Sunday, December 30, 2012

They're Everywhere! They're Everywhere! But will it Help?

Discussions about gun control, that is.  Sitting in our town social center, The Bakery, I picked up the conversation of two couples in the next booth above the chatter of our two youngest grandkids.  They were replaying the many varied opinions popular in newspapers and TV.  Our social media are rife with posts about it on both sides of the issue.   A friend is trying to organize a busload to march on Washington, probably to join many other busloads I would speculate.

Have we finally reached a tipping point in the actions needed?  I wish I knew the answer.   The gun control proposals being tossed about are a rational first step but not a solution.  We in the USA need a general attitude adjustment.  Good luck with that.

I keep rereading Michael Moore's Celebrating the Prince of Peace in the Land of Guns.  Though I think he goes overboard in many of his films, this letter is spot on.   It's long but worth the time to read it through.




Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas, and other politically incorrect thoughts


For as long as I can remember I have loved this time of year.  There is something about the feeling surrounding all the lights and gaudy decorations that says "It doesn't matter how dark the world is, we can light it up, make it bright and cheerful for a while."  Perhaps it's because of the times my father would take us kids for a ride to look at the brightly decorated homes: some celebrating the birth of the source of one of the world's great religions, though his actual birth date is inconclusive; others celebrating the 'Jolly Old Elf' in the red suit who magically leaves presents for the children without ever being seen.  Perhaps it's remembering Christmas Eve in the small village of Gilbertsville, when the whole town showed up at The Overlook where the children got to see Santa ride down Academy Hill in a horse-drawn sleigh.  He doled out small gifts to every child  in attendance, and yes, there was snow on Christmas. 


Christmas has no religious significance for me, except as it seems to bring out a sense of kindness and giving in so many people, a feeling I wish would persist throughout the year.

All of the holidays around the solstice are built around light, an appropriate reaction to the darkest day of the year.  The nine candles of Hanukkah, the seven candles of Kwanzaa, the lighted tree of Christmas, the many candles of  ancient Saturnalia; are all about chasing the darkness. There are lots of different kinds of darkness in our world.  Let's try to shed some light on as many as we can.

I was stationed in Turkey back in the early sixties. I remember a doctor on base coming out of the hospital smiling.  When I asked him why, he said "I just got a Christmas card from a Muslim colleague in Istanbul, and I'm a Jew."   He wasn't offended by the gesture.

So, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. Christian or not, embrace the peace of the season.  Give something to someone, even if it's just "Hello."


Monday, December 17, 2012

Insanity, the USA, and my Grandkids


Let's get something straight - assault weapons have no value in hunting game, they are made for only one thing, killing people.  No person who claims it is a sporting weapon can be taken seriously.  Assault weapons are people killers, nothing else. Yeah it may be a great testosterone hit to see the absurd power they have on a range, but if you need to pulverize a block wall, use a sledge hammer.  We need, desperately, to control access to these weapons, to make certain ... hell I don't know what to make certain of.  Removing assault weapons is a small but necessary step in cutting down the senseless murder in our country.

Before anyone attempts to dismiss my comments let me say I was an NRA member as a teen, an expert shot both then and in my seven years of military service, and a hunter until my early thirties.  I learned to shoot from a marine, my father, who gave me a single shot .22 and when I complained about its limitations, said, "If you can't hit your target with one shot, you've got no business shooting at it."  I know weapons, and I am not one to blame one on a killing.  That said, access to weapons is far too easy in the USA.  Every handgun and long gun must be registered at the very least.  You all know the things that need to be done.  Let's do them before we see another Newtown.

I started this next part a few days before Newtown; a musing about the distant future.

As I, and probably everyone I know, embraced the pattern of 12-12-12, my thoughts drifted to the next time we would have the occasion to mark the pattern of these last twelve years.  From 01-01-01 to 12-12-12, each year we have highlighted the pattern in some way.  Eighty-eight years will pass before the pattern recurs.  I will not see it.  Most, if not all, of my grandchildren will not see it; Miranda will be ninety-six and Danny ninety-three, the other three well past the century mark.  My great-granddaughter, Suri, will be an old lady of eighty-eight.  If they live to see it, what will they see?  What kind of world will they live in?  Will it be one in which there is true freedom of and from religion, where it is a private choice and not a public weapon?  Will it be one where disagreements are settled by dialogue, not murder?  Will it be one where quality health care is as much a right as owning a weapon?  Will it be one where racial hatred is a subject of history rather than a daily fact?   Will it be a world of healthy air and adequate food and water?

Right now it ain't looking so good.










Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Looking Through Windows, and At Them.

I'm on my way to Louisiana by car (truck actually.)  One of my favorite way stations is the Hampton Inn in Lexington, VA.  It is unique among Hampton Inns in that it is on an old estate, occupying the manor house and extensions built to look like they belong with it.  Add the charm of Lexington itself and you have an irresistible combination for me.  I'm ensconced in room 215, having just returned from dinner at Bistro on Main, a favorite place.  Since I am alone on this trip, I chose to sit at a counter looking out the window onto  Main Street.

As a people watcher, this was a perfect place for me.  I watched folks moving along the street for awhile, passing the Bistro, entering and leaving it, then I began to look AT the window, at the reflections of the lighted interior against the darkened street.  First there were the two young men at the bar close behind me and wo my left,  Looking at the reflections I could see their backs, see trough their backs - they were apparitions.  then I noticed two men at the bar, apparitions toasting each other with dark beer, oblivious to the vehicles passing through them as they sat in the middle of Main Street.  Then there were two women at a far table, their apparitions across the street behind a parked SUV, as if they were discussing its merits.  Another apparition was an empty table attached to the back of a Subaru parked in front of the Bistro.   Finally, me; a head in outline, a strange shadow that I could see through.

I hink I've discovered a new way of people-watching.

Trying to Figure Out Cats

Our two nutso cats are having some sort of major disagreement - sometimes.  What I mean by that is I wake up with both of them on the bed, crowded against my legs, less than a foot from each other, but as soon as the house is awake there's a lot of growling and hissing and they refuse to be in the same room.  I've heard what sounds like fights to the death, but when I arrive to separate them there are no blood trails and no wounds on either animal.  Carol thinks it's a reaction to me being away from home too often.  Since I am their primary house servant,  that could have some truth.



A little cat background:

Zorro, the tuxedo cat on the left, was so named because of the black mask.  The other possibility was Bandit, a name probably more fitting since as a kitten he would steal socks from the bedroom floor, gloves from the basket in the hall, and hand towels from the linen closet if it happened to be ajar.  We'd find them, or trip over them, in various rooms of the house.  As he's aged he doesn't do that as much, instead ferrying a couple of small stuffed toys around, which I still trip over with some regularity.  He is a strange creature.  Sudden noises will send him skittering under our bed or to the basement, even noises he's heard every day.  He will amble into a room then suddenly do a one-eighty and run to the other side of the house for no apparent reason.   He is the one who will growl and hiss in the morning after waking in a position similar to the one in the photo.

Elvis has a birth defect that causes his hips to sway side-to-side when he walks, hence the name.  When I write at my desk, he is usually asleep in my lap.  When I write on a chair or sofa, he is usually asleep in my lap.  I actually place my laptop computer on top of him, a kind of live lap desk.  I've called him my dog because he follows me around, comes when I call, farts, and has bad breath (due to a screwy digestive system also from birth.)  He will try almost any food that he sees me eat, if I let him.  He is a yogurt junkie.  If I am having yogurt, I put a small bowl down for him in the kitchen then close my office door so I can eat mine without interruption.  Unlike Zorro, he is pretty predictable, not bothered by sudden noises,  content to be among humans (except small ones - he hides), and never a thief.

Okay - enough for now.  The older I get the more I realize that cats are like women: unpredictable, complex, independent.  They are survivors.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

? and more

I don't have a title yet for this post.  Actually I don't have an idea yet for this post.  So why, you may ask, am I wasting your time and mine writing nonsense?  Because it's three am and I'm awake, always a dangerous time blogwise.

Okay so I went back to sleep instead of writing.

That was Monday early am and here it is Wednesday night, post election by a week.  Let's see - interesting haps so far: Texans want to secede; McCain demands more information about Benghazi while missing a briefing about - you guessed it - Benghazi; there's a group demanding the President be impeached; McCain calls Susan Rice incompetent (wasn't Sarah Palen his running mate?); a Florida man commits suicide after Obama is elected; an Arizona woman runs over her husband because he didn't vote against Obama (he didn't vote at all).  There's so much more that it boggles what mind I have left.  My republican friends are in morning while us democrat types rejoice.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I look around at all the things I have to be thankful for and find a huge bounty: health, family, friends, a wonderfully dysfunctional town.  What more could a guy ask for?

Somewhere between Lake Katrine and Kingston city one of my winter work gloves lies in the road.  I was helping my best bud haul some furniture he'd purchased.  The piece was too large for the bed of my ruck with the tailgate up so I left it down and lashed the piece in so it wouldn't move.  I left my gloves in the truck bed.  When we started to unload I found only one glove - they were really nice gloves -- sigh.

All the way down here and it appears I'm still babbling (musing actually) but enough for now.  Perhaps I'll make more sense in a few days, but I wouldn't count on it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

High Tide, Full Moon, and Hurricane Sandy


Three things coming together in one awful night for the City of New York and surrounding coastal areas.  The pictures of flooded streets, floating cars, and such harks back to New Orleans during Katrina.  Thankfully, NYC took this storm seriously and prepared as well as they could for it.  Hopefully that will avoid any loss of life.

The Hudson River, which is still technically a tidal estuary as it divides Ulster and Duchess counties, has flooded low areas.  The effect is minimal due to the sharp incline in the shoreline up here, but it's up higher than any previously recorded levels.  Here in Ulster County there are many road closures due to downed trees and power lines.  Surprisingly our little Plains Road/Woodland Drive community seems not to have lost power at all through the windy night.  More winds are predicted for today but not as strong.

In a truly bizarre twist of storm fate, there are forecasts blizzard conditions with two to three feet of snow in the mountains of West Virginia.

I'm about to go glue myself to my TV for awhile even though it hurts to watch.

Monday, October 29, 2012

My Hometown and End of Autumn in the Catskills



We drove up to the Butternut Valley and the tiny village of Gilbertsville this weekend.  The colorful display that is autumn in the northeast is past up there.  The subdued green of the conifers and the dull grey-brown of the almost leafless hardwoods cover the old mountains in their winter blanket. The exception to the absence of autumn hues is the bright yellow dots of paper birch scattered throughout the forest.  These relatives of the oak share its tenacity of leaf, hanging on to the branch long after other trees have given up. So we are treated to these leafy suns, these paint splatters in the forest, long after all the other colors are gone.

Gilbertsville is my hometown.

I dimly remember writing about the word "hometown" sometime ago, though I don't know whether or not it was in this blog.  No matter, it's back in my head so it's now pushing out through my fingers.  I lived in that little village (pop. @400) a total of about five years out of my seventy; I've lived in New Paltz for thirty-three; I was born in the borough of Queens in New York City and lived there until I was ten. Several other places also fit into my nomadic life for periods from one to four years, yet Gilbertsville is the place - my "hometown."  I don't think I'm particularly strange (no snide remarks) when I stake my claim to an area where I resided for such a brief time.  Curious as I always am to learn, I have asked others to name their hometown. Often they respond with a phrase something like "You mean where I was born?" which tells me they have their heart attached to a place that is not of their birth.  How about you?

Hurricane Sandy is beating up the NY/NJ coastline right now and is still a long way off shore.  The storm is huge!  We have wind and rain now, some heavy gusts but nowhere near what we're told to expect later on.  I'll try to report again tomorrow if we have power.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Being Afraid, and Sad Birthdays


 I've been feeling generally crappy, tired and achy, far out of anything that passes for a routine.  A couple of days ago looked from what I was reading because my head felt a little weird and I was seeing double.  It's happened twice now with a spread of two years between.  Each time my eyes refocused, but not right away.  The interval, though probably less than a minute, seemed an eternity.

I'm starting the series of tests that will likely reveal nothing, as they did before.  I hope in some ways that's not the case.  I need to know what's causing this.  My greatest fear as I age is to lose my mental ability and thereby lose my self.  I know dying is inevitable.  I know at seventy that the day will come sooner than later.  What I dread most is living in an aging body with a damaged mind.

(I wrote the stuff above about a week ago.  Tests are still in progress, all negative thus far.  I'm feeling better but not great.)

Today is October 24th, my older son Jason's forty-sixth birthday.  He is geographically closest of my children (two sons, two stepdaughters) by far, being about forty minutes away, but I have seen him only once in a dozen years and that was at his brother's in Louisiana.  I am pretty sure I've mentioned him before in these musings.  As each year passes, as we both age, I wonder if I will ever be able to get reacquainted with him, whether he will, with age, somehow want to get to know me as I want to know him.  Every year his birthday makes me sad because I know that's one less year, one less chance, that we will meet as friends, father and son, or just sit for a while and talk as strangers who could become friends.

I've learned that it does me no good to catalogue and dwell on all the ways I didn't know how to be his father, but it's still hard not to look for that one instance in our sparse relationship that shut the door.  I wish I knew what it was.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What Offends Me


I just saw a Facebook post.  It is a picture of the American Flag, with the caption "If this flag offends you I'll help you pack."

I am offended.

It is not the flag that offends me, it is the people who use it as a club to beat others about the head with the term "patriotism."

It offends me to see the Flag worn as a lapel pin.

It offends me see young soldiers sent into combat time-after-time, subjected to the insanity of killing, of being wounded or killed; always suffering the terrible invisible wound to their minds.

It offends me to watch my country turn into a theocracy.

It offends me to hear people who are fearful of a fair election try to rig the vote by excluding any who might vote against them.

It offends me to hear people with more money than they could ever need say those who are poor are lazy.

It offends me to see people litter my country.

It offends me to see people wrap themselves in the Flag and call themselves patriots while vilifying all who do not share their views.


So yes, I am offended.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Changing Seasons in a Changing World

October 6th - The morning sky is gray and misty with the morning sun not quite able to paint its bright orange glow in the southeastern sky, managing only a very pale yellow on the clouds.  My quarter acre forest of black cherry, locust, and maple has released some of its canopy.  The leaves blanket my front walkway, merging it with the rest of the earth.  The subdued light this morning is giving a kind of glow to the blanket of damp leaves, highlighting their fading colors.  The maples in my front yard are dressed in english ivy; on one of them the deep green of the ivy is augmented by the flaming red of a Virginia Creeper woven into it.


I would be lying if I said autumn was my favorite season - I have no favorite season.  I love the change in seasons, the laziness of autumn, the sleep of winter, the wakening of spring, and the vitality of summer; each has its own specialness.

That's enough for now.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Countries

The enormous separation between the rich and the poor keeps widening.  The irrational greed of the rich is exceeded only the incredible ignorance of the majority.  We have taken our democracy for granted so long that the apathy it fostered has led us to this crisis.  And it is a crisis; make no mistake.  We have been dumbed down by endless, mindless,
television shows which are interrupted by equally endles commercials informing us of all the medications we need to function, the soaps, cars, trips, loans, phones, etc. that we must have.  It might be interesting to compare the number of TV's, cell phones, computers, and ipods in a household to the number of books that are not cookbooks or self-help books.

It has been proven empirically over the years that a trickle down economic philosophy does not work.  It was so obvious that it couldn't that one has to be a little surprised that it took so long, or that there are some people still touting its merits.  What would work is the opposite, a trickle up economy.  By making sure that workers at the bottom of the food chain had enough discretionary income to by things that are not essential to survival, we could not help but build a strong consumer economy again, for that is what the US is based on, consumption.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I Think Therefore I'm Pissed

Roger Clemens was acquitted of lying to congress about using performance enhancing drugs, Barry Bonds was given thirty days for obstruction in a similar case.  The use of performance enhancing drugs by professional athletes has become a newsy hot button in recent years, but regardless of your opinion of the practice I have only one question:

What in hell is the US congress doing in the middle of it?

This is so far out of the realm of congressional oversight as to be clownish.  Even more clownish than some of the other crap that they pull.

Maybe the secret to having a more rational society is to make congress a part time position.  Then they would have to address meaningful national situations in the short time they were assembled rather than scouting around for things to legislate, or investigate, or rant about.

It seems to me that they spend way too much time trying to legislate the moral character of the country into an arbitrary theological box while pulling back from addressing the real issue a government is responsible for: the health and wellbeing of the population.

In this country, people should not go hungry, should not be without shelter, should not be without proper health care.  In this country we should ALL pay our fair share to help an efficient, honest government provide the infrastructure we need.  And we should ALL vote to obtain such a government.

Why don't we.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Sports of Summer?

It's mid-June, a couple of months into baseball season, a season I used to care immensely about. Growing up as a Yankee fan so avid I could tell you the batting averages of every player on the team.  Losing touch with the sport during my seven years in the Air Force, I came back to baseball when I left the service, to root for a new team, the Mets.  I was a fan in sixty-nine when they pulled off the miracle and again in eighty-six, perhaps the best team they ever fielded.

My special favorite was the player who covered my position in high school and college, first base.  Keith Hernandez was, in my humble opinion, the best to ever play the position.  He was the only first baseman in the history of the game who could alter the opposing coach's offensive strategy.  It was virtually impossible to execute a successful sacrifice bunt when he was on the field.

Somewhere in the nineties, I stopped being a fan.  Not because I don't still love baseball, because I could no longer focus on a team.  Players move from team to team and league to league so often I can't keep track of who is playing where.  It's no fun for me to cheer a team on any more.  I do watch the occasional game on TV, and I will go to minor league and college games when I have the opportunity, because I still love the beauty and finess of the sport.

I started this muse thinking about pro sports, particularly the overlap.  There's no clean break anymore - end of football - beginning of basketball, which ends before baseball, etc.  I exclude hockey because I just never got into the game.

Anyway, here we are two months into baseball season and also in the midst of the NBA basketball finals - in June?  Gimme a break!  I think the Hockey season ended last week also.  Is there anything more absurd than ice hockey in June?  Pro seasons are way too long - with playoff schedules almost as long as the regular season and half the teams in the league eligible for them.

Maybe I'm just getting old.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Walmart Steak? Where does one harvest it?

At least that's what their latest bizarre ad campaign seems to indicate.  Folks at a high class resort are fed steaks that they rave about and are then told "It's a Walmart steak!"  At which point they all rave about it some more, and at least one person decides to buy Walmart steaks.

I've heard of beef steaks, venison steaks, buffalo steaks, and even salmon steaks.  But a Walmart steak?  How does one butcher a Walmart?  Are they domesticated or do you hunt them?

Segway there to explore my second question.  Hunting (actually I think they are more often called 'Sporting') columns of  newspapers use the word "harvest" when referring to a successful hunt.  A euphemism like that deserves to be quashed, or at least ridiculed.  A new young hunter shown beside the kill is said to have "harvested" his or her first deer, turkey, whatever.  Clearly the intent here is to remove the word "kill" from the reader's vocabulary.  Please understand that I am not opposed to killing animals for food; what I object to is masking the act behind a word implying less finality.  It attempts to hide the fact that, in order to feed ourselves and others we have taken a life.  When we do that, it is only right that we acknowledge the act as what it is, a kill.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Arg!!!


Recently, my musings (internal - obviously not written here) have revolved around politics, a part of our human social structure that I find as distasteful as chewing glass.  I truly do not want to talk about our current political situation but I can't completely ignore it.  I heard Herb Londen, our public radio station's token conservative, going on about The Death of Liberalism, Thomas Nelson, 2012, written by R. Emmett Tyrrell, a book about how liberal politics have caused the economic situation we are in.  In the course of his report, he highlighted that entitlement programs in government make up something like seventy-one percent of the budget.  The programs he mentioned were: food stamps, medicaid, medicare, and social security.

What brought me up short in this is tagging medicare and social security as "entitlements".  I hear this all the time and it is rarely if ever questioned.  All of us paid into social security and medicare during our work lives.  We did this, as required, because it was an insurance policy, not an entitlement, us old farts are collecting on it.  Are they in trouble? Depends on who you ask.  Probably they are not funded to the extent they could have been.  Why?  Well, from my personal experience I think we weren't funding it properly.

I say this as one who, for a large percentage of my half-century working life, paid into FICA only part of the year.  I reached some limit late in the third quarter, or early fourth, I don't remember clearly, and for the rest of the year that money  became part of my net income.  It was a nice little treat but I can't say I needed it.  It struck me early on that continuing to take that money out for the entire year would cause me no hardship.  What was even odder was that the amount, the upper limit, was the same across all salaries.  That means that some executives would have satisfied the limit in a month or so.   Do you realize that, had the amount been taken out for the entire year from folks earning millions, we wouldn't even be wondering about social security solvency?  Just sayin'.

We have a broken society, a society based on greed rather than true wealth.  A society that rewards the ultra-rich with benefits and penalizes the rest of the population to cover it.  True wealth is found in the community, the friendships of others, the ability to call on a neighbor to give or receive help.  Most of us do not live in gated communities surrounded by high fences and patrolled by private security.  Most of us aren't afraid of our neighbors.

I'm not sure I have any thread here but I kinda don't care.  I'm tired of politicians claiming we pay too much taxes, that "entitlement programs" have to be cut or we'll go bankrupt as a country.  I'm tired of hearing the super-rich called "job creators" (check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBx2Y5Hhpl ).  I'm tired of hearing people who have lots of things saying people who have nothing deserve their situation.  We are a single human race, not many different ones.  There has to be a way to make folks who have everything look for ways to help others, and folks who have nothing look for ways to lift themselves up.

There has to be.

I now have a great granddaughter whose survival depends on it.

Hopefully that diatribe will have cleared the crap from my brain for a time.





Saturday, April 21, 2012

Being too Busy and Other Excuses

In my defense, I have been rehearsing for a play four nights a week for the past month, traveling to Louisiana for a week long visit, visiting a chiropractor three mornings a week for a pinched nerve in my neck, and being totally overwhelmed at the amount of work that is mounting up on the home front.  I did not write anything of substance during that month, nor did I send out any queries or manuscripts.  My workout schedule has slipped from three - five days a week to one or two.

Feeling sorry for me yet?  That's okay I'm doing fine feeling sorry for myself.  I'm hoping that writing this will help me rise from the pity-pot and get my ass in gear again.  I'll let you know how it works in a few days.

I'm on the porch, looking across the road at Bob's barn-house, fronted by the white blossoms of a flowering dogwood,  yellow and lavandar hues from some flowers I can't identify, and a magnificent bush  covered in rose-pink blossoms.  A lovely way to spend a couple of hours musing and writing, don't you think?

Okay, newsy stuff now.

First the play:  It's Jane Eyre - the Musical.  Having read the story many decades ago, I was skeptical to say the least that a musical could be made of it.  However, it works and is actually quite good.  I have a small part as Robert, the butler at Thornfield.  Don't look for him in the book; he is a creation of the playwright.  Check out 90 Miles Off Broadway for details.

The Chiropractor:  I have a few compressed vertebrae in my neck, 'cause I'm old.  Anyway, something threw stuff out of alignment - a workout, moving sheets of plywood maybe, or something else I don't remember - I ignored the building pain, hoping it would disappear.  It didn't.  When it got bad enough that I couldn't function, I started to do something about it.  The adjustments are helping but it's not gone yet.  A couple more weeks of them should do it.

Home-front work:  Other than the usual mowing, painting, spring clean up, I have to deal with a winter-long rodent infestation in the camper.  I have set poison baits in the machine to eradicate those who still inhabit the beast - when it comes to rodents in my rig, I have no heart.  Did you know that they will eat wooden spoons?  The baits are in place and will be checked regularly.  I fondly hope that will clear them out so I can strip the machine and inspect the damage more closely.  I know they've gotten to some of the wiring in addition to the spoons and some of the dry food we kept in the machine.  Big, distasteful job ahead.

Okay, I've written enough for now.  Let's see if it helps.  More very soon.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Separation - in Several of its Forms

For the next nine days Carol and I are almost a quarter of a world apart while she and our daughter, Laura tour Israel.  This is the first time in our thirty plus years together that we haven't been able to just pick up a convenient phone to say "good night" or "good morning."  Not that we're completely out of communication, it's just that the six hour time difference and our very busy itineraries make finding a time slot a little iffy.

But the situation got me to musing about the word separation, which started me musing about the reasons for it, which made me look at the circles I travel in, albiet peripherally in some cases, and how they often separate themselves from the general population.

Triathletes tend to hang with other triathletes, musicians with other musicians, cops with other cops.  Okay, I'm about to embark on generalizations - always a danger - but these are my musings, so please cut me a little slack.

Tri-folks mostly have fulltime jobs so they pursue their obsession in their off hours.  That means that they spend non-work time with others who train incessantly to maintain their level of fitness.  They train together and party together.

Musicians - the ones who make their living at it, are either touring, taping, or teaching.  The ones to whom it's an avocation are in a position similar to the tri-folks, non-work hours are spent practicing or playing with other musicians.

Cops are, I believe, a little different in that they tend to hang with other cops, not to train or improve their playing by picking up new licks, but more because they are comfortable with other cops, or perhaps less than comfortable with "civilians."  I understand that.  They often encounter ordinary folks in very unfriendly circumstances, and as often, an officer's action is criticized by people who have no personal experience with the situation the officer faces.  These are mostly very good, dedicated people who routinely put themselves between us and danger.  It just makes me sad that their work can corrode their trust in those not "on the job."

Some separations are both necessary and good.  Our constitutional separation of church and state is a biggie.  It is so necessary, and has been so eroded over the years that it scares me.  It is a simple rule: the government must stay out of religion and religion must stay out of the government.  It is being violated repeatedly.  How many people in congress base their arguments on biblical verses?  How many preachers preach politics from the pulpit?  If we let this continue we will end up in a theocracy, a form of government familiar in the Middle East.

Jamie Raskin, a Maryland state senator, once said to a colleague, “Madame, when you took the oath of office you put your hand on a Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution; you did not put your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”

Words we all need to remember.  Enough musing for now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Small Things, or Are They?

While making breakfast this morning, Carol remarked at what a time-saver it was to have the wrapping on a stick of butter marked with measurements.  Expanding on that observation, the wrapping itself also cuts easily with a sharp knife, allowing the proper portion of the stick to be quickly removed by slicing through the appropriate hash-mark.


The idea of inventions like that started me thinking (always a danger) about others that might be visible from my chair.  Here's a brief list:

  • Empty plastic Folgers two-pound coffee can - we use it for compost.  It has depressions in the cylinder that make it easy to grip with one hand. 
  • Can of ginger ale - the tab top makes it easy to open, and this tab top is a modification of the original idea where the tab was actually removed (I envision some beer drinker popping the tab, dropping it in the can, then deciding to chug the contents.)
  • Cloth loops on the back of a pair of slip-on shoes - Hooking a finger in the loop eases putting them on, eliminating the need for a shoehorn.

There may be several others that I'm missing, but I haven't finished my first cup of coffee yet so give me a break.  It might be (or not) an interesting exercise for you to find small things around you that are really cool innovations.

Hmm... It occurs to me that the recognition of said objects is very much age-dependent.  For example:  I just noticed the phone jack that plugs one of our several phones into the circuit, and clearly recall the clunky wiring that used to be the way phones were connected.  Bet some of you never saw a phone without the accompanying jack setup.

That just prompted me to add an element to the contrivances in Hollywood movies.  How many times have you seen a villain disable a phone by yanking it out of the wall?  Simpler, though far less "dramatic", to just unplug the damn thing.  Add that to my all time favorite:  actor (actress) in pain or rage sweeping the top of a desk, dresser, table or whatever surface and knocking everything on the floor.  Not much nuance there.

So friends and neighbors, locate small things like the above and make your own list.  It beats watching reality TV.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Different Infinities and Something Else

Infinity always fascinated me in my math studies. The concept itself is hard enough to wrap one's mind around, but that there was more than one kind (even excluding the car) and some were "bigger" than others can hurt your brain.
The easiest one to understand is the set of counting numbers (known also as whole numbers, integers, cardinal numbers) which are infinite.  Think of a straight-edge marked in inches.  Extending its length forever we still could count each inch: 0,1,2,3,4,...   That set is countably infinite.  A mind-blower here: extending our forever straight edge in the other direction, into negative number territory we can count 0,1,-1,2,-2,3,-3,4,... so we have another countably infinite set, which is the same level of infinity as the first one!

Now let's put marks between the inches dividing each into tenths, then divide each of the tenths into ten smaller parts, then each of those by ten... The set of all those marks on our endless straight edge is infinite but uncountable, because each division can be further divided, adding ever more hash marks.  In fact - and here's the second mind-blower - the set of possible divisions between 1 and 2 is infinite and uncountable, as are the possible divisions between 1 and 1.1, and they are the same level of infinity!

There are more infinities than those two, but if I haven't already lost you, going any further would guarantee it, so let's talk about something else.

How about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

This is a fascinating document, produced by the newly formed United Nations in 1948 in an attempt to establish some ethic and moral base for governance.  It was approved forty-eight to zero with eight abstentions.  Two covenants further clarifying human rights were signed in December 1966:

Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights
and
Civil and Political Rights.

It's interesting to see the signatories who have yet to ratify the covenants they signed: China and Cuba on Political Rights;  South Africa and the USA on Social Rights.

Taken all together the three documents seem to me to net out to the famous Four Freedoms spoken of by FDR and beautifully illustrated by Norman Rockwell.  You can find them on the net easily if you're interested.

I guess the "something else" had a bit of a political edge to it.  Sorry, but I get bothered when I see so many human rights violations being accepted even promoted by people who, I would hope, know better: my countrymen.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Communing with my Favorite Sycamore

One of the many perks of living on this lovely back road in New Paltz is easy access to the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail.  This evening Carol and I walked to one of our favorite spots on the trail.  We named this our "Duck Walk" some years ago when we observed some migrating mallards resting for the evening in the creek at the base of the tree.  Understand that this is less than a mile from our humble home.  It is remarkable to me that I haven't traversed this path for more than a year.  I truly don't recall the last time.

Perhaps I'm musing about this because I will be having surgery tomorrow.  I've had an endoscopy before, several in fact, but this time the result will be removal of a portion of the Barrett's Esophagus that exists just above my stomach.  I don't know what to expect and that bothers me at a level below normal nervousness.  My intellectual self (I really have one) says it's a simple procedure, no worries.  But... my other self, the one that writes, takes photos, dreams, sings, acts, ain't so sure.  I keep remembering a statement made by the last surgeon I met, forty years ago, who said "There's no such thing as 'minor surgery'."  I want this to be no big deal.  I hope it is.

Let's get back to the rail trail:  here's a shot of the field just south of the creek.


If one continues south on the trail, one arrives in Gardiner, a lovely hamlet with a cute little bistro and a great pizza parlor.  Further yet is Wallkill; I haven't biked that far yet, but it's on my list.  North will lead all the way to Kingston once the trestle over the Rondout Creek is resurfaced, also on my list.  I just also got an email about a five-borough bike ride in May that I can do for Doctors Without Borders - maybe I will.

This place, my people, are treasures.  I sometimes forget that.


Friday, February 17, 2012

On Beginning my Eighth Decade

As the seventieth anniversary of my birth draws to a close and I bask in the warmth of the day (even though it snowed most of it), I wonder at the choices I've made over my life that got me to this place, with Carol sleeping beside me for the last thirty plus years, with the great kids we raised together, with the five fantastic grandkids, and with all the wonderful friends that have made my life a gem.  In any of the many places where the road of my life forked, had I taken the other path, where would I be now?

I'm sure we all can look back and see the momentous ones, the obvious life-changers, and speculate on a future in that other direction.  But there are, in all our lives, the tiny decisions, as easy to make as taking the next breath, and as seemingly inconsequential, that have a profound effect on our future.  Like the time we decided to come home instead of staying out after an early dinner on May 13, 1988, to find the house on fire.  Our arrival saved the lives of several pets and kept our home from being totally destroyed.  

It may not be productive to speculate, to ask "What if?" but it does make ones mind wander - at least in my case.  For example:  When I left the Air Force, I was offered a job as manager of a hunting lodge near Indian Lake in the Adirondacks.  I opted for a postiton with Computer Sciences Corporation instead.  What would the past half century have been like had I taken that other road?

As my eighth decade begins I thank whatever, whoever, helped me choose the paths at those zillion decision points, because I'm a happy old man.  I couldn't have asked for more than that.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Acting my Age

On Thursday I celebrate my seventieth birthday.  Sitting here on an early Monday morning, in the afterglow of a fantastic weekend where I got to celebrate with friends and relatives who share this birth month, I'm struck by how strange it is to be old without feeling it.  Sure there are the various arthritic joints that need a little more wake up time than they used to, but damn I feel great!


Saturday's soiree featured the music of Big Joe Fitz and the LoFis, a truly great local group.  We commandeered Unison's gallery and performance space for the day and added food catered by Mark Suszczynski.  The assemblage included, to my great surprise, my son and his family who flew up from southern Louisiana for the weekend, and my two stepdaughters, one from Rochester, NY and the other from Baltimore, who drove in to share the day with me.


This birthday week is crammed: with rehearsals for the play "Nothing means Nothing" that we'll be performing Friday night at Unison, meetings with potential board members (did I mention that I'm president of Unison's Board of Directors?), workouts at the gym, writing time, reading time, and ticking items off my "Honey Do List".   I think I'm too busy to feel old.

But right now the day has just barely begun.  It's not yet seven am.  My cat, Elvis, is snoring, snuggled against my leg as I sit in bed writing this.  This strange winter weather continues to be strange - my impression as I went outside to extract the morning paper from its orange delivery tube, was of an early spring morning, not a winter one.  I've seen winters with little snow before, but they were still winters, with subfreezing daytime temperatures and single digit temps at night.  This one has mostly been days in the forties and nights in the twenties.  That's not winter.

The radio is playing the song I know as "The Skaters Waltz"; Carol is reading emails on her computer and coughing from a new cold; I am thinking about having another cup of coffee before I start the day.




Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Waxing Day, a Waning Moon and Three Cats on the Bed

The moon is a day past full on this cold morning.  Usually early February is a time when we in the northeast are complaining about the winter snows and longing for spring, the mud season up here.
 This winter we've been looking for snow.  Punxutawney Phil's prediction last week was for six more weeks of winter and it's hard to argue with a 128 year old rodent, but we ain't seen much so far.  However, no native of the great northeast can believe that we'll get away from the season without being hammered by a substantial snowfall, but this late we secretly hope we'll be spared.

I saw trees budding last month and wondered how the sugar houses were fairing.  Usually February is the time when maples are tapped for their sap as they begin to wake up from the winter's freeze, but this year the weather in January mimicked late February, with above freezing days and below freezing nights.  I know from my sugaring days that the cloudy "bud sap" signals the end of the sugaring season because the sweetness is gone.  Has that already happened?

My three cats are anticipating their morning meal, even though it is only four am and they never get fed before five.  Each has its own way of letting me know: Zorro, with his round eyes always making him look surprised, is way too cool to nag so he sits on the floor staring at me; Elvis has no compunction about nagging and sits next to me, poking my shoulder at regular intervals; Sugar is curled up at the foot of the bed waiting for the boys to get me up.  She is the old lady at twelve.  I've been watching a lump that developed a month ago on her hindquarter.  I scheduled surgery for her to have it removed but the vet said she has a weak heart and might not survive the operation, which might not be able to excise the entire mass anyway.  As a result we decided against surgery and are instead watching for any signs of deterioration in her.  So far she's fine.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rabbit, rabbit

Today is the first day of my birth month.  It's now three am and I'm awake. Having coaxed our cats out of the bedroom so they won't be nagging me to feed them (something they do no matter when I stir from sleep), I became curious about the tradition of saying "Rabbit, rabbit" as one's first words on the first day of the month. Check here and you'll have more information than you might ever care to have about it.

Curious, our superstitions and the ways we try to mitigate things through words and actions.  I'm resisting the urge to ask the omniscient Google to cough up information on:

  • breaking a mirror = seven years bad luck.  Perhaps if you stepped on it or embedded a portion in your body.
  • tossing salt over one's (right,left?) shoulder to counter possible bad luck.  Was it because salt was spilled?  If so, isn't tossing just a controlled spill?
  • walking under a ladder.  I can think of several reasons that might be trouble.
  • stepping on cracks in the sidewalk = breaking your mother's back?  That has me totally baffled.
  • etc, etc.
 I leave it up to you to satisfy your curiosity, if you have way too much free time.  


My first exposure to "Rabbit, rabbit" was through my wife, Carol, and my step-daughters, Laura and Wanda.  Curious also that a tradition apparently quite widespread in english speaking countries, never made it into the lexicon of my large extended family.   Maybe because it is a positive superstition, a way to assure good luck rather than a harbinger of bad luck.  All the superstitions I can recall in my family, the list above plus endless others, were negative - don'ts rather than do's - which I guess says something about how I was raised.  


Enough babbling.  I've managed to ramble for forty-five minutes and it's time to see if I can get a few more hours rest before the day begins.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Morning on the Teche

A great egret patrols the shallows across the bayou.  Another races its reflection along the still water.  The rising winter sun lights the tops of the cypress trees on the near shore.  These are the sights that greet me with my morning coffee.

The winter here is quiet, so unlike the warmer seasons: no  jet skis, no pleasure boating,  just the birds and the occasional silver mullet breaking the surface of the water.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dog Sitting on Bayou Teche

It all started when I made a plane reservation for the only contiguous seven day slot I could find in my "retirement" calendar before late spring.  Non-refundable tickets, naturally.
I called the Louisiana relatives to give them the news, only to find out that they were spending that weekend watching auto racing at Daytona Beach.  I arrived Wednesday morning, they left Thursday afternoon.  They'll be back Sunday night, I'm leaving Tuesday.  So much for the various itineraries, now for my weekend companions.

There are two dogs, a big friendly Weimareiner named Blaze, and a tiny nervous Mexican Hairless named Lizzy, who snaps at the big guy's heels and generally becomes a royal pain; oh yeah she also tends to pee in the house.  The kids bought those fancy mats for her to pee on in case she has an "accident", but she ignores them, preferring the ceramic tile floor.  It seems not to matter how many times she goes outside.  All that said, she's kinda sweet in her own warped way, though it does feel weird petting a dog with no hair.

So here I am, in one of my favorite places on earth, with the bayou in the backyard and cane fields across the highway out front.  It's a quiet place with a constant breeze cooling the carport even in the middle of summer.  This unusually warm January Friday, the dogs and I are watching HBO after a morning of editing my book (the dogs slept through most of it), and a workout at Anytime Fitness (just me.)  

It's a gorgeous sixty-five degree day here in Acadiana and the beginning of an interesting weekend.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The moving finger writes ...

Home from a week of writing within sight of the Atlantic Ocean.

I wonder at the lovely strangeness of living in a small cottage with four articulate opinionated people, who for hours at a time are completely silent.  Before computers became the writer's tool, there would at the very least be the clatter of typewriter keys or the skritch skritch of pen on paper.  Now the minuscule tap of fingertips on laptop keyboards is overshadowed by the sound of the surf a few hundred feet away.  We were together in this tiny house, but alone in our work.

In those five writing days, I finished the second draft of my second novel (the first is lying in the slush piles of various publishing houses.)  Today I'll print a copy to work with this coming week.  For this third draft I need the printed page: to cross out, underline, insert, add notes in margins; but even more I need to feel its bulk, the weight of a year and a half's work, to make it real.

***

Three young people died yesterday in a terrible house fire in Poughkeepsie; lives ended before they'd really begun.  Each of them must have had plans: places to see, adventures to have, things to accomplish, people to love, all with an eye toward a future they do not have.  I am so sad.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sunrise, Stray Cats, and Words

It's half-an-hour till sunrise in Rodanthe, NC on a cloudy Wednesday, but the impending dawn is already separating the ocean from the sky.  The dense clouds make it likely that Old Sol won't be visible as anything but indirect light this morning.  Sitting here in the cozy warmth of the cottage, I'm recalling several Januaries ago when I shot the cover photo for A Month on a Barrier Island, the book Steve Lewis and I collaborated on - his poems, my photos.

To get the shot I envisioned of Bonner Bridge, I left the cottage just as the sky was greying, drove quickly the dozen or so miles north to Oregon Inlet, and set up my tripod among the rocks on the southeast shore.  I wanted to capture the bridge in the red-orange glow of the morning, and I figured I'd just barely made it.  I took some test shots and waited.  And waited.  And waited.   It is a remarkably long time between daylight's beginning and the actual appearance of the sun, especially on a cold, windy January morning.  By the time I got the shot, I'd been there nearly forty-five minutes, and I was chilled to the bone.

My only company on that outing, other than the ever-present gulls, was a young, feral cat perched on the rocks several feet away.  It had no interest in coming closer, nor was it amenable to my closing the distance between us, but it stayed.  It listened while I whined about the cold.  It didn't leave when I mused about the tardiness of the damn sun.  In fact, the youngster remained until I packed up my gear, at which time it disappeared among the rocks.  A photo of my friend appears within the pages of our book.

I come to the cottage called Duckdog to write.  Steve holds weeklong retreats three times a year, weeks that have become so important to me that I pretty much schedule my year around them.  My favorite is this one, January.  Distractions are minimal since nothing is open, most of the cottages are vacant, and the weather is not conducive to long afternoons lounging on the beach.  It is a time devoid of any responsibilities other than to write.  So I write.  Words and phrases that may not get past my next draft, but for now are gems that simply need a little polish to bring out their essence.

It's truly remarkable how fast the day goes.  We begin work in the morning after breakfast; when next I look up from my writing nest on the love seat in the living room, it's after noon.  Too bad time doesn't move that fast when I'm waiting on a windy shore for the sunrise.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphobia and the human obsession with numbers

Triskaidekaphobia is morbid fear of the number 13. Friggatriskaidekaphobia, fear of Friday the 13th. I wonder if 13 is the only number with two phobias dedicated to it? It is not the only number that has some superstitious significance.  In some cultures the number 4 is avoided; 3 is all over the place in both religious (ex: the trinity) and secular (bad things happen in ...) instances. 7 is called "Lucky", and our buddy 13 "Unlucky". I could go on, but if you've stayed with me this far you're probably about to click on the 'X' and end your agony, so I will leave further examples up to the reader.


The intriguing aspect of all this is the significance we humans place on numbers.  When did it start? Who was the first to assign a number to a set of things?  Where did it happen?  Why? (I kind of sound like a reporter here.)  Oh yeah, How did it start?  Naturally I don't know the answers, but that doesn't stop me from theorizing so let's do.


First - Why/how did numbers happen?  TT (Tom Theory) - As human society moved from  the early hunter gatherer stage to growing their own food, they clustered in groups.  Members accumulated livestock, that needed to be quantified.  Let's say an owner kept track of the stock by retaining a small stone for each head of stock, that way the herd could be inventoried by moving a stone from one bucket to the next as each animal was tallied.  Maybe this led to notches in wood, and finally to symbols representing different quantities.


Sound plausible?  The who, when, and where are beyond my theorizing powers, so have at it if you wish to muse.


Well we all have numbers in our heads, on lists, in our phones; numbers that are important to us.  Right now one that I'm focusing on is 70 - for on February 16th it will be the number of years I've been on the earth.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bare Feet and Wide Feet

When it's impractical for me to traipse around barefoot, wide (EE or EEE) shoes are comfy on my feet.  Medium shoes are not.  I trekked to our local shoe store this afternoon to  buy a pair that could replace my beloved boat shoes, worn to the point that the sole separated from the rest of the shoe.  I saw two pair that would do, though not an exact replacement, and asked the young lady, "Do you have this in ten or ten-and-a-half wide.  I only see medium on the shelf."

She proceeded to look at the shelf then announced, "We only have them in medium."  I thanked her then asked about the second selection.  Her answer - "We only carry mediums." I thanked her again and left.

Now, I know each of us is unique, but I can't imagine that there are no other wide feet in New Paltz.  Do those folks resort to my alternative, an on-line order from a company that specializes in wide shoes?   Or am I truly the only one in town that can't walk into the local store and come out with a pair of shoes that fit?

I wonder whether the amount of time I spent, and continue to spend, without shoes caused my feet to widen.  I'm reminded of the Chinese practice of foot binding to make women's feet small and dainty; perhaps keeping the feet free of any boundaries lets them widen.

Hmm ... I sense a conspiracy here.  Maybe big shoe corporations encouraged parents to keep their children in shoes by telling them how dangerous it was to walk barefoot.  Since those little bodies were just forming, putting them in medium width shoes forced their feet to conform to an arbitrary 'foot norm'.  This meant cheaper manufacturing cost by making only a standard width shoe.  Or, since most shoes, like almost everything else we consume, are made in China, we are being reformed to some bizarre oriental standard of foot beauty.

Or maybe I have weird feet.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wasting Time as an Art Form

While in the throes of straightening up my office (read "disposing of unnecessary papers and other miscellany",) I chanced to browse Wikipedia.  What's that got to do with organizing my office you ask?  Haven't a clue.

Anyway it all started with me typing January 4th into the Google search engine. 

Here are some things that happened on January 4th:

1785Jacob Grimm, German philologist and folklorist (one of the Brothers Grimm) is born
1885 – The first successful appendectomy is performed by William W. Grant on Mary Gartside
1903Topsy, an elephant, is electrocuted by Thomas Edison during the War of Currents campaign
1999 – Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura is sworn in as governor of Minnesota.
2010 – The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building is officially opened.

Let's think about a few of these.

First successful appendectomy - How many unsuccessful ones were performed before this?  And what does an unsuccessful appendectomy look like?

An elephant is electrocuted by Thomas Edison - A bit harsh as a way to say AC current is lethal, don't you think? It turns out that Topsy was a murderer, but apparently TE's assistants executed several non-felonious animals during his DC vs AC campaign, which they lost.  If you're interested in some of the history of the electricity that we all use, click on the War of Currents link above.  One remarkable fact: the last utility-generated DC current in NYC was terminated in 2007!

Jesse Ventura as governor - a strange and wondrous experience to hear a politician actually say what's on his mind, not that it helped him stay in office.  Now he probes theories about government conspiracies that TruTV thinks we need to know - and maybe we do. TruTV's slogan is "Not reality. Actuality."

The world's tallest building - My building's bigger than your building - one more phallus designed and built by guys?

I think it's time for me to go back to straightening up my office.