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Showing posts from 2010

Not so Heavenly

It isn’t always easy being smug and self-righteous in the here and now, and it might be even more difficult in the hereafter. According Dr. Johnny Joe Dennis, Saved Person, writing in the latest issue of Oh Joy: The Journal of the Really Special People God Truly Loves, the self-righteous might find their eternal rest less than restful.

Dr. Dennis assures those certain of their salvation that their salvation is certain. After all, God’s love is the greatest love of all, and the love of the self-righteous man for himself is a close second. Therefore, Dr. Dennis says, the self-righteous are the most god-like of God’s creatures, which, of course, they already knew.

But there is one lingering question: Who, besides the smug and self-righteous, will be granted entrance to the kingdom? A noted Stringentarian, who frequently assures his congregation that Heaven will not be overcrowded, Dr. Dennis has always believed the answer to be “no one.”

He has a…

Cuddles Gets Cuddly

It has taken some - more or less a year - for Cuddles to live up to her name. In the twelvemonth since Cuddles the Cat condescended to allowing us to share our home with her, she has been anything but cuddly. In fact, she has been downright standoffish, preferring to chase reflected sunlight across the wall to spending quality time with them what feed her. But, over the last four weeks, she has plopped her carcass on my lap for at least three thirty-minute spells, allowing me to stroke her luxuriant coat and otherwise treat her as a pet.

I am pretty sure this has nothing to do with my warm and loving personality - warm and loving though it is - and a lot to do with the paucity of sunlight in Ashtabula this time of year. And in so far as it does not have anything to do with short days and overcast skies, it might have everything to do with the space heater beneath the table where I sit.

Still, it is nice to be loved - even if it is only because there is no reflected sunlight to chase and…

The Sporadic E Skip

Around the middle of the last century, orthographic professionals suffered a surfeit of seizures brought on by numerous protests over the inconsistent application of the “I before E except after C” rule, or the Sporadic E Skip. This refers to the sporadic manner in which the “e” skips to one side or another of the “i” in willful violation of the rule. The orthos, as the orthographic fraternity refers to its members, thought about taking this bug out of spelling, because so many people were confused by the weird problems presented by it. The demands for change were heightened by the swiftly evolving society of the post-war era. The boys who had defeated the Axis powers were now men attending college on the GI Bill. Suddenly, the veterans were competing with their neighbors for preeminence in the classroom, and spelling mattered. Honest men all, they could not in good conscience cheat, but they certainly didn’t wish to be accused of having gneiss, or other rock forms, in their heads. Unf…

When the World was Old

Years ago, the boy sprawled on the living room floor, rested his chin on his hands and looked up at the television. The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports was on the air and men were urged to look sharp and feel sharp too by baseball players, who were frequently seen shaving on national TV. In those days, ballplayers had to be clean-shaven, because during the Eisenhower administration only bankers and diplomats with graying slicked-back hair on their heads were permitted to grow hair on their faces, but only a pencil-thin moustache and nothing more.The country was hopelessly na├»ve in those days, completely unaware of the insidious gay agenda. Not a single eyebrow was raised over commercials in which an incompletely dressed baseball hero stood before a mirror admiring his face, while a bevy of his less talented and incompletely dressed teammates crowded around and admired him too. While the freshly showered star, who had just driven in the winning run, shaved, one of his admirers would say:“…

The Book I Didn't Write

In March 1997, I was working at Ash/Craft by day and moonlighting as a stringer for the Star Beacon’s sports department. There is very little work for stringers in March - the basketball and wrestling seasons have ended and the baseball, softball, track and tennis seasons have yet to start - and I was getting antsy.If the Star Beacon wasn’t going to keep me busy, I needed to find someone who would. I walked to the Harbor Topky Library and cozied up to The Writer’s Market, making note of the publishers who used freelancers to write books – mostly for middle-school libraries - on assigned topics. Then I went home to update my resume, make copies of some clips and compose a cover letter. The spring sports commenced a few days after I dropped my letters in the mail, and I was a busy writer again. Two weeks later, a staff position opened at the paper. I was hired and the lulls disappeared from my sports-writing schedule. None of the letters to the publishers sparked a response and I soon f…

Instamatic Jealousy

Baby pictures; I’m the first born,There are so many more of me.My sibs all fume with jealous scorn.
Four albums full that I adorn –Pictures of me and not those three.Baby pictures, I’m the first born;
I’m on Dad’s shoulder, they’re forlorn,And there I sit upon Mom’s knee.My sibs all fume with jealous scorn.
Barb says, “Your bare butt; that’s just porn!!Is there not but one shot of me?”Baby pictures; I’m the first born.
Ed’s become a whining thorn.Jim asks, “Was I an absentee?”My sibs all fume with jealous scorn.
There’s no need to blow my own horn,The Kodak made a star of me.Baby pictures, I’m the first born,My sibs all fume with jealous scorn.

Thoughts from the Gutter

A few years ago, live fish were seen flopping around on the streets of Manna, India, which quite some distance from the Indian Ocean. They were carried there by a waterspout. This is the story of one of those fish.

Well, Mother was right. Here I am, flopping around along the side of the road in Manna, India. She always said if I didn’t straighten up, I’d land in the gutter some day.How was I to know? I’m a fish. Until today, I’d spent all of my short, uneventful life in the Indian Ocean. Have you ever seen a gutter in the Indian Ocean? Neither have I.This morning, I was feeling jaunty and looking mighty dapper, if I do say so myself, as I set out for the spawning grounds. It would have been my first time, but then I was scooped up by a waterspout. Lifted from the ocean and carried gloriously aloft, I thought at first it was the intoxication of love. Alas, it was but a fleeting thrill, and this day, that was to be given over to youthful, lusty, masculine desires, came to an ignominious …

Words Remembered

Words in a newspaper are transitory things. They are, almost without exception, little noted nor long remembered.

The words are read at the breakfast table or at odd moments during the day, after which the paper is gathered up and put in the wastebasket or given new life as birdcage carpeting.

The words penned by those of us in the press box occasionally enjoy a longer life. Proud parents sometimes clip our articles from the paper and stick them in a scrapbook, from which they will emerge several decades hence when the former teenage athlete tries to stave off geezerdom by reliving the past. That those words survive, it should be noted, has nothing to do with our abilities and everything to do with our good fortune to have been assigned to cover the game in which the geezer-to-be rushed for 175 yards and four touchdowns.

There are times, though, when the words in a newspaper jump from the page into a less-than-stellar mind and refuse to leave. For instance, seven years ago, in…

Bethany: Love and Determination

Bethany’s first bicycle was small - the appropriate size for a girl of five - and pink - a dainty, girlish pink that would likely make her nauseous these days. And the bike had training wheels, although not for long.Bethany had had the bike for a week or two, when, one overcast Saturday morning, the Harris family went shopping. On our way back to the Myrtle Avenue estate, Bethany said, “When we get home, take the training wheels off my bike.” Debbie and I did the responsible parent thing and attempted to convince Beth that the training wheels should stay on for a few more weeks. She would have none of it. When we got home, perhaps hoping to teach her a lesson the hard way, I took the training wheels off. Then, as Debbie and I watched, Bethany got on the bike and rode down the sidewalk like she had been doing it for years.One summer evening, a year or two before Bethany started school, we were at Cederquist Park watching Russ’ Little League game. Bethany wasn’t enthralled with the base…

Clouds Over Cuddles

The sun did not shine on Ashtabula yesterday - not once, not at all. The dark clouds and drizzle conjured up visions of November, which can be a very depressing month, indeed. Cuddles was unaware of this for most of the day, her schedule being what it is. It was just a routine day for her. Up at 5:30 a.m., she prowled around the house, making sure all was in order and then nudged her bipedal housemates into consciousness; shortly after nine, satisfied that she had done all she could to keep the homo sapiens in her life from wasting the day, she retired to a chair, curled up and fell asleep. And there, except for an occasional foray to the basement to use the facilities, she remained.

Had everything proceeded as scheduled, sunlight would have streamed in through the glass in front door and the living room and dining room windows by 3:30. The late afternoon sunlight is Cuddles' cue to get up, stretch, groom, and get at it. This is the busiest part of her day, the part she spends chas…

Hurry back, DQ

On Sunday, the Dairy Queen will close for the season, a sure indication that "summer's almost gone and winter's coming on." It also means that after Sunday, Nancy and I won't be walk up there and hang out several evenings a week and be seen. Apparently, on a summer night, Route 20 between Route 11 and the mall attracts people from everywhere in Ashtabula County. Almost every time Nancy and I run into someone we haven't seen in a while, we are asked, "Was that you guys at the Dairy Queen the other night?" Yes, it was us.

Alas, the six months or so the Dairy Queen will be closed will transpire much more slowly than the six months or so it was open.

Awake in the Wee Hours

At 2:13 in the morning, the mind that is too busy to sleep wins its battle with the body that is too tired to stir. I lie awake and my mind frantically generates thoughts and ideas. Some are sentimental, some biting, some gentle, some serious, some wistful, some humorous, some poetic, some witty, some effervescent, and some maudlin. They are wonderful ideas, and for the next forty-five minutes, my mind churns out verses, sentences, paragraphs and pages of scintillating prose and poesy, rhymed and unrhymed, silly and profound.

Six hours from now, when I sit at the computer, the ideas will have lost their luster. The words that now sparkle with the liveliness of a cascading stream, and the words that flow with the languid beauty of a river on a summer’s day will later spread across the page like scum on a stagnant pond. I know this will happen. It always does. By three in the morning, when my mind begins to tire and the surge of ideas becomes a trickle, I wonder if there is a program tha…

Who was that masked man?

Nancy and I went to the rib burn-off at Lake Shore Park Saturday evening. The trouble with the lake shore in September is that it can sometimes feel like the lake shore in November. This year, however, it seemed more like the lake shore in June. It is a wonderful thing to get out on a pleasant day and hang out in a large crowd of locals, and I ran into several people I haven't seen in years.

Almost from the moment I began having trouble getting around, I noticed a marked improvement in human nature, at least in those humans not associated with FOX News. One day, when I was still using a walker, I went to the Post Office to mail a package. When I finished at the window and started out, a woman I didn't know gave up her spot in the lengthy line and held the door for me as I went into the lobby and then followed me and held the door to the outside as I left the building. Making my way out the doors, I had visions of the Harris family going into a restaurant. Walking through the pa…

Neurologists I Have Known

Katie is in the writing class I go to. She is eighty, give or take a year, and has Parkinson's Disease. Somewhere along the line, Katie had cancer, which is apparently acting up again. Suzanne, our instructor, has been accompanying Katie to her appointments. Last week in class, Suzanne mentioned something Katie had said about her neurologist having a rough bedside manner.

Until a few years ago, I took the attitude that since I was going to feel better in three days, anyway, why bother going to the doctor. So, I'm probably not the best judge of medical demeanor, but the neurologists I've since come to know do seem a little different. My first encounter with a neurologist came early in 2006, when I went to see Dr. Mellick at ACMC. He was a friendly guy with the kind of cynical sense of humor I enjoy, and he provided a running commentary as examined me. I wasn't quite sure if the purpose was to keep me informed or if he was just talking to himself, but as he went through t…

Start the Music

Whatever happened to elevator music? It seems to have become extinct, at least in public places, where elevator music performed its greatest service.Sure, the music was as bland as warmed over Cream of Wheat, as insipid as a Lifetime movie, but that was its great strength. Elevator music could be ignored. It asked to be ignored. Like one of those nettlesome tasks you really ought to do, but which no one will notice if you don't, it begged to be ignored.The accompaniment to the unpleasant but necessary, it was found in the places you didn't want to be, usually in a waiting room where you were biding your time until the doctor or dentist was ready to hurt you.Hugo Winterhalter, Andre Kostelanetz, Lawrence Welk, Enoch Light, Nelson Riddle and the rest were ideal waiting-room companions. If you wanted to read a magazine, work a crossword puzzle or share your medical history in all its nauseating detail with the stranger next to you, they didn't interfere. And if you wanted to …

Hum a few bars and I'll fake it

For whatever reason, I'm suffering from memories of Bethel Park. Part of the problem, of course, is that I can't remember. But with football season underway, my mind is awash in fight songs. Fight songs that I remember, by the way. For instance:

"On Bethel High,
On to victory.
Drive through your foe,
Show them all your might.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Wave banners high,
We're all for thee.
Drive right on down the field
To victory!!!!"

And who among the Bobcat alumni can forget:

"Here's to the school of might,
Here's to the school of fight.
Here's to old West Virginia Wesleyan."

Why, I can even remember a couple lines of the West Virginia Wesleyan alma mater. Granted, part of the reason might be that sometime in the 1980s I heard Daffy Duck and a few others belting out the tune. Then, several days later, listening to Karl Haas's "Adventures in Good Music" - how's that for eclectic tastes: Looney Tunes and Karl Haas - I discovered that "Al…

Dad at Twilight

On warm summer evenings, Dad would get a folding chair and sit between the house and the willow tree, on the asphalted area by the garage, where it was always shady. But after few minutes, he’d go in the basement and get a ball, a bat and a couple baseball gloves, and yell upstairs for Ed, Jim and me to come out.It wasn’t often that the three of us immediately answered the call. But one of us would, and Dad tossed him a glove and a game of pepper commenced. Dad hit a ground ball across the driveway, which the son fielded and threw back and Dad stuck the bat out and hit the ball back. This continued without stop until the guy with the glove let one go through his legs or the guy with the bat failed to make contact.In time, the other two brothers came out, sometimes together, sometimes not. We wandered in and out of the game, playing for a while then going off somewhere and perhaps rejoining the game later, or perhaps not. There were also several kids in the neighborhood who sometimes j…

Thoughts of Thoughts

Thoughts of ThoughtsI want to write a triolet
And fill this vacant, empty page.
Pad, pen and coffee - I’m all set.
I want to write a triolet,
Too bad I’m not inspired yet
By thoughts too witty or so sage.
I want to write a triolet,
And fill this lonely, vacant page.You’d think I’d have at least one thought
That I could turn into a poem.
Really, unless my brain is shot,
You’d think I’d have at least one thought,
But all my thoughts have come to naught.
Perhaps my intellect is foam.
You’d think I’d have at least one thought
That I could turn into a poem.I’d like to write a triolet,
A witty verse that will delight.
But there’s a chance I might forget
I want to write a triolet.
I’ve not had one idea as yet,
Nor any thoughts on when I might.
I’d like to write a triolet,
A witty verse that will delight.

A wonderful weekend

Nancy and I spent a wonderful weekend along the banks - of all places - the Youghiogheny River. Nancy took part in a bike ride on the trail that follows the right-of-way of the late, lamented P&LE RR. It is part of a system of trails that make it possible to hop on a bicycle in Pittsburgh and peddle your way to Washington, DC. Friday evening we drove to Boston, PA, a little town not far from McKeesport which had heretofore escaped my notice. There's not much there, but there is a very nice bed and breakfast that Nancy found on-line for $49 a night.

Saturday morning, almost before the sun was up, Nancy started down the trail, putting in 63 miles and then setting up her tent. A little later, I set out in my wheelchair and explored about five miles of the trail. Although it probably wasn't so peaceful when the long coal trains rumbled through, the trail is a wonderful place to spend a few hours. There are spots that are just so unbelievably quiet; all you hear are the birds an…

Falling into fall

Twenty-six years ago, I spent part of the morning in an operating room at the Geneva hospital, watching as Bethany was delivered by Caesarean section. It was quite an experience. So was watching her grow up. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BETH!!!!

It's Labor Day, the traditional end of summer, so they say. And, at least this morning, we're experiencing a taste of traditional fall weather here in Ashtabula. Well, the truth is, we've been enjoying very pleasant weather for the past week - a welcome change from a summer when the term "summer-like weather" was used mostly in the pejorative sense.

The traditional start of fall has brought with it some reminders my traditional ineptitude. For example, I spent the morning putting together a submission to a magazine. This involved a series of mistakes, of course - doesn't everything - but after fumbling around for almost three hours, everything seemed to be in order, and I slipped my poor efforts into an envelope and sealed it. It wa…

Trite On

When writing, the trite, in the words of William Safire and others, is to be avoided like the plague. From the moment the would-be writer walks into a writing class or opens a book on the art of writing, he is reminded that the trite and banal will suck all life from his composition. The admonishments to shun the trite are repeated so often they almost become trite themselves. But if a writer wants the reader to think about what he has written, it is only fair that he give more than a little thought to how he writes it.This rule does not apply, however, to the talking heads and loudmouth yakkers of the electronic media, who are as comfortable slipping well-worn phrases into their broadcasts as they are slipping their feet into a pair of well-worn shoes. For them, all accidents are unforeseen accidents, all gifts are free gifts, all surprises are unexpected surprises, and nothing happens now, everything takes place at this point in time. TV and radio executives encourage the lackadaisi…

Monday morning

The days are getting shorter and the weather is improving. We had rain yesterday, and it rained hard for a while last night; the wind blew from time to time, but the lightning never flashed and the thunder never boomed. It looks like we will be getting more rain today; the temperature, however, is fit for human consumption - at least this human's consumption. A gander at the Weather Channel's website reveals that it will not get above eighty around here until a week from tomorrow. I'm not sure I believe that, but it is a nice thought.

Cuddles' predatory instincts came to the fore this morning. She was crouched on the table with every muscle taut while she stared intently at a crow that was poking around on Lincoln Dr., apparently hoping to find some road kill. She spent five minutes gazing at the alien avian, never taking her eyes off of it. She shifted her stance ever so slightly a few times, trying to get in the most advantageous position to launch herself through the…

I Didn't Mean It, Really

“(Former astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak) must stay away from the victim Colleen Shipman and has to write a “sincere” letter of apology to her within 10 days.”
Associated Press item in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 11, 2009

Dear Ms. Nowak:

All of us at ReallySincereExpressions were saddened to learn of your recent misfortune. ReallySincereExpressions specializes in composing sincere letters of apology, and we would like to assist you as you struggle through this traumatic situation.

You know and we know that when Ms. Shipman receives your letter of apology, she will mumble “Yeah, right” and toss it into the wastebasket. Before Ms. Shipman sees the letter, however, it will be scrutinized by an army of bureaucrats using the Sincere-o-Meter, which was developed by a team of psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and other assorted quacks. If your letter to Ms. Shipman fails to get a passing score on the Sincere-O-Meter, you will be subject to additional fines and possible incarceration.

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Out of the Blue One sunny spring morning when Bethany was four, she wondered around the yard, inspecting this and that while I cut the grass. She spotted something flopping about under the lilac bush. It was a young bird, a blue jay, apparently injured, and Bethany stooped down and picked it up. Holding the helpless creature against her breast, Bethany attempted to restore it to health with soothing, kind and loving words. But Bethany wasn’t the only one awash in maternal instincts that morning. The mother blue jay swooped down and pecked Bethany on the head. She dropped the fledgling and ran crying into the house. Debbie cleaned her wound, which wasn’t much of a wound, and called the doctor to ask if there were precautions we ought to take. Beth should be fine, he said, just keep an eye on it for a few days as you would any injury. Fifteen minutes later, Bethany was back at the lilac bush, but the young bird was gone and never seen again. Years later, after my nest had emptied…

A few hours at the Edgewood Diner

Tuesday evening I had dinner with thirteen or fourteen former Ash/Craft colleagues: all of them women, most of them retired and several of them in the process of preparing for their yearly migration to places where the winter weather has fewer character-building qualities. By coincidence, Mrs. Harris and her husband were having dinner at the restaurant. Mrs. Harris is the mother of Tom Harris, a municipal judge in Conneaut. A few years ago on St. Patrick's Day, Nancy and I went to a performance of Irish music. While we waited for the program to start, a voice behind me asked, "Aren't you Tom Harris?" "Yes, I am," I said. "I'm Tom Harris' mother," she said. So, in her role as Tom Harris' mother, she came over to me Tuesday and me told to be sure I behaved myself with all those women.

Maxine was there, too, with her wonderful Canadian accent and dry, self-deprecating wit. She wore a ball cap to hide the smattering of hair that has sproute…

Your Slip is Showing

A few months ago, Nancy and I inherited a year's worth of Reader's Digests. Now, I hate to bad-mouth the folks in Pleasantville - two of Russ' cartoons appeared in the issues we received - but judging from the sampling we have, this is certainly not my father's, or mother's or Uncle Jim's Reader's Digest. For one thing, the "Toward More Picturesque Speech" feature has been discontinued and is sorely missed. And while all the humor features and fillers are still there, there seems to be a greater reliance on stupid-people humor.

Now, I laugh at stupid people as much as the next guy, but there is always the danger when you point out the intellectual deficits of others that your own slip might be showing (another late, lamented Reader's Digest feature). So it is that page 25 of the November 2009 issue popped right out at me.

Under the headline "5 Tips to Make Life Easier," I discovered the following:

The first suggestion was to stay away f…
The assignment was to use the word "translucence" as part of a metaphor. What follows is notable in only one regard: it took me five hours to compose and then I spent several hours over several days tinkering with it. If the Founders had spent this much time writing the Constitution, they'd still be in that room in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

So, for no reason other than it took so long to write, here it is:

The Mist Use of WordsThe politician’s speech - a Hollywood shower scene, with a beautiful woman behind frosted glass in a bathroom clouded with steam, luxuriating suggestively while caressing herself with soap, that tempts the viewer to imagine transparency where there is only translucence and bawdy anatomical exactness where there is but a fuzzy silhouette – led the listener to fill the fog of artfully blurred oratory with pleasing and explicit details conceived in his dreams of life without taxes.

Summertime Blues

The unbearable heaviness of summer took the weekend off but returned to its post Monday. I am a little ashamed - and with good reason, some would say; although this has nothing to do with any other shameful facets of my life - to be whining about summer weather, since I spent all winter complaining about winter weather. Ah, but Grandma, who was on target with "It's hell growing old," also got it right when she said, "As a rule, man's a fool./ When it's hot, he wants it cool./ When its cool, he wants it hot./ Always wanting what is not."

I, however, have an excuse for my summertime crankiness. Apparently, it is a medical fact that people with multiple sclerosis do not do well in the heat. Hot-and-humid was never my favorite climatic condition, and a few years before I was diagnosed, I did notice the weather weighing me down more than in the past. So, when the medical professionals told me that the heat was hard on those with MS, I said, "Aha, I knew …