting and have done our duty, but we still have two weeks to be subjected to mail, telephone, email and tv messages telling us how bad each of the opposite candidates is. (I know that no amount of bad-mouthing will influence my vote and I hope it doesn't influence yours.) So, I would say to these negative people: "Relax! Begin to enjoy this wonderful banquet of a life. Look around you at all the beauty. It's there. When all you do and say is negative, you miss out on so much."

01. Cold feet? The Greenland marathon was run yesterday and won by a lady from Stockholm. I believe the temperature was a balmy 19 degrees, I could be wrong. I heard that one year the race was run in minus ten degree weather. The runners have to be very careful to avoid hidden cracks and crevices and some wear spiked running shoes so they don't slip on the ice.

02. Country Living. We live in a rural county in Maryland where there are many old churches that provide Saturday food fests. For instance, a couple of weeks ago we got carry-out crab cakes from one church. I'm not an expert on crab cakes, but Elaine said they were some of the best she had ever had.

Yesterday, we got carry-out fried oysters from another old country church. They were wonderful.

Soon, bazaar season will be upon us and we will be able to do the rounds of the churches and sample all the goodies here is the "land of pleasant living."

As a person involved with several senior citizen organizations, I get to attend lots of funerals. I make it a point to eulogize many of these persons if I feel that they are not being served well in that regard by clergy or relatives. After these services, there usually is a luncheon put on by the "church ladies". The food is always yummy, and helps to keep sweet memories of the deceased stay with us.

03. Commandments. Recently, I finished listening to a book on tape that I highly recommend. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. AJ is an editor at Esquire magazine and is the author of several books, including The Know-It-All, where he recounts his "humble quest to become the smartest person in the world" by reading the Encyclopedia Britanica from A to Z.

I will not try to give a review of AJ's book on tape. My son, Chris, is an author and does much better than I could ever do at book reviews. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed the book on tape so much that I ordered a print copy of the book from Amazon so that I could get the full effect of AJ's scholarship.

Just imagine, finding all of the commandments and suggestions in both the new and old testaments of the Bible and trying to observe them for a whole year. Try the read.. you'll like it.

04. Goats? A book that I recently read was The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson and a helper that doesn't get mentioned in the copy of the book that I have. After some delay, the movie based on the book has finally been released. (Did it first have to get US Government approval?)

Since I was in a small way connected with Air Force people who acted similarly to those (real persons) mentioned in the book, I got completely absorbed in the book. Once again, I will not try to give a review of the book. I will tell you that I was able to use one of the techniques mentioned in the book to save my life when surrounded by drunken Army tank drivers in Nuremberg, Germany fifty years ago. Read my book about that one.

05. Happy seniors. Speaking of banquets.. last week, it was my privilege to help set up the induction ceremony for the 2010 members of the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame. Fifty seniors were honored for doing years of volunteer service to their communities. These inductees had been involved in all kinds of activity that helped their fellow citizens of all ages. It was indeed a happy occasion. No negativity there.

I want to mention one of the inductees and I don't think he would mind. His last name is Vaughn (without the "a"). He brought a group of cheering supporters with him.. 6 tables of them.. 59 ladies! Since we have (almost) the same last name, I asked him to take some of whatever he has that makes him so attractive to women and bottle it for me. (Only kidding, Elaine...)

06. Amazing. Simon Cowell's "Got Talent" franchise now broadcasts in over 30 countries, including China. In Shanghai, the winner was a 23 year old man who plays the piano with his toes! Liiu Wei lives in Beijing and lost his legs at age 10. Parents.. tell this to your reluctant piano playing kids.

07. Parlez-vous? The Associated Press reports that a woman in England speaks English with a French accent even though she has never been in France or studied French. She has a condition known as Foreign Accent Syndrome. There are only a few cases of this around the world. Supposedly, the syndrome appeared suddenly after she had a severe migraine attack.

08. Old friends. Recently, coming back from three weeks at the ocean, I tried to catch up on three weeks of newspapers... including some online from my Massachusetts hometown. Of course, the first thing I checked was the obituaries.

Baltimore Sun: I saw a memorial to the lady who was my secretary for several years at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn, Maryland.

Letha Alston: a marvelous secretary and good friend who made a big impact on my life. She passed at the age of 66 in 2006..

Letha once gave me a birthday card that said: "You remind me of Chinese Food: Egg Foo Old!"

Letha also was a great supplier of jokes for my stand-up comedy routines: the one I remember best has the punchline: "that's nacho cheese!"

I miss Letha.

New Bedford Standard Times:

David Burr, who died on his 78th birthday.. September 30th, 2010. Dave was a friend at Rodman School in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was a comedian type kid who always had a joke or a funny tale to tell. He was another influence on my life. RIP

09. Resurrection? Last week in Baltimore, an 89 year old lady was found on the floor of her bathroom. The policemen assumed that she was dead and contacted her son, who made arrangements to donate her body to science.

When the college worker came to get the body, he noticed that the body's arm moved. He checked her pulse, and sure-enough, she was alive.

Baltimore police will get a refresher course in what to check for when an apparently dead body is found. (read Edgar Allen Poe)

10. Another resurrection? A Michigan dog was "put down" by its owner because of a painful spinal condition. The owner put the corpse in the garage to be buried later. The next morning, he found the dog standing up and giving him a dirty look.

11. Stink bugs. Well, the invasion has finally come to Maryland. We have always had some stink bugs, but this is ridiculous. Open the door, they fly in. Squash them, they give off a pungent odor. Some people like the odor. Most don't. SuZee won't eat them. Elaine wants them thrown down the toilet. I usually just pick them up on a paper and throw them out.

The local orchard folks are very upset. These bugs destroy the looks of apples and nobody will buy them, including canners. Farmers can't use the chemicals that could kill them because of environmental hazards. Some want to import Japanese stink-bug predators, but that may become a problem ecologically also. Its a problem that needs to be addressed before next year's crop season.

12. Humor. Those who have XM radio have a great resource for humor. There is a "clean joke" channel. As I've mentioned before.. a true humorist does not have to resort to dirty jokes or cuss words to get a laugh. I am developing a blog for clean jokes that I have accumulated for almost fifty years... visit:

((I apologize, George Carlin!))

Enjoy the banquet!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Mad 1960's

With all the excitement about the series MAD MEN and the 1960's decade, I have decided to record some of the items in a scrapbook I created in May 1963. Perhaps it might give you even more insight into that wonderful time to be alive, a half-century ago!

01. Murphy's Laws. Although probably listed first in the Scientific American magazine for 4/56, they were talked about extensively in the 1960's..

I. If something can go wrong, it will.
II. When left to themselves, things always go from bad to worse.
III. Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.

02. Figures: An "electronic computer" was used in Atlanta to come up with the following statistic: The average female figure measures 35-25-35. However, ladies on the West Coast are a wee bit larger.

03. Chewing Gum: An historian found out that chewing gum was being used by the Aztecs when the Spanish landed in the Yucatan. However, it didn't catch on with European types until 350 years later. General Santa Anna of Mexico was a fan and tried to get an example of it taken seriously by the Americans while he was exiled in Staten Island. Discouraged, he left the material when he returned to Mexico. But an enterprizing American named Thomas Adams used it to found a U. S. chewing gum industry.. his product: Adams Chiclets. Shortly thereafter, a guy named William Wrigley, Jr. gave the big push to make chewing gum an important American pastime.

The Germans call chewing gum Kaugummi. I suspect that is because people who chew gum kind of look like cows chewing their cud. Recently, in Ocean City, we were served by a medical doctor at an emergency center who was chewing gum. Somehow, this did not seem professional to me.

04. IBM. The computer giant was really "big" in the early '60's. Times were good for them, especially with Government contracts. Jobs were rather prevalent, in fact, around 1963, headhunters offered me three jobs with IBM. One of which was at their Poughkeepsie "Think Tank" where the employees (gasp!) were allowed to dress for work without a black suit or tie!

In my scrapbook, I have a cartoon by a cartoonist named Richard Taylor who had a distinctive manner of drawing which I tried to copy for years. The cartoon showed an older manager introducing a new employee to the existing black-suited staff of five men. The new recruit looks and is dressed exactly like the current staff. (This is a direct reference to IBM's cookie-cutter created staff.)

05. Ben sez: Quote from Ben Franklin: "Keep thy eyes wide open before marriage, and half-shut aft erwards."

06. Flower Mart: The Flower Mart in Mount Vernon Square, Baltimore, Maryland, was big in 1963. That is the first year that I attended. It took place in a circle around Baltimore's Washington Monument, and consisted of craft vendors, food vendors, flower vendors and generally crazy people. Crab cakes were a big hit and were a lot cheaper than they are today. But, the biggest hit of the Mart was the famous "peppermint sticks".. everybody bought them. These are candy peppermint sticks, stuck into lemons.. they are surprizingly refreshing.

One thing I noticed about the Flower Mart was that there were very few black people in attendance. Since half of the population of Baltimore at the time was of African-American descent, this seemed strange to me. Apparently there was some racial problem because a few years later, black protests shut the mart down for a few years. I haven't been down to check it out these days, but I haven't heard of any problems with it lately, so I guess everything worked out o.k.

07. Names: Those of you who have read Mencken's American Language, know a bit about American last names. If you haven't read it, you really should; it is a classic.

While I worked at the Social Security Administration, I kept a file of strange names (at least to me). I guess, since I have been retired for a while, it would be o.k. for me to list some of these names that intrigued me while I worked there. I hope noone takes offense.

Rose Pyles
Lucy Kluck
Fanny Paper
Park Bench
Work Bench
Only Teasdale
Ozelia Fontenont
Bunnie Blue
Wrestling Keith
Bonita Purkypile
Dink Pike
Joe Ooom
Parafine Puff
Feather Schwartz
Bren Gunn and Tommy Gunn (father was Pop Gunn)
Freeman A. Mason

When Elaine worked at SSA, she found the name: Pink Valentine.

08. More Ben sez: "A single man resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors."

09. City life: A 1963 study found that 400 snakes of three species were found living in peaceful anonymity on three acres within Chicago's city limits.

10. Car terms: A weekly magazine in 1963 listed some once common automobile terms that were no longer recognized:

SPRAG: A pointed iron rod beneath a car. It's pointed end could be released to dig into the road to prevent cars with poor brakes from rolling backwards down a hill.

TREMBLER: A buzzer-like device attached to the dashboard, which made the ignition sparks.

PILOT: A little gasoline-fed flame which ignited the fire under the boiler of a Stanley Steamer.

BANDAGE: Something that you buckled over a punctured tire to allow you to continue.

TILLER: What some people called the wagon-related steering device on early autos...which was thankfully replaced by the steering wheel.

11. Pre-Mensa Poetry:

Pyschologist, with Freudian craft,
Divide the dullards from the daft,
Say who's rigid, who's resilient,
Who's safe and who risks being brilliant.

The thing to be is well-adjusted
(Your reflex actions must be trusted)
That way you'll never be suspected
Of thinking something unexpected.

By Leonard Sharpe

(I'm not sure of the poet's name. Perhaps my brother Joe, who has a gift for solving mysteries, can find out who the poet is.)

12. Final Ben sez:

"There's a time to wink as well as to see."


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Geezers at the Beach

I thought that I might talk a bit about a recent trip that we took, because it might give you some insights about vacation matters. I'll just ramble on and cover topics as I think of them.

Who? Elaine and I.

What? Spent 3 weeks in an ocean-front condo on the beach.

Where? Ocean City, Maryland.

When? Just after Labor Day.

Preparation: As you probably know already, women pack differently than men. Elaine filled 19 containers of various sizes. I filled 3. I do have to admit that Elaine's fills were mainly things that were needed for the condo: such as sheets, pillow cases, and non-perishable food. And she did also pack necessary clothes items.

My stuff (that I didn't forget) consisted of a few shirts, socks, and underwear, as well as my laptop, books, magazines and binoculars for watching the gulls.... girls?

Over the years, I have developed a check-list for myself, to make sure that I don't forget anything. (Elaine doesn't use one and thinks that my list is "just something a man would do.")

Unfortunately, the only thing about a checklist is that you must remember to find it and use it. (Remember the key point of every memory course... whatever you are looking for, is under something.. so pick it up!) I'll bet that my checklist is right underneath my missing hearing aid.

Moving in: The condo is on the third floor and can be reached by a little elevator. To get our 22 containers into the elevator, I had to make 14 trips, pushing a wheeled holder up a long ramp to get to the elevator. This was done at 11 pm in gale winds. Once in, after a lot of heavy breathing and gasping.. a warm beer helped calm me down a bit.

Since Elaine is in a wheelchair right now, beds and furniture had to be moved to accomodate and in so doing, a heavy picture popped off the wall right over my bed. It's a good thing that it happened then, because if I had had a nightmare and bumped the wall, that damned picture could have injured me. How would I have explained that to the doctor: "A picture flew off the wall and landed on my head." It was a picture of the Titanic..

Provender: Of course, what we brought with us in the way of food was minimal. We would buy the bulk of our food at the local supermarkets where prices are a bit higher than at home; for instance, on the main drag, a dozen medium eggs cost $2.59! Later, I found eggs at $1.59 a dozen at a supermarket on a road going out of town.

Happy Hair: Elaine discovered a store she was not familiar with: HarrisTeeter. They had a clearance table that had Elaine's favorite shampoo at $.99 a bottle. That was a fraction of its price in Baltimore. Elaine bought up all they had.

Broooom!! Our arrival was during "Bike Week" when 100,000 Harley Davidson riders descend upon Ocean City. This made driving our mini SUV a challenge and sleeping kind of trying.

Most of the bikers have been coming to OC for years and a lot of them look like me: chubby, bearded and old. While they cavorted with their fellow bikesters, their wives and girlfriends made the Beach Scene and helped give OC a new name: Cellulite City.

Buzzzzzzz! Since it wasn't safe to be on the road with the bikers, we did not go out to eat this week. Instead, we cooked a lot of good food right in the condo. However, since I do the cooking, smoke detectors feel that they have to harrass me. Just as it was in our Weller Way home, the detector is right near the stove, it has a tendency to go off to let me know that our food is ready.

Yummy stuff: When we did get to go out to restaurants, we went to some favorites:

Outback: Coconut shrimp!
Panda Buffet: Raw oysters and crab legs!
Crackerbarrel: Down home food!
Red Lobster: Unending shrimp!

We brought in a lot of food too:

Waterman's: A couple of dozen crabs!
Market: Big bag of steamed blue crab claws!
Greek Colonels: Creamed chipped beef!

FunFest: One week was FunFest Week in OC. This is when they put up monstrous tents containing lots and lots of crafty stuff for Elaine to buy. She bought some gifts, including some nice things for SuZee, our cat. She also bought a fancy (eternally sharp) knife for a bunch of money. Since I bad-mouthed the deal, she probably won't let me use it. The knife has a 50 year warranty.. neither she nor I will live that long. When I mentioned that to the 20 year old sales lady, she said that we could just pass it on to our heirs.

The only bad thing about FunFest, in my opinion, is that because noone can smoke in any of the tents, they congregate at the entrances... hundreds of them.. and blow smoke.

Entertainment?: Next to these tents are amusement areas. A ferris wheel, shooting galleries, Dodg-em Cars, Merry Go Rounds, and a weird and very scary piece of equipment that shoots people in little gondolas way up in the sky as though they are being shot by a massive rubber band.

The Hubcaps: Our favorite group, Carroll County's own Hubcaps was there inside the big tent one night. Tickets were $5 and $10. (Blood, Sweat and Tears was in the big tent another night, but they charged $20 and $49.) Elaine didn't want to get a ticket; instead, she sat near the back entrance and could see and hear them very well. She said that they did not do their usual schtick. That is probably because they would have to pay royalties.. and maybe they can get away with not paying them in Carroll County.

Delish: The food tent held many delicacies. One night, Elaine had a crab fluff and I had little fries and fish. Another night, we both had crab soup in bread bowls. Yingling beer was $3 for 10 ounces; light beer was $3 for 16 ounces. (At one time, Yingling was garbage beer and unsellable outside of Pottsville, PA.. now they advertise Nationwide and charge a lot more for a six-pack.) I think that IPA (India Pale Ale) is far and away the best beer made today. Much better than the versions made by the Brits years ago.

WalMart? What's a trip to OC without a visit to their WalMart store? This year, instead of counting the number of people with massive tatoos, I decided to count only those who did not have them. I only counted 5.. but they probably had theirs covered by their shirts.

What other WalMart can you go to where everybody is yelling at the top of their lungs? Strange people down there.

Home away from Home: We rent the condo from a good friend of ours, and we have to care for it as though it were our own home. So, when I fell asleep at the table, tipped it over and saw the glass of tomato juice sail through the air and onto the carpet, I became a little excited. Immediate action allowed us to get the spill completely cleaned up and undetectable.

Pills: As an old dude, I take a lot of medication. One of my pills is minute. A little yellow pill that blends in perfectly with the weaves of the carpet. (Yes, I spilled my pills.) I never did find 3 of them and hope that the vacuum cleaner got them before our host steps on the little squishy things.

Anger: Early one Sunday morning, we heard a knock on our door. It was a maintenance man who said that the guy in the condo under us was getting water into his bathroom. The maintenance man found that the spigot and faucets in the bathtub were loose, perhaps allowing some water to get in and spread down to his appartment. He said that he would caulk the area.

Meanwhile, a man with a very angry red face barged in and started yelling about his ceiling and put his face right up against mine. The last time an angry face got that close to me, it became dented in a few places and it almost happened again this time. However, I restrained myself. After caulking, the guy was getting more water, so it probably wasn't from this apartment at all.

Anyway, after this, I was hoping that we wouldn't have any other problems that would upset this guy.. guess what.. on the last day, while we were packing to leave, the toilet overflowed. Elaine and I spent a long time with a lot of towels getting the water off the floor.. and then we spent hours trying to unclog the drain. I didn't see the guy's red face again so I guess he stayed dry.

Oil Spill? When I went down to the beach to get some shells for Elaine, as I do each year, there were none. Where were the shells? The sand was flecked with black, just as I remember from when I was a kid during WWII. Tankers were sunk in the Atlantic by German submarines and spilled oil created tar in action with the sand.. and it spread out lightly over all after a while. This was like that.. and where were the shells? What is going on?

When we first got to OC, the surf was monstrous. Could it have squashed the shells?

Weather: Later, while remnants of hurricanes were storming up the Atlantic in the form of torrential rains, the weather channel kept showing Doppler Radar pictures of all this wetness coming up the coast. At one time, we had a Flash Flood Alert, a Heavy Rain Alert, a Tornado Watch and something else I can't remember. Over and over we were alerted about and shown pictures of the 12 inches of rain that we definitely would get. It never showed up. Not a drop until the last day that we were in OC.

The Last Day: As we battled with a rogue toilet, torrential rains buffeted OC. I made the 16 trips (remember, we made purchases) down the elevator and out into the storm and into the car. Everything got soaked, especially me. (I'm paying for it now with a very painful back and wheezing lungs.)

But, all in all, as usual, we had a great time. We were especially glad that my beautiful granddaughter, Bridget, was able to look after our cat, SuZee for the time that we were gone. SuZee told us that Bridget treated her very well.