Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Paradox of Scopes

Telescopes, as everyone agrees, extend the vision, bringing what is distant near. But in direct proportion that they enable us to see what is in front of us at a distance, they reduce the vision of what is in front of us directly. Microscopes, conversely, enable us to peer into the smallest spaces. But in doing so, we leave the macro world around us behind. What appears to increase our view, then, paradoxically decreases our view of that which is immediate, of that which is at hand.

Perhaps that phenomenon is why God put our eyes in the front of our heads instead of on the back. The rest of the body is oriented toward the front, in the use of the arms and hands, legs and feet. If we were more in need of looking backward, or manipulating and affecting what is behind us, we would probably look much different.

Think of telescopic and microscopic views in terms of time, of distance as time. Again, that which is in immediately in front of us is now, the present. That which is at a distance is some time removed--in the future, or in the past, for we have moved from where we were at a previous moment.

I guess that what I'm getting at has to do with the design of machines that can multitask (we aren't designed to) and take us from here to somewhere else in time and space in some way. We can't act directly upon tomorrow or yesterday, only now. And we can only act most directly on what is most immediate and proportionate to us, what is in front of us in our "eternal present." When we attempt to extend our influence upon the distant, the future, without or within, we reduce proportionately our influence upon the now, and lose our opportunities rather than increase them.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

95% Sex before Marriage? Something's Bogus Here

I read today that 95% of adults, men and women alike, admit to having had premarital sex, "calling into question the federal government's funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for 12-to-29-year-olds...which have received hundreds of millions of dollars under the Bush administration...." Further, the study found the same percentages going back to the 1940's; nearly everyone, it seems, has been doing it--or freely admits to it at least.

The surprise, it seems, is that it had been assumed people of former generations had been more chaste than people growing up today. But I wonder if the study considered the later age at which many now wait to marry, than a few decades ago. Several factors, in fact, seem to have been ignored in this report.

For one, the biological age for childbearing, for most, can be said to begin at puberty and not end till perhaps middle age or even later. Since the continued propogation of the species depends upon sufficient sexual attraction between males and females to assure sex, sexual activity is going to take place regardless of laws or mores or whatever taboos society places upon those who participate.

But being sexually active and getting married are very different things. If people in the 1940's--especially women--got married, as they often did, right out of high school or before their mid- twenties, that is one thing. It might have been easier to have waited a few years till marriage to have sex. But if people today wait throughout their twenties, and perhaps their thirties or even their forties to tie the knot, I don't find it so surprising that they wouldn't hold off on sex as well. That's a lot of time to be a single adult with an active social life and normal urges.

Further, the more recent appearance following the AIDS epidemic of more effective birth control methods like the widespread acceptance and availability of condoms and other contraceptives, the morning-after pill, the protections of Roe v. Wade under the law, and the possibility for adoptive placement of infants into loving homes, all mitigate worries about unwanted consequences of being sexually active for today's generation. Sex and its former taboos are not the scarlet-letter-branded issue of shame they once were, nor is it considered something that one should keep as secret as it used to be. Quite the opposite seems true today, in fact. The norm, now, is to freely proclaim that one has lost his or her virginity as a badge of honor, and to have remained a virgin till one's later years is now the cause for social shame. One's sexual status has completely reversed itself!

Is it any wonder, then, that a study done today concludes that almost everyone claims to have done the deed? Do, in fact, 95% of single Americans have sexual experience? Or are some too reluctant to admit they have not, like in The Forty Year Old Virgin and are just lying? And if 95% have indeed found sex before marriage, has that had an effect on pushing the bonds of matrimony and responsibilities of child-rearing further and further into later life? No, I think something's not quite right in this report.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


The excitement's building as Thanksgiving approaches. The whole family is coming down for turkey, pumpkin pie, parades and comraderie, and of course the main reason: Black Friday! Got to get down to the stores super early to get those "things that make the season bright." We're usually well represented, some years camping out three or four together plus an extra curious friend or two in front of Best Buy all night. The best spots are already lined up by midnight. South Florida techie shoppers are an intrepid bunch and hard to beat to the bargains. My fam takes naps Thanksgiving evening before rising for the all-night annual vigil.

Then when the doors finally open about five or six am, everybody races through the stores grabbing whatever's close, as they head for those special items on their list they read about in the ads for a week. It's an amazing race worthy of reality tv.

By ten or eleven in the morning, it's all over. The gang drags in, smug from their bounteous booty secured in their car trunks, and crashes into their beds or just sprawls out on couches and floors for a catchup nap, exhausted from the vigil of the past twelve to sixteen hours and the hell-bent-for-bargains shopping melee of packed stores. The goal is to make it to all four nearby megacenters: Best Buy, CompUSA and Circuit City across the street, and maybe even BrandsMart around the corner at the Sawgrass Mall. We have begun a push in ernest here in South Florida to create the biggest, best megacenter shopping mecca in the world in Sunrise, and the huge, sprawling Sawgrass Mills Mall is already world-famous. They're even building twenty-story condo's that overlook it, as if it's the gem of all views, with prices modestly starting in the mid-half-millions. Don't want to miss those bargains, nosirree.

Christmas shopping? Well, I guess the Black Friday gold rush is the beginning of the total mayhem that then continues all over our region till Christmas Day. Maybe it's just our way of playing a warped adult musical chairs. If you don't hustle, you don't get the prizes--or even a place to park. Kind of makes online shopping more appealing each year, as our cars stay in the only guaranteed parking spots left south of Disney World: our own driveways.

But I'm still looking forward to it, all of it. The arrivals, the festivities, food, parades and games, shopping, running around, and finally by Sunday afternoon putting up the Christmas tree and outside lights while the kids are still here to enjoy it. Thanksgiving, this Thanksgiving, is probably the only time we'll all be together for a year. By Christmas we all scatter and have our exchanges in several cities. But there's something special about having the whole family together at our house, even if it's only for a few days or hours. Something I'm really thankful for.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Fantum Fam

Since most of the folks who read my blogs are family, and others who nearly always drop by my posts seem like family (Hi there, Carol Anne), I'll speak like family and call us all out for our lazy ways.

Barb (Iris Blue, Mom, Grandma K, Sweetheart) said to me yesterday, "Our whole family has just quit blogging." It's true. Last night I read something Scott (Tall Penguin) recently posted, and an email that Mark (Ninja) sent me saying he was looking for new postings from me but finding none. Favorite daughter-in-law Rhonda (Lazo land) did phone to tell us she got a new phone and emailed Barb a photo from it to see if it worked right, but the whole fam damily have been strangely silent in the blogosphere of late.

I can't speak for the others, but I have no excuse. Sure, I've been busy--busier than I need to be, really--but we probably all have been. I think we all write more on our summer breaks when the livin' is easy, and there comes a time in the middle of autumn, about now, when things we began in September snowball on us, and we just quit blogging for awhile. I doubt this is a permanent condition; however, I do suspect it's an annual one. Looking back at last fall with all the hurricanes, I didn't blog as much as I had that summe either.

Whatever's keeping us from the flow and fun of sounding off, I hope it diminishes so we can wax eloquent again soon. I hope to write up a storm by Christmas at the latest, and hopefully before. This is a fun time of year, and we need to blog about it.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Something Just to Move the Screen Down

Sometimes I feel like I need to write a post just to move the preceeding post down below the startup screen. That's how I felt when I opened my last "Write To Say It" screen and stared at my filched dissertation tirade; I'd forgotten all about it and moved on, but like graffiti, posts are stickynotes. They hang around on walls and telephone poles like last month's primary posters, and they persist at the tops of blogs until the lazy blogger moves them down. Thus, this:

Sunday mornings have evolved as my preferred time to grade papers. It's usually calm around the house, and the phone doesn't usually ring. The lawn's mowed by Saturday, and the neighbors are often gone. There's nothing pressing to be watched on television, and any weekend project I've taken on (this weekend I set up an ip-addressable server on my desktop computer so I can access and monitor my house cams; it works!) has usually reached a point I've either given up on it or finished it. So the Sunday a.m. hours are the best time for me to grade and prepare for the Monday classes. In the autumn months, I like to get the studies out of the way for the much more looked-forward-to exercise of watching my Dolphins try to win a game, and seeing if there's anything they can do to try to get on a winning track after starting off 1-3.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

my unpublished dissertation gets rave reviews

The other evening my wife Googled my name just to see what would come up, and boy did we get surprised! My doctoral dissertation which I wrote for my Ph.D. in Comparative Arts at Ohio University in 1975 but never published, it seems, is for sale on Amazon! Its bogus "Reviews" even claim to reveal its ISBN number!

Even more amazing to us was that it has been reviewed on Amazon by at least two bogus "Customer Reviews" by "readers" who claim to have received it as a gift and praise it highly as being "very attractive" and "cool." They go on to say, in broken English and computer-generated generalizations, how happy it made them to receive it as a gift and read it, and they each highly recommend it to their friends.

I'd surely like to know how they got it, since the only copy I know of is buried unbound in a cardboard box in my closet here at home. When I wrote my study, The Aesthetic of the Veil: Conceptual Correspondences in the Nocturnes of Whistler and Debussy in 1975, I had to submit a copy to the department of my Comparative Arts major and another to the Ohio University Library. I was also required to submit a brief abstract of it to Dissertation Abstracts at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the national repository of doctoral abstracts. Outside of those places, to my knowledge no other copies have ever existed. I guess I'd better put a better lock on my closet!

As Barb and I pursued the two Google pages of seventeen references to this work, apparently now offered for sale without any knowledge or consent on my part, we learned on the Amazon listing that it was "not currently available", but could be ordered as an e-book. No price was given. It even included a selectable question asking if I was the owner or author of this work, and inviting me to relinquish digital permissions to publish it online as an e-book. Further, it had been cross-listed on Classical Music and Classical Art sites and offered for sale at Lowcost and Classical Music Books in the UK. One of their pages invites readers from the UK, US, Canada, Germany, or France to order it by clicking their country's flag. An attractive Editorial Review of the work by title and subtitle is set up also but not written--not yet, at least. I guess the theatre critic left the play before the murder in the third act. I didn't realize I was such an internationally known author! All this, it appears, was set up for marketing my thesis without anyone bothering to contact me or seek permissions or make any offer of publication.

This is marketing without product of the most flagrant piracy, I feel. My dissertation is featured by title on attractively-illustrated advertising pages on a number of sites along with many books and recordings, and it's never even been published or reviewed. The fake reviews Amazon included, I strongly suspect, were computer-generated and totally bogus. If I were among the affluent, which I am not, I'd sue their socks off, even though I suspect they've got themselves covered legally somehow.

I don't think I'm alone in this theft of intellectual property. I suspect all the dissertations which we doctoral candidates labored over for years to get our Ph.D.'s are probably already pillaged and pilfered by the e-pirates who are hyping them in their sites all over the place without our knowledge or benefit, and if someone actually orders one, they may or may not be able to cob a pirated copy to sell them. Since I wrote it in 1975, any copy rights I may have had have probably expired, which may be why that dissertation of mine is now getting the royal Times Square treatment in lights.

I don't know how my work ended up on Amazon, but I'm pretty certain of one thing: if it ever gets sold, I won't see a dime of it. And to the bogus "reviewers" who concocted those lame comments, I have only this to offer: at least I didn't plagiarize my dissertation; I wrote it myself.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Let Katie Be Katie

I keep watching Katie Couric in her new role as CBS Evening News anchor, but it's painful. I've seen people uncomfortable in the wrong job before, and she surely is in this one. Maybe she has chosen to take on the personna of gravitas that I see, but I get the feeling it's not her natural choice; someone seems to be coaching her--maybe lots of someones, and they're coaching her all wrong. It's just not Katie. It's some woman trying extremely hard to deliver the world news in all its seriousness and not make light of anything. Not even lighten up about anything. Not even in the moments between stories or at the end of the program after the goodnights are said. The dour, rather furrowed brows remain till the fade to black. And that's not the Katie Couric I know, not the Katie of the Today Show, which isn't surprising, nor the Katie of the silver screen or tv guest appearances. Katie Couric has a smile and an impish, giggling laugh that is irrepressible and iconoclastic. Whenever Matt Lauer would try to get too serious, Katie could break the chill in an instant with her gentle barbs and puncture the pomposity of nearly everyone. Now, however, she has been thoroughly made over into THE FIRST FEMALE NETWORK ANCHOR, as if the title carried with it some kind of royal responsibility to maintain our composure and dignity at all costs--for the good of--who? the nation? the network? the ratings--ah, that's surely it. It always is, isn't it. But whoever is behind the new Katie should be fired. This very lovely, smart, talented and warmly human lady can do this new job in a wonderful way if she is allowed to bring the Katie we all came to love to the task. Let Katie be Katie. She won't giggle at the wrong times. And if she did, it couldn't be worse than the sad-faced, over-serious, furrowed mask she's affecting now.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Acting's hard!

On Labor Day my New York sound designer son had me read some scripts for voiceovers in an upcoming video game. He turned to me because he doesn't know any "old men in New York," as he explained, and needed someone whose voice had "matured" with the rasp and crackling punctuations of middle age. Fine by me, I said, and while his brother recorded me in his school media center studio in Kissimmee, I read the lines in the the best characters I could muster as an amateur.

I don't know if they'll actually use what we sent up electronically, but I got a congratulatory cellphone call on our way home from the Disney parks saying I did a really good job. If they can't use it, it will be because of the limitations of our recording equipment and ambient studio noise rather than my lack of good stuff. It made me feel just great.

What was revealing to me was how many ways there are to say the shortest dialogue lines in a recording. One of my characters spoke only three words, but I had to record it dozens of times and learn background motivation and the situation for the utterance to get it anywhere near "right." It gave me a new appreciation for what actors and actresses have to do, involving not only all of what I did but with action and expression as well, and without the script in front of them, by memory, scene after scene. No wonder they're so exhausted with their long hours and so flamboyant in their escapes and relationships. Acting's a whole lot harder than I ever realized, and so is production in general.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Good technical writers in high demand

Young people, consider a career as a technical writer. It pays well (though not as well as engineers or doctors), offers solid work and good promotional tracks, and because your work is much needed, you'll have steady employment opportunities your whole career. When you retire, you can still do it part-time or independently, and if you're good at it, it can be very satisfying.

Why are tech writers so needed? Consider that just about every product or service made and offered for sale must offer clear instructions/information/labels/warnings perhaps to the buyer/consumer on the nature of the product or service, its description, its features, how to put it together and take it apart, how to operate it, maintain it, service it or replace parts of it, etc. All of this information must usually be written and read.

But the people who design, manufacture, and sell the product often don't have a very good skill at communicating about the product to other people. So they hire technical writers to write the user manuals and instructions clearly.

What happens when poor or confusing instructions go out with the product? Their phone lines and emails get clogged with befuddled consumers seeking clarification and assistance, and that costs the company much more to staff and maintain than the good tech writer's compensation.

But why can't anyone write good instructions? It's in the way the person thinks. Engineers think in highly technical and precise ways, often quantitatively. They may do that naturally or by training and experience. But it's not natural for them to try to speak to the end user of their designs and systems directly in unambiguous, "layman's" terms the user is apt to understand clearly. Executives and sales personnel think in qualitative as well as quantitative terms, and again seldom understand the engineering/manufacturing complexities of their products. They are concerned with results and bottom lines, markets and features of products that work as intended, not with the inner workings of such products.

But technical writing is mainly concerned with bridging the gap between those with specialized knowledge of the product or service and consumers. Technical writers, ironically, usually don't need technical knowledge. But they do need curiosity and the ability to learn from the engineers and marketing people those things which the consumer needs to know. Above all they need to know how to ask the right questions and couch the answers in plain language.

I taught both technical writing and creative writing at a technical university, and I well remember the main difference I had to try to stress between the two: creative writing tries to suggest many meanings, connote rich associations, offer more than one interpretation; technical writing tries to eliminate all meanings except one. One clear, exact, singular meaning is what the technical writer hopes to convey to each reader, with no other interpretation possible, in every statement, every instruction.

With the society becoming more and more dependent upon sophisticated technology and communications, the future is bound to be bright for a good technical writer.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Escape the heat to Florida? Actually, yes

The heat waves this summer over most of the nation are horrific, but worst in the north where such heat isn't normal and electric grids aren't up to handling the extra loads. And when the transformers and feeder lines blow, so do tops and tempers.

We used to stay at Barb's parents' house when we visited in northern Indiana each summer, and bake in the heat waves that came through, even in June. They had no AC till grandpa finally broke down and got a window unit for the living room a few years ago, but it wasn't able to cool or dehumidify the living quarters. Since we slept upstairs, it was so stifling even with window fans that we moved the mattress to the floor, and sometimes just sacked out on the living room carpet to get into the feeble stream of cooled air.

We've travelled in some of the super heat waves that killed several hundred people nationwide over the years, with temps well over 100 or even over 115, all the while praying the car unit wouldn't poop out on us, which it often did on our older vehicles. And this summer's cookers for days or weeks on end have turned St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and other megacities into griddles with no escape.

We've come into Las Vegas in 120 degree heat and abandoned our VW camper for the only night in an AC''d motel. We've camped in Tennessee in 108 degrees and spent nearly the whole day in the pool. But it's always worst where these kinds of conditions are not normal, where tenements are without air conditioning and where people uncap the hydrants to get into a spritz of relief.

That's why I can't complain about living in good old South Florida, where the rest of the country assumes we'd be the worst off in these heat waves but are not. Our daytime highs are in the 90's but not unbearable because there's AC wherever we go, in all our homes and all our cars and trucks, trains and busses. Air conditioning opened the South to development, it is said--made the southern states tolerable places in which to live and work, not just someplace exotic to visit. Because it's the norm to need conditioned air more or less all year long here, we're prepared for it.

But it's not the heat that drives us all to the refuge of our air conditioned spaces; it's the humidity. Ask anyone who has been here in July or August and they will all say the same thing: it's not the heat, it's the humidity. And the humidity is caused by the fact that our state juts out 600 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded on three sides by water, we always have that moderating sea/land breeze to keep the air moving slightly and avoid the force-air highs, domes of fire which sit for weeks over other states and literally cook everything: crops, structures, animals and people. But the humidity, which make it impossible to work outside for more than five minutes at a time without coming in with your clothes soaking wet, is the very thing that keeps our temperatures lower and more moderated than the drier, blowtorch heat waves plagueing the rest of the nation. So our humidity is our great blessing in disguise.

I walk each day, usually before nine. But I always come back in with a perspiring brow and spotted tee-shirt. So this morning, in celebration of August, I changed from my usual jeans to shorts. It didn't help that much. I still spot-perspired through. But I was not uncomfortable, and a few minutes in the air conditioned drier air inside made everything hunky-dory. That's why I'll take the humid heat here over the dryer heat waves elsewhere every time. It's hard to believe, but if you want to escape the heat, come to South Florida!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Hey there, all you long-lost kin!

My wife's genealogy project hit a gold nugget last night when practically my dad's whole side of the family, whom I never knew, all showed up at once on a Mormon search engine.

I grew up thinking my dad was one of several boys and one sister, Aunt Marie, whom I only heard about sometimes because she had moved to South Africa. Now I learn I had also an Aunt Ann, who was a missionary to China. And instead of a couple of brothers, my dad was the youngest of five boys: Ray, Jesse, Harry, Stanly [sic], and John William, my father--"Billy" as they called him. Only Aunt Marie was younger.

And they were all born near Belfontaine, Ohio in the west Ohio farmlands of Logan County, not in eastern Ohio near Mansfield where Dad took me as a boy once and showed me the old homestead. Turns out the old farm, south of Canton, was probably where they moved. John Yoder Kauffman, my grandfather, died in Michigan in 1935 before I was born in 1939, so I never knew him or Ida, my grandmother.

When I grew up, moved to Chicago and went to art school and played piano bar downtown, I was contacted by my cousin Dr. Jim Kauffman, a surgeon who practised in Cleveland, and he took me out for a meal and to get acquainted. That was after my dad had died of a heart attack in 1955, and Jim's dad, I think Harry, had also died of heart failure. Apparently most of the brothers suffered the same coronary problems, so Dr. Jim cautioned me we'd both have to watch our hearts closely as we got older. The only other contacts with the Kauffman side of the family I remember vaguely was that we got together with the descendents of some of them once at a hotel in Cleveland and once at a lake in northern Indiana. There was a woman among them they called Connie and another, I think, called Laddie, but I don't think I ever saw any of them again.

What Barb discovered, though, really made me feel good, like Alex Haley finding his "Roots." What vexed me was that even though I tried the same genealogy sites she did, I couldn't find them. I have to admit that she's a better genealogist than I am, that she has the ability to follow clues and hunches better than I can. Mine got me nowhere. "Well," she reminds me, "I am a media specialist, after all." Grrr.

I learned also that Nelson, my first name, was a family name, not just given me by my brother after meeting Nelson Rockefeller as family legend always held--my mother, like me, was prone to exaggerate to make a good story-- and that there were many family names in the tree, and variant spellings. Barb's traced us from the farming Mennonites of Ohio back to the old German and Swiss farms of our European ancestors. And the further we go, the more surprises we find, folks we never heard of before.

For me, the curiosity ends with what she's already found. But for her and Scott, who gave her the software for this summer quest, it may go on to Eden. It is surely amazing how many of us there are, and were before us, and how difficult and Byzantine a search it can be to try to find them. There are many sites that charge a fortune for their access, and many government sites full of misinformation. Even some public county and state libraries guard their collections like Fort Knox or won't let you search their records online.

But Barb says women tend to be more concerned about genealogy than men, generally, and she's probably right. I don't know what that means, but I tend to agree. The main thing it has taught me is that I now realize that I am one of many, many people who found themselves on this earth and came to think they were one of a kind. I now realize that yes, I am unique in many ways; but more importantly I am only one of many, many others who comprise the rich, wonderfully diverse human fabric.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Brothers of the Brush, Sisters of the Swish

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Barb's working on our geneology now, so I tried to help look up some old names and dates amongst the family albums. I use the term "albums" generically; they're really several big boxes with a few albums of prints, some old cardboard covered unframed portraits, and hundreds of loose photos jammed together without rhyme or reason. But while I rummaged through them, I ran across an old black and white photo that brought back some meaningful memories.

When I was nine, our Indiana hometown celebrated its centenial, and for a small town of only 14,000 or so, they put on quite a show. They hired a New York director to come to our small city for a couple of months and put on a pageant of our history, and the whole community got involved. The centenial celebration actually went on for about three months.

Far ahead of time the menfolk in town were asked not to shave, and contests were organized for the "Brothers of the Brush" who began to sprout everywhere around town to judge the best mustasches, sideburns, and beards. The women in turn were asked to make and wear oldtime costumes and bonnets, judged by others for their creativity and effect as the "Sisters of the Swish." And everyone, nearly, in the city got into the spirit of the thing. And for those few who resisted or tried to ignore the new/old looks, they did so at their peril. Mock trials were set up and conducted on Jefferson street sidewalk by the local circuit court bailiffs, sheriff, and judge, and men were stopped on the street if they were cleanshaven, tried immediately, and asked to serve "time" in mock public ridicule if found guilty (which all were). And if someone wanted to take it to a higher court, a stepladder was produced and the sentence repeated from a higher platform.

Within a few weeks, Huntington began to take on the look of a frontier town. A scripted dramatic history of the city was written. Parts were chosen and assigned to townspeople for the big pageant and parade culminating the celebration at Kriegbaum Field, and my brother, Roger, was excited to be one of the narrators. My dad was chosen to be a canal boat captain, and I was a frontier boy. I still have a picture of Daddy and me in our buckskins Mom made for us. Practises were held for several days beforehand, and it was no mean feat to organize as the cast of hundreds of local folks were put through our paces through the two-hour-plus show.

After a huge parade, in costume of course, the big show was finally produced at night, and it was really spectacular. It went off without a hitch, as I remember, despite the numbers involved and nonprofessional participants. As with school musicals, if you weren't yet "onstage," you were in the audience, and the audience groups were always coming and going to cue up for their scenes. I wish they had today's film and video technology back then, but no visual record of the 1948 pageant exists that I know of. Only newspaper photos and writeups preserve the flavor of those days. It was as if we stepped back in time one hundred years.

But perhaps the shock was greater when the celebration ended, and all the beards came off at one mass shave, and the women shed their 19th century bonnets and long skirts and suddenly began dressing in contemporary fashions. It was as if Brigadoon had disappeared back into the mist for another hundred years. The Brothers of the Brush and the Sisters of the Swish were gone in an instant.

I don't know if such an event would even be possible today. Certainly not in a large city. And it would only happen if people would support it. I'm not sure folks still have that much sense of community now in very many places, and it's kind of a shame I think. We don't know each other's names if we live more than a house or two apart, we interact through third parties of our employers or governments or church groups and clubs, and we have to lock our doors constantly against the rest of the "community" we don't even know. We didn't usually, then.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Welcome Nigel--Love, Jules

When my son Scott (Tall Penguin) took Spanish in high school, he had to make a language arts project. So we blew up a balloon, covered it with papier mache, painted it black, attached a short clothes line "fuse," and labeled it la bomba. That was long before 9/11, so it went over big and he got an A. Today we don't dare call things bombs so casually or we'd have the Homeland Security folks all over us.

Hypersensitive now to theft or political incorrectness when we travel, we try to call our laptops, camcorders, and digital cameras by nicknames so strangers don't know what we're referring to. I'm typing this on Nebs2, for example, and my wife, Barbara's, digital camera was originally called La Bomba. But when we flew to New York last September, we thought we'd better give it a different nickname. It just wouldn't do to shout across the boarding line, "Hey, do you have La Bomba?" or "Now where did I put that Bomb?" So La Bomba became, in a new bright orange foam case for easy visibility, "Orange Julius" or "Jules" for short. Everyone in my family keeps a watch out for Jules, and Barb uses it to take and load all those snappy photos for her blog, Iris Blue.

But Jules, alas, is getting older by digital standards, and has a tendency to blur unless held rock-steady. I messed up my pix of Grandpa Bingham whom we visited in Indiana this June, for example, when I couldn't hold it steady enough even sitting around a table. So my family all chipped in and bought me a fabulous, compact digital camera with excellent anti-shaking settings for my July birthday recently, already pre-nicknamed Nigel (Barb's idea). Nigel got a gray foam case with straps like Jules, and of course gets to be used by everyone who went in on it. I get to keep it, however, in my custody and care.

So welcome, Nigel, to this intrepid photojournalistic blogging family, and may you record and publish many an excellent image on all our posts. Live long and prosper!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Savannah: A Great Finish to a Fun Trip

When you reach a certain age, summer vacation means going to see the folks. And this goes on for many years, if you're lucky. Even if you're headed in the opposite direction for your wished-for destination, you have to make sure you include the hometown visit or your name will be Mud for the following year.

So we made the pilgrimage to Huntington, Indiana, where both Barb and I were born and raised, met and fell in love, married and had our firstborn and secondborn, saw the folks, joined up with the firstborn's family and did Cedar Point, the Sandusky, Ohio amusement park we've visited many times before, and were just about ready to call it a vacation and return to Florida.

But the two to three days it takes us to drive home from Indiana never seems quite fulfilling unless we cram in a little layover in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, another favorite hotspot for us. And we did. Barb got to shop at her Christmas Place store for a few hours before we headed on over the mountains and down to I-95.

Somewhere along the way I realized I really wanted to visit Savannah, Georgia as well, and I calculated that, even starting from Gatlinburg at 1:00 pm, I could make it there last night, the third of July, spend the fourth touring the city, and leave for Scott's new condo in Kissimmee on the fifth, then home to Coral Springs.

Neither Barb nor I had been to Savannah, the Belle of Georgia, with its rich history and vibrant old streets, mansions, and mossy shady squares and streets. We visited Charleston, North Carolina three years ago, but never seemed to make it to Savannah.

Well, we did it. Barb reserved us two nights, last night and this one, at a Hampton nearby, and today we toured on a trolley with on/off priveleges all day and had a ball. By late afternoon--we decided to skip the live fireworks display on the riverfront due to the crowds and watch nationally from our motel room--we felt like Savannahians (honest to goodness, that's what they call themselves here.) and that we'd seen and photographed and videoed plenty of memories.

To me, we beat the system again this year. We didn't get trapped in the obligatory pilgrimage again but launched out into new vistas, and to me that's what vacation means. Now I don't have to spend yet another year wondering what Savannah is like and if I like it as well as Charleston, which I really loved. Savannah isn't Charleston, though they share much in common historically and culturally. Savannah is unique in its layout and squares, its stately ironwrought mansions and beautiful shady live oaks Charleston doesn't have. But Charleston is a city of great mystery, history, and character with a bigger feel and area that I am still very intrigued by. These sister cities are like two beautiful but entirely unique southern belles, each lovely and fascinating but totally incomparable with the other.

The only thing I miscalculated and wished I'd brought along on the trip was my old laptop, so I wouldn't have had to compete with Barb for blogtime. She has done a great job of documenting our vacation day by day, with pix, here. Next trip I'll put it on my packing list.

Monday, June 12, 2006

June 12: Anniversary Edition

One year ago today I began this blog. This was my first post (and comments it got):

personal journal: nirvana or manuscript stifler?

I used to write lots of short stories and poems till I began a private journal. The stories and poems never got published. The journal, which I began as a notebook to help my writing, became instead a freewheeling, uncensored, unrevised forum for whatever I wanted to say: ideas, feelings, gripes, interests--anything that came to mind.At first the freedom from editing or rejection was liberating. And I loved the easy fluency I found, the flow and unselfconscious style I developed. But I found that the more I wrote in my journal, the less I wrote for submission. In time I lost interest in writing for publication completely. The journal became my only writing outlet, a substitute for any stories, poems, or essays I had written so easily before.I wondered if others had a similar experience. Is personal journaling always a good idea for a writer? Or can it stifle creativity and become a too-easy-to-please listener, insulating its author from challenges he may need more, like feedback from others, disciplined structure, focus and development of ideas, fleshing out of detail because it's needed for others to visualize, even though I might not, since I'm writing it? I honestly don't know.Online, it seems everyone promotes journaling as therapeutic and stimulating for ideas and creativity, great for hatching great writing to share. Privately, I'm not so sure. For me, it seemed to erect a writer's block like the Great Wall of China to anything I tried to write outside it.In any case, that's why I started this blog. I'm tired of just "talking to myself" in my journal and looking for ways to be read--not necessarily published or paid. At least I'm ready to listen.
posted by nbk @ 9:37 PM 2 comments

Since that first post was published I've received about 1,100 visits from all over the world that I know about and published 75 other posts. It's been very rewarding. I especially appreciate my regular visitor from Arizona (oops, sorry, New Mexico), Carol Anne, whose own It's five o'clock somewhere is always a delight to read and whose encouragement and insightful comments have sometimes kept me going when I got lazy. And I'm grateful to have had the chance to interact with a fascinating, very intelligent young museum researcher from Queens, Jill Pazereckas, who began commenting here nearly a year ago and whose own blog, Jill's Room, is a model to me of provocative social and historical issues.

But I feel most proud of the blogs my family have started this year and quickly diverged from this one, in both content and style. They all comment here frequently and really keep me busy trying to keep up with them, and they're bookmarked in my right column: Too Tall to Be a Penguin, by middle son Scott, the elementary school media specialist and part-time Disney ride operator--oops, cast; Iris Blue, my incredible wife, gifted photojournalist blogger, and love of my life; Underwear Ninja Comes With Space Suit, by youngest son and new york sound designer, whose photographs are amazing; and Lazo Land, by my gifted favorite daughter-in-law, Rhonda.

Thanks for a great ride, everyone!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Fight or flight and the river rocks

There aren't many things that really get to me, but having work done by others on my property ranks right up there. From the time they clamber out of their pickup trucks to the time they leave for the day, I'm in full vigilante mode, peering between closed blinds and hiding in the shadows.

But after a while of watching the work clandestinely, I can't stand it anymore. All the clanging and banging makes me too nervous to just sit. I have to do something physical. So I jump into my yard clothes and spend time busying myself around the lot weed-whipping everything to death even if it doesn't need it, or mowing, or my latest exercise machine: hauling rock.

See, when we got the house seventeen years ago, the screened patio had a pool surrounded by chattahoochee and river rocks around the pool edge, with a big river rock fountain at the far end. This might have looked quite exotic if we had an outdoor pool surrounded by lush vegetation, but inside, with nothing but ferns and leafy big philodendrons, it looked out of place. So when we decided to resurface the badly eroded pool and pitted chattahoochee patio all at once, and the contractor offered to tear out the fountain for an extra $300, as well as the river rocks around the pool we had contracted for, we said yes.

Perhaps I should have asked for more detail. It turns out the price didn't include hauling them away, just removing them. They all got "removed" into a big heap against my outside bedroom wall, and it was up to me to do something with them.

Well, there was my excercise machine. Every day I'd go in and teach in the morning while the workers jabbered and clunked and banged around on my pool and patio, then when I came home I'd jump into my yard clothes and start in hauling that rock pile around the property with my lawn tractor and yard cart. And I placed a couple of hundred river rocks weighing from about fifteen or twenty to over sixty pounds each around every tree, hedge row, walk and cranny all over my property.

This was my stress response. Selye said years ago that nature's response to danger or fright or stress is to "fight or flight," but when one is stressed and does nothing to either fight or run away, bad things happen. I can't sit in my fortress while the huns batter the gates and hurl flaming projectiles over the ramparts. I've found hauling fifty-pound river rocks till I'm dog-tired to be just about right.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bring back two-pocket shirts!

I don't know exactly when men's shirts with two pockets were last made and sold and worn in America, but I do know that they have all but disappeared from stores great and small, and I can't figure out why, and I resent it. I would like to request the world's clothiers to return to making TWO POCKET MEN'S SHIRTS as God intended.

Perhaps some might say a single pocket looks neater, sleeker, more chest-flattering on a man. Well, may be. But I doubt if men prefer them. Since we don't carry purses (most of us), we need two shirt pockets, bulging or not. And how many men fuss about such things? I mean, we stick pencils behind our ears for gosh sakes. Or maybe the two-pocket Hawaiian god-awful baggy sport shirts worn under a cigar, mustache, and dark glasses of the '50's and '60's just gave them a bad name. But I still doubt it.

No, I don't buy the aesthetics argument. One could argue the second pocket is needed for balance. In fact, for the life of me I can't understand any reason for making single pocket shirts other than simple greed. It probably costs a fraction of a cent less to not make the second pocket, and some lazy child labor cheeseball somewhere is making a few more bucks from the accumulated miniscule savings. But it's not like these rags are hand-tailored; second pockets aren't labor-intensive. They're all computer-manufactured by the hundreds of thousands in big machines in seconds anyway and shipped all over the world. And it doesn't cost any appreciable amount more to tell the computer assisted seamstress design to sew on a second pocket, or the square centimeter seamstress to allow the extra material. How much more material is in a pocket, after all? I mean, heck, take an inch all the way around off the length, if that will be enough for the second pocket. The bottom doesn't show anyway; it's (usually) worn tucked inside the trousers.

I last remember buying some seersucker two-pocket summer white dress shirts at a K-mart in my Indiana home town about fifteen years ago, and I haven't seen any since. As a teacher, I always carry too much for one pocket, and teaching in South Florida's often steaming heat, I don't wear an outer sport coat any more than I have to, so I always face the same problem: whether to face the world with a bulging single shirt pocket or stow some of my gear in my trouser pockets till I look like an equipment-challenged photographer, swinging his big genie pants from side to side around my thighs as I walk. I sometimes tear that single shirt pocket, it gets so full.

Okay, I'll admit that over the years, I've come to carry too much junk with me for my own good. And I suppose I have no right to complain unless I fess up to that junk: a cell phone of course, and a day-minder approintment book, pen, reading glasses, chewing gum (I quit smoking in 1997; the gum's my smokes now), and usually my insulin pen, since I'm diabetic. Which of these would I prefer to stow in my pants pocket? None. I reach for them all when I drive, for one thing. Ever try to wrestle stuff out of your pants pocket when you're strapped down by a seat belt, or get your change ready at a toll booth or drive-through window?

Lately, the only two-pocket shirts I've located are on Jungle Jim safari outfits that look like they should come with a pith helmet, and a few on heavy medical-looking uniforms that look like they should be worn under a stethoscope. Oh--and one I found in Orlando that just didn't look like me. I don't do fiesta shiny black and silver stretch fabric with pearl buttons--not that I have anything against those who do.

But things may finally be changing, albeit ever-so-slowly. I found a few two-pocket sports shirts at Penneys in various colors and scarfed them up, and a couple of others at Old Navy. I still haven't found any lightweight ones or dress ones anywhere, but the fact that someone is trying to make and sell them again at all is encouraging. Surely the two-pocket shirt will return someday. Sure hope it's before my few threadbare ones left wear out completely.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

It must be summer

What a weekend! All three of my adult sons had big deals cooking.

Mark absconded from Orlando to New York last August to find his fortune but forgot to renew his Florida license before he left. Leaving his car here in Florida, he managed to live a year in Manhattan by not driving on his expired license, but it caught up with him when he came back to Orlando to visit last weekend. Not by driving and getting pulled over, but at the airport where he got delayed from boarding his return flight and double-searched. He finally convinced them he wasn't a terrorist or ne'er-do-well despite his growing hair and got to board, but the experience convinced him to renew. It arrived here, good through 2011, and I forwarded it to him.

Doctor Steve somehow sold me his generator, bought for the hurricane season from hell last year but never used, so he could buy a more powerful unit he needs for working at the lot he and Rhonda hope to build on one day, during the tax break period till June 11 in Florida. The state is suspending state taxes (6%) on hurricane-preparation items before the new season begins (sigh) June 1. He's a tough customer to bargain with, but I got him down by $1.00 from what he paid. Guess I showed him who the smartie is in this family, huh. This one generates 3500 watts. He wants at least 5000. Since we won't be air conditioning even one room with it, just keeping the food cold and running a few lights and the tv if the power fails for days as it did last year, I think 3500's about right for us, and I was probably going to shop for one anyway.

But media specialist Scott stole the cake by springing for a new condo. He got tired of the annual raise-the-rent letters. Last year they hit him for new appliances and more rent on top of it, and this year they socked on an added $150 per month. He's paid faithfully for about five years and been a stable, responsible tenant. So much for loyalty. He began looking at getting a house or condo since he got that letter a couple of weeks ago, found financing favorable to educators through a bank, educated himself from scratch about buying a home and sought advice from us as his parents who have been through the process several times, his fellow teachers, and his homeowner bro and his invaluable, tireless homespotter-dealsniffer sister-in-law, who came down to Orlando and helped him find the best little condo he could afford in this market, in a great area. I'm very proud of his comparison shopping and decision-making process. He takes his time and "sleeps on it," as he says. But yesterday he put down his deposit and made his move. Way to go, Scott!

Every year I say, surely this year no one in the family will be moving this summer. Last year Mark pulled out to NY to take an internship and bounced around till he found his niche and a small apartment, and finally a great job in his field. This year it's Scott's turn at the moving bug. Who will be next? I wonder. I guess it just goes with the season. Fall, winter, and spring we store our acorns and do our jobs and live our schedules, but summer is clearly when the whole planet seems to play musical chairs.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

What's That Smile?

Just my luck to be teaching art appreciation when the Da Vinci Code came out. Usually I get a lot of Sistine Chapel papers and Davids, but this year everybody turned in a paper on the Mona Lisa, replete with schtick about Opus Dei, the Louvre connection, secret codes and Tom Hanks' dressing room. I swore after reading over a dozen some had to be copies of others, but they weren't; they were just often using similar sources.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Of all the Idol finalists who were eliminated, I expect to miss Kelly Pickler the most. That surprises me, because I never voted nor would have voted to keep her for her singing, which wasn't wide-ranging enough outside her country mainstream to pull through the challenges of music she wasn't familiar with: the American Songbook per Rod Stewart, the Queen songs, the Love Songs per Boccelli--man, she was so lost doing those I knew her fan base couldn't save her three weeks before she finally bit the dust. But of all the idol contenders left standing--and I believe any of them could win it all--I think Kelly will have the most stellar career, and we're just seeing the beginning of a superstar.

But I think I know what America loves about her: she is a true innocent. She has the natural beauty of a Britney Spears but without the staged personna and crafted sexiness. She is sexy the way Carrie Underwood could be sexy when she wanted to: from within, not from coaching and career managers. Like Carrie, Kelly has the naivete of a young Dolly Parton, and the same honesty. She has found through her Idol odyssey the confidence and assurance she needed to come of age, still with enough natural craftiness to stay clear of the wolfpacks who would exploit her. When Simon Cowell called her a "saucy minx," she wasn't being coy to reply "I'm a mink?" She is an original, bona fide innocent, so much so that I don't see her corrupted by Hollywood, the music industry, or anyone else. She can handle herself well with the remarks of a Leno or a Couric, and she can only grow in popularity.

Front Porch

The world's too big to grasp in one lifetime, to experience all life can offer, to explore all the paths I might follow. At twenty I wanted everything and wanted to do everything and be all that I could be, as the recruiting slogan goes; but approaching sixty-seven I'm learning I need to choose what I still want to try to do and try to avoid, and adjusting my goals accordingly.

Life is so full of wonder and possibility and meaning, to me, that I feel I can never really understand it or control it. I can only deal with a small part of it, can only know and experience a small section of its possibilities in my lifetime. And I seem to need to do so from a central sense of identity and being in time and place. Most advice says we need to live in the present, but my present is very rooted in my past, by choice. If it were not, I fear I might often find this time and place almost intolerably confusing and frighteningly hostile, and I don't know if I could function.

Though I live in 2006, I basically ground myself in the 1940's and 1950's because that's when I was growing up and adjusting to the world. In that sense, I am a product of another time and place. I live in South Florida today, but I am still at heart a Hoosier, small-town boy, where the seasons change and people seem more real to me than here. That's my center. That's when I learned who I was and what I believed, what I liked and what I could do, what I wanted, hoped for, feared and needed to avoid. I still feel more comfortable at Disney MGM studios with its swing era music and art deco streets than I do at Epcot's Innovations and world of tomorrow. I was nurtured and loved in this process by my mom and dad and Roger, my older brother by ten years.

Physically, that center is gone now. My home at 34 W. Park Drive is bulldozed away and paved over for another Bailey's Mortuary parking lot. Mom and Dad are gone, Roger gone, everyone scattered by time and distance and replaced along the way with new people, new homes, new cars, new things and activities in my present world in South Florida.

I have my new family, thank God, who love me and whom I love dearly, at the center of my new life since marriage. But my old center, the child I was, the hopes, dreams, fears and wonder I had then, the desires, goals, beliefs and understanding I had then, the passions, compulsions, mannerisms and habits I had then, remain at my core.

I am still who I was then, even as I have become older, perhaps more cautious, perhaps wiser or smarter, perhaps better in some ways and worse in others. I am still that child trying to gather that world I knew around me. And the cushioned couch I now write from, as I stare out through the sliders at the patio and through the screens to the great world outside, is the same front porch glider I curled up on to draw pictures from then, as I stared out through those front porch screens at the great world outside I saw then.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Three dollar gas? not quite yet

Well here we go again with shocking gas price hikes, just in time for the summer driving crush. Funny how it's always something unusual in the world that they use for an excuse to tickle those numbers up a dime a day or more. Last fall it was the hurricanes destroying gulf production capacity, then a major pipeline down, then couldn't get the right grades and blendsto the right places (thanks a lot, EPA, for creating such a smorgasbord of varied state requirements no oil company can accomodate them all) because of shipping problems, etc. This year it's China's accelerated industrialization and demand for oil, the usual Mideast uncertainties, Iran's nuclear ambitions (while Brazil practically has the deed in hand unnoticed), and the shock value of a crude now over $75/barrel for the first time.

It's the big oil companies' greed, my wife insists. Look at their obscene profits! And they're coddled and favored by the Republicans, especially the "ohl bidness" White House in cahoots with them. They haven't the capacity to produce enough even if they could get it cheap, CNN says. They haven't built a new refinery in decades. I asked my eldest son why. "Nimby," he said. "Not In My Back Yard. Nobody wants one where they live."

As I checked our tiny price cards on pumps in our prissy town which doesn't allow signs big enough to see from the street, I watched the prices climb closer and closer through the week to the magic $3.00 figure. That, according to history, seems to be the psychological turn off the trips number for many of us--especially those of us who well remember the $2.29 we were paying just a few weeks ago, even if we've pretty much forgotten the $2.95 we paid after Wilma last October. The Sun Sentinel, our local Ft. Lauderdale paper, suggested we go online and Google "Cheapest gas by zip code" to find the sites listing best prices in our area.

When I checked the tire pressure for the minivan tires at 7/11 this evening, I noted they were selling gas for 2.99 , still unwilling to make the big three dollar declaration till the other stations all do, probably tomorrow. So I went online and used Google. It came up pretty easily with a number of sites, some of which were pretty outdated. But the best site I found was I plugged in my zip and found a nearby Citgo selling for 2.89 and a Shell selling for 2.93, so I went to the Citgo first and filled up our nearly-empty tank for 2.89/gallon.

But I wasn't the only one there. The lines reminded me of last fall after Wilma: very high stress, very angry drivers jockeying and honking for position, and lots of them. Last fall the cops had to maintain order at the pumps in our town, and I wouldn't be surprised to see those times return, even though there's presumably no shortage of fuel or stations selling it. It's the general panic buying we always get in our cities when we feel our lifestyle may be threatened or that we're losing control over events in our lives. Suddenly our friends and neighbors become the competition and we go into our Survivor mode, making sure that whatever happens, we get ours.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spell Ickey with an M

Wow, three parks in two days (four if we include the sock hop/Easter festivities at the grans): Sea World Thursday, then park hopping from Epcot to MGM then back to Epcot. What a weekend!

There are many ways to react to the Orlando theme parks, probably as many as there are people who flock to them. And everyone comes away with different impressions-- good and bad--even if they have similar experiences. For me this time, though there are so many things they do so well and make complexity and sophistication of design and engineering look effortless and natural, there were a couple of things that kind of put me off: food service (an oxymoron) and the ubiquitous Mickeyprint on everything but spit. I elaborate:

When I tried to get some coffee at a refreshment stand in MGM, though there were five employees--oops, cast--serving only two customers, I waited behind one, at the only counter in the shade. After that customer left, I stepped forward, but the server told me to move around to the front counter instead. So I did, and stood behind the only other customer being served. Again I waited till it was my turn, but then was told to step back and let two or three other customers who were leaning across the front counter form a line ahead of me. The five "cast", only one of which was serving, insisted we all cue up in one straight line in the sun and wait. I left and went to a restaurant.

As to Mickey, I should mention that as a compulsive writer and sometime sketch artist, I often like to take notes and sketch, and usually carry some index cards in my pocket for that purpose. Yesterday, however, I forgot the cards and tried to buy some when I got to MGM. I couldn't find any blank cards at the souvenir stands, so I went to the info booth at the front of the park and asked if there was anywhere I could get them.

They sent me to a five and ten cent store nearby, which had only Mickey imprinted pads for $6.00 or so, but those people sent me to the back of the park to another stand, which also had only Mickey imprints, and they in turn sent me back to the entrance stores, this time to Mickey of Hollywood. You guessed it: Mickey again. But the manager was very helpful, and eager to assist me. She suggested the gift shop at the Tower of Terror, other end again, for some plain sheets. You guessed it, not so. Mickey in pink, Mickey in blue, Mickey in everything they had. There was nowhere I could go to get a plain memo pad or index cards in the whole park, just as there is no grocery, no drug store, no sundries facility in all of MGM Disney. There is only Mickey, Mickey, Mickey! Mickey makes me Sickey!

We went back to Epcot for the fireworks. I raced around the World trying to spot memo pads and finally found several varieties at the Japan stores. By then it was too dark and late to use them, but I bought four pocket pads of plain paper for $2.55 each just on principle.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Kin only keystrokes away

Last night the computer phone rang. Our eldest son Dr. Steve was about to blow out his birthday candles and open his presents, and thanks to the advances in videophone technology, we got to see and hear him do it and join in just like being in his living room. Scott, his younger brother, got Barb a nifty webcam for her birthday that let them see and hear us as well, and we had fun. Though they live about five hours north of us, it was very clear, full duplex communication--something that the media had said was coming for many years but never seemed to be good enough to be practical and enjoyable till this past year or so, with the advent of programs like Google chat and Skype. For Grandma K. and Grandpa K. it was sheer pleasure to watch the grandkids cavort and honor their dad. CJ ran their video camera and Mackenzie took digital camera shots...imagine that. Our grandchildren following the media tradition our whole family seems to have picked up since birth.

Thanks to the technology Barb and I enjoy today, as our children moved away to pursue lives of their own, our empty nest syndrome seemed much more mild than it was for our parents, who were just old enough to miss the whole computer thing completely. We, unlike they, have been able to chat and video and exchange images and clips, mpgs and other files with ease to our sons in Kissimmee, Beverly Hills (Florida) and Manhattan anytime, year-round, free, and easily; and since we all have cellphones with long distance standard, we can always get in touch with the whole fam no matter how far-flung they scatter. Granted, it's not as good as actually being there with them, but it's close.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


When things are going pretty well, I get up, shower and shave, dress and start my day without having to think about what I'm doing very consciously. I'm in and out of the shower without really thinking about how I soaped up or rinsed or toweled off, shaved and scrubbed without really giving the steps of it a second thought, because I was thinking about other things I wanted to think about instead, or enjoying ideas for writing that just popped into my mind out of nowhere, or music that came to me as I did these routines.

That's how I know when things are going about as good as they get: I don't have to consciously attend to my routine tasks to complete them efficiently. My mind goes on "automatic" for them, like it functions when we walk down the sidewalks or drive to our jobs. We don't have to think about how to put one foot in front of another or often, even where we're going, because part of our brain's doing it for us "automatically."

Of course, it's not always a good thing to drift into other thoughts while we drive. We may miss our turn or stall when the light changes and get honked at with a Bronx cheer, Or we might have put on the wrong clothes for where we're going, or forgotten to shave, etc. But generally, we don't. We usually do pretty well on "autopilot" for many of our routines, and to me it's a sign things aren't too shabby.

However, it can be pretty weird when we're driving someplace and are on such autopilot that we don't remember the last fifty miles or so, and suddenly find ourselves in a far different place than we were aware of. But for the most part, the more I can do "automatically," without having to think it through, the better I feel.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Go. Stop. Go. Stop.

City traffic moves in bites,
Bites created by their lights.
When a light turns red and pinches,
Bites are small and move in inches.
Even when the light turns green,
Few can go and folks get mean.
Oftentimes no onc can move.
Sure wish something would improve.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

What Goes Around...

This week I touched up the water marks on the new piano and bench, and tried to tune it with no lasting success for more than a day. It's still too moisture-saturated in the damper felts, wood action parts, and hammer felts to respond right to the touch and may take several months to fully dry out. In the meantime, it will require a lot of tuning to use at the very least. My fear is that I won't be able to bring it around by myself and will require a professional who may recommend far more restoration than I can justify. If that turns out to be the case, I may be the one advertising the "upright piano, $10, must pick up."

When I was searching the area in recent weeks for an instrument, I was warned about the many pianos that suffered severe storm damage from Wilma due to lost roofs and windows. But I didn't take it seriously till I got this one home and the extent of the damage from exposure to the elements for weeks or months became evident. I had thought a simple tuning would do the trick, but it has not. Not by a long shot--I've tuned it every day. Still, we've only had it in stable air for a week now. It's probably too soon to tell how it will play in, say, six weeks hence. I tend to be an eternal optimist, so I'll hope for the best.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I Love a Piano, ta dum, I Love a Piano....

We got it! For once my piano deals didn't fall through, and we're now the proud owners of a (free) Baldwin Hamilton studio piano. Actually, I gave the lady $100 to lock it in and the mover $200 with the tip. But they had to hoist it down a long flight of stairs, and it was a behemoth to handle. All went well, though. We pulled out with it ten minutes ahead of the next buyer. The day before, I had been "the next buyer" and lost out on a really great deal of $400 on a Yamaha console, but this time it worked out. I tuned it and we've cleaned it up, and it sounds great. Considering the Wilma damage to the apt. where we got it, it held up really well. Barb's got some pix of us and our new "baby" on her latest blog, Iris Blue. Okay, enough bragging, but we're happy. Back to the world's problems.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Old Piano Roll...Blues?

Things are popping pretty fast around here. We finally got the screens that Hurricane Wilma blew out replaced this week, and we love it being able to open up without the bugs coming in. We got our friend Roberta married last week, and today it looks like we're going to get an honest-to-goodness, real PIANO! If we get to take it (It's free!) from Lauderhill, it will be the first real piano we've had since we left our old white clunker in Port St. Lucie in 1989 when we moved to Delray. I've used electronic keyboards to get my piano fix for many years, but there's nothing like a real instrument for touch and sound--and driving each other and the neighbors crazy.

We're just about ready to head out to see it, and I have a mover lined up to meet us there at noon. The lady who is giving it to us just wants to get rid of it before it gets damaged by renovators of her storm-damaged apartment, so unless something changes and she gives it to someone else before we get there, it's going to be our call. If we want it, we'll have the mover bring it right to the house, and if anything happens that we either don't want it or she changes her mind, I can call off the mover immediately without charges, since he's got another move earlier this morning in that same area.

It looks like it's going to happen. But you never know. Yesterday I chased two other ads down and missed one by only minutes to another buyer, and the second never called me back after his daughter in North Carolina said she wanted it. Pianos are chancey things to purchase, whether or not you go through a dealer or private party. There are the really old clunkers most people just want to trash, storm-destroyed or too poor a condition to refurbish, then the salvageable old uprights, spinets, studios and grands people just want to move out of their sight to gain the space (that's the kind I'm hoping we find in this one) and aren't trying to sell for much, then the ones people must think have been Liberace's personal favorite instrument. Prices range at dealers from about $500 plus moving to well over $50,000. This one was advertised for $10. We'll see what it looks and sounds like, but I can't imagine it could be so bad we wouldn't want it. She's offered to give it to us free, and the mover will charge me only $150 to get it in my house, so I think we're on track.

But you never know. Maybe she's got a son in Texas who wants her to keep it. Things like that happen. Oh well, that's show biz. More later....

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hey, Look at All Sides First

I learned a long time ago that to write about sex, politics, or religion was risky business, so I usually try to stay out of those matters. But this week's announced intention to turn over six U.S. Ports to Dubai, Intl., a mideastern company, provoked such a furor that I felt compelled to join the fray.

American ports run by enemies? No! A thousand times, no! Hell no! barked one congresswoman. That's the reaction that swept the country this week by republicans and democrats alike. And for those who are convinced that the President, for whatever reason, is determined to make the wrong decisions every time, there is no sense in arguing. It is shocking only that in this decision he is acting in an issue involving national security, which has heretofore been his greatest strength. From both parties have arisen the cries of disbelief and outrage. In that, ironically, Mr. Bush has fulfilled his promise to be a uniter, not a divider. We have seldom seen such unity, but ironically it is against the White House position.

Yesterday I heard not one voice willing to consider that the move to turn over six U.S. Ports to a mideastern company might actually not be against our interests. But as so often happens, the first voices on a flashpoint issue are not always the most informed or reasonable. Today I was amazed to hear two of my colleagues who are often at odds with this administration's positions, actually arguing in favor of this move, and arguing that on this issue at least, the President is right.

This afternoon on CNN I saw the chairman of the company involved explain his position, and by dinnertime I heard that Senator John McCain felt the deal had merit and that Senator John Warner favored suspending judgement till the facts were known. The explanations should be heard and the facts considered carefully in Congress and public discourse before we rush to tar and feather our leaders, who in fact may have more solid information on which to base their judgements than we do.

I don't know whether this deal would be good or bad for our country. But I'm willing to listen to reasonable positions on both sides before I join any lynch mob, call any leader unAmerican, or assume that any of our government officials on either side of the aisle have any other than our best national interests in mind and a deep love of our country. Which brings me to my main point:

During eight years of President Clinton's administration I was convinced that I couldn't trust him, couldn't believe he had my best interests at heart, though my wife felt that he did and supported him avidly throughout. I came to feel that his positions were poll driven and that he had few solid convictions at all. Yet at the end of his administration I realized that whatever his shortcomings, he had a brilliant understanding of many things, particularly in foreign affairs and economic matters, and I was forced to admit that his policies which I had considered unprincipled and weak were in fact prudent and cautious. I used to rail against the altered tax policies he instituted which I complained picked my pocket deeply. Yet at the end of his administration I had to admire the fact that he had succeeded in eliminating incredible amounts of waste and balanced the federal budget, largely erased the national debt, and even built an impressive surplus. In other words, I had to admit my opinions of his motives and his decisions had mostly been dead wrong. But I had nonetheless not been able to trust him. He couldn't do anything right, in my opinion then. However, I never, never questioned his patriotism or his love for our nation.

Now the situation is reversed. I supported and voted for President Bush, admired what I felt were his values and motives, basically agreed with his policies on war, lower taxes, and supply side economics, the spread of democracy and respect for human life and freedoms, and what I regarded as a genuine, honest, deep sense of convictions. Yet my wife will have none of it. She is convinced that he is incredibly stubborn, stupid, arrogant, favors only the rightwing extremists and the rich, lies on all issues, will not admit when he is wrong or bend to anyone's vision but his own. She thoroughly dislikes everything he does and stands for. In her mind, the President can do no right. She suffers under the Bush administration the same despair I suffered under Clinton's.

So when the proposed ports deal broke in the media this week, the administration's support for it and insistence it go forward was tantamount to treason in our house. Turn our U.S. ports over to the enemy? Never! was the kneejerk response of nearly all Americans. Never mind the facts. Never mind that the international company involved is headed by an American whose father was a senator. Never mind that the middle eastern country involved has been one of our proven staunchest partners in fighting terrorism. Never mind that Americans, not any enemy, would continue to run our deeply layered actual cargo inspections and homeland security issues, that six levels of inspections would continue to be employed by the Coast Guard, Homeland Security Agency, Law enforcement agencies and other American protectors of our cities and shipping.

Yes, it is possible in today's world that a terrorist device might slip through and enter the United States secreted in a cargo container that was missed despite all safeguards. But would that be more likely to happen if a UAE company was in charge than a Chinese company or a British company, or even an American company? That has not been shown.

What has been shown is that we are all too willing to assume the worst of our leaders, whether they are democrats or republicans. We are quick to assume they are dishonest, uninformed if not ignorant, corrupted by special interests and sinister motives against our interests, whoever they are, in all branches and levels of government. And I think that sometimes, unfortunately, a few of them give us grounds to believe the worst of them. But I have been wrong about our leaders many times before. So when some issue arises that looks like a clear, transparently wrong act or decision, I have learned to not jump to conclusions too quickly or impute bad judgements, bad motives, incompetence, or worst of all any conscious or subconscious ill will toward this nation, its institutions or ideals.

Let's get our facts straight in this matter before we judge who the bad guys are, if any. And let's not assume that any group, company, nationality, religion, or individuals of mideast origin are automatically our enemies. Let's trust those who have by their actions earned our trust, until proven otherwise. And let's believe that our leaders in government, whether we agree with them or not, are likewise acting as much as they can for our welfare, until proven otherwise.

Turn over U.S. ports to enemies? Never! But we need to know who our enemies really are, and it does no good to assume that anyone not born in the U.S. is automatically suspect. Our economy isn't a national but a world economy now, linked throughout all nations' commerce and transportation networks. This is no time for a Fortress America mentality that would isolate us from all others. We may be hurting friends we need badly, undermining our cooperation from the mideast in combatting terrorism, and not protecting anything or anybody at all.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Keep On Keeping On

Yes, fall is a go for teaching (see the post below), but I didn't expect four class sections! The two I thought I'd get became available last, and the two I didn't expect were offered first, plus a summer class. I'll be able to not only get dental work if I need to but help with patio repairs, vacation expenses, other emergencies and new york visits as well. Most importantly, it will keep me feeling useful and active in my retirement. It's the equivalent of a fulltime load as far as classes go, but I don't have to do any advising, committee work, meetings or reports the regular faculty do. And I'll still only go in a few days per week.

People have this mistaken idea that retiring and getting away from everything that used to bug them at their jobs is the ultimate dream. Trust me, no matter how much you think you'll be able to enjoy fishing, golf, tennis, woodworking, stamp collecting or whatever other passion turns you on now in your spare time, it will get old pretty fast when you get away from your work schedule, and you'll start feeling pretty useless till you find something you can do part-time: volunteer work, a part-time job, or anything that restores contact with other people who need and appreciate what you do. No matter how much you think you'll be able to achieve on your own, chances are that if you have worked for another employer all your life, you won't have the habits of self-direction mastered sufficiently to avoid feeling pretty bored after a few weeks or months.

The irony of retirement is that to be happy, you have to go back to work. The beauty of it is that you don't have to do what bothered you before. You get to choose how you spend your days. That's the real reward.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Looks Good For Fall Classes

Today at my University I learned that I would probably be offered two English sections to teach next fall. I immediately calculated my benefits and had the entire fall semester's pay spent before I got to the water fountain.

Let's see, two classes; that's probably three root canals--no, I probably won't need more than one class worth for dental work. It's enough for one hurricane repair, with enough left over for a possible tooth, OR even a trip to New York again to see our son, PLUS maybe even a deck resurfacing. That's if I don't get into dental hell again before fall.

I don't even think anymore in terms of dollars. Not with things costing what they do these days. I think in terms of how many teeth I could fix, how many monster ficus trees removed after they blow over on the neighbors, or how many screens blown out that I could replace. Wow. Well, what can I say. I live in South Florida: Hurricane World, My Blue Heaven, named for our FEMA tarps atop so many roofs. And Dr. Gray says they'll be even worse for a decade or two yet. Sigh.

Wait a minute, I didn't even factor in the Art Appreciation section I might get to repeat also. And if I did that, we might even be able to resurface the pool, go to New York, AND fix two teeth! Wow, what a windfall! Exxon's got nothing on us part-time teachers!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

It's a Small World

Sometimes chance encounters bring many of us into contact with very unlikely people. Today I'm watching a CBS's Sunday Morning piece on Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. It made me remember when, incredibly, I once spoke with Johnny Cash on the phone.

It was purely coincidental. I happened to be in my agent's office on Wabash Avenue one morning when he got a call from Johnny's current agent from Nashville. Johnny had an upcoming engagement in town at a club my agent represented, and they were working out arrangements. Apparently the other agent put Johnny on the phone to talk with my agent, and while he was on, my agent said to me, "Want to say hello to Johnny Cash?" "Sure," I said, and took the receiver. "Hi, Johnny," I said. "Hey there, buddy," he returned in that low, smooth baritone of his. Surreal. Serendipity.

Another time I had a late-night gin and tonic with an ex-President of the BBC and his wife after he spoke at my small-town college, and I've spoken at various times and places with quite a few celebrities since then, quite by chance. But probably my most unlikely encounter was when I took a personally posed picture of Lech Walesa, the anticommunist labor leader and former President of Poland, who stopped his exit from a speech at my university to pose for a snapshot with our campus priest, with our priest's camera. Surreal. Serendipity.

Someone wrote a few years ago that there are no more than six degrees of separation among everyone on earth. I believe it.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Pedagogical Muse

Normalcy--or what passes for normalcy to me--seems to be settling in now, heading toward the end of January. The classes I teach have begun: two art appreciation sections and an intro to lit, and feel solid, promising. I've already had several good student discussions and look forward to many more. And the material always stimulates me anew. No matter how often I repeat the studies, the visual and literary works always yield more and fresh discoveries and interpretations. It's why I love to teach even after thirty-eight years or so.

I tried staying out of the classroom last spring seeking my muse, and she was more mum than ever. She speaks in whispers, my muse does, and only stirs faintly my innermost thoughts. But she speaks more frequently, I think, when I teach than when I do not.

I am very fortunate to be able to retire and still stay active doing part-time what I most enjoy: working with art, literature, and ideas and discussing them with others. It makes the dearth of my own ideas and output more tolerable. Some of us were not meant to create, but to study and appreciate what others make. I'll always wish I was the author my students last read, but I have a great pleasure in bringing them into the discovery of things their real author suggested, as well. It's not a bad consolation prize to be the teacher rather than the author. In fact, its rewards are probably greater in many cases, truth be told.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Right On, Ruskin!

One of my favorite men of letters, Nineteenth Century art historian and social critic John Ruskin, wrote in Letter 5 of Fors Clavigera (1871) that two small English hamlets, Buxton and Bakewell, nestled in a valley "divine as the Vale of Tempe, you might have seen the Gods there morning and evening--Apollo and all the sweet Muses of the light--walking in fair procession on the lawns of it and to and fro among the pinnacles of its crags." at some distance apart.

Oblivious to the valley's beauty, however, and seeking cash from new enterprise, the two hamlets built a railroad through it, blasting thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream, Ruskin writes, but enabling "every fool in Buxton to be at Bakewell in half an hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton, which [they] thought of as a lucrative process of exchange--you Fools Everywhere."

And in the same letter, referring to the recent expansion of telegraph lines, he scoffs at his countrymen for "knotting a copper wire from London to Bombay and flashing a message along it and back.... But what was the message, and what the answer? Is India the better for what she replied? If not, you have only wasted an all-round-the-world's length of copper wire. If you had, perchance, two words of common sense to say, though you had taken wearisome time and trouble to send them,...[it] would have been worth the carriage, and more. But you have not anything like so much as that to say, either to India or to any other place."

In configuring my latest pride and joy, a new media edition computer, I am reminded of Ruskin's remarks. It has doubled my processor speed and tripled my storage space, enabled me to plug in all kinds of peripherals and display media files in amazing new ways. But when it comes down to it, it can't really do anything my previous clunkers couldn't do at all. It just does them faster and slicker. Like the citizens of Buxton and Bakewell, I was seduced by the siren of Technology, by the assumption that bigger, faster, and more, would somehow mean better.

It makes me wonder if all our cellphones and cable networks, satellites and iPods, internet phones and accumulated communications advances of the past century have done us one bit of good, if we still cannot muster "two words of common sense" to say to one another. As I sit here writing on my laptop, I note my icons for AIM, for Googletalk, and for Skype--all vying for my choice to carry my immortal words to my distant friends and family--and notice that with improved bandwidth and audio, some are adding video in their latest editions so that we can not only hear each other say nothing sensible but see each other doing it as well. And that passes, in our time, for progress.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against advancements in technology. I just think it's foolish to equate them with advances in civilization, which can only come when the human element catches up, when our sense of common humanity catches up with our technical ingenuity. If and when we get more "common sense" to say, more wisdom, more tolerance and concern for each other, we'll be able to say it fast enough, and begin to justify the development of whatever means we use to say it.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

We Need A Time Out

Happy New Year, everyone! It's important to mark the cycles of our lives--meaningless, perhaps, but important nonetheless.

It is said that one never steps into the same river twice. That's very true. And anniversaries, though occuring on the same day each annum, are each unique. They mark the yardsticks of our lives indeed.

So another year has passed, one of increased violence in both the weather and the affairs of men. May the new year temper both and bring peace on earth and in the skies alike. I think we could all use a year of "R and R"--a Time Out-- before we must face more challenges to our resolve and spirit.