Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday Morning


I spent Tuesday morning waiting for the telephone to ring and keeping an eye on Lincoln Drive. I thought there might be a call from the doctor, but it never came. Still, the phone was unusually busy. There were three calls: one a political message, one a surprise and the other a wrong number.

Senator Sherrod Brown was the first to call. It wasn’t a personal call. It was a recorded message; one of those that doesn’t begin until you’ve said “hello” twice and are about to hang up. As it was, I stayed around long enough let the senator introduce himself, and then I hung up. That is the way I handle most recorded messages, especially those received at before 9:30 a.m., or at dinnertime or at any other inconvenient moment, and there is no convenient moment for an automated phone call. 

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I prefer junk mail.The unsolicited message in the mailbox probably won’t be read right away, and possibly won’t be read at all. But if it doesn’t get tossed immediately, I’ll probably end up taking a look at it. Besides, the amount of mail handled by the post office has fallen off twenty-two percent in the last five years, and it could use the business, even from those with franking privileges. 

Of course, if I have a message to deliver to a politician – whether he is an upright and honorable public servant or a self-serving scoundrel – I expect his complete and immediate attention. Double standards don’t get a lot of respect, but mine do come in handy now and then.

Mystery was afoot when the phone rang the next time. The call was from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and the woman told me I had won a fleece bathrobe. Wow! I had no idea. How did that happen? It was from the concert at the church on Sunday, she told me. But I didn’t go to the concert. Your name and phone number are on the ticket, she said. Strange.

Picking up my prize presented a passel of problems. Being dependent on others for transportation, I wouldn’t be able to get there much before four o’clock. She said she normally leaves the church around noon. She offered to deliver it. Flabbergasted by my good luck, I said that would be great. But, ten minutes later it dawned on me that I don’t lounge around in a bathrobe. It’s been years since I had a robe, and I have never had the urge to go buy one. So, I called back and asked that the robe be given to someone who needs it. The church is helping a family through the Halo program, she said, and the robe will be given to them. That gave me a good feeling, but I’d still like to know how the robe became mine to give away.

Between phone calls, as I sat at the computer allegedly writing, but actually doing little more than staring out the window. A woman who lives up the street walked by, as she does twice almost every day. It was a pleasant Tuesday by December-in-northeast-Ohio standards, but this woman is not just a fair-weather walker. I spotted her going by several times last week while it was drizzling and at least once while it was flurrying. 

She is older than I – probably in her late seventies – has a pronounced limp and uses a cane. She is always accompanied by her dog. It must be tiring for her to walk when the weather is warm and pleasant. And I imagine walking is downright difficult for her when it’s cool and damp. No matter.

 One cold, rainy afternoon last week, her walk was interrupted when the dog stopped in front of a house across the street and used the tree lawn to do his business. When the dog was done, the woman got out a plastic bag, slowly bent down and collected the dog’s business. That’s when I realized that there are times when watching someone do poop patrol can be inspiring.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Let's Go Out to the Lobby


Everywhere you look people are scratching their heads, and not one of them has an itchy scalp. Citizens – well informed and otherwise – are wondering why elected officials, from city council members to members of Congress, are unable to do much of anything. Politicians whine at great length and then do nothing. Why is this?

Well, when it comes to insidiousness, many politicians tell us nothing is more insidious than welfare And why is welfare insidious? Because it is giving a person something for nothing. And what is political lobbying? It is giving money and gifts to politicians and getting nothing in return.
Should a curious person examine the remarks of politicians, from Congressmen to the members of the lowliest municipal board in the smallest village in the country, he will never find one who has been influenced by lobbyists. In fact, every politician vehemently denies that the favors he has received influenced his stand on the issues. And that must be the case because the same politicians constantly assure us they never lie. 

According to an article on stltoday.com, the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, lobbyists showered members of the Missouri state legislature with tickets to this year’s National League playoffs and World Series. When the media started prying, which it always does for no other reason than to sell papers and boost ratings, the politicians proudly proclaimed they have not and will not repay the favors.

Missouri state senator Brian Nieves, a Republican, told reporters: "Nobody, no time, nowhere, no how is going to have any influence on me. I have never been influenced — that stuff is a joke." What a depressing commentary on the effect of lobbying on the nation’s elected officials. A man is given tickets to a divisional playoff game and a World Series game and all it does is strengthen his sense of entitlement. Is it any wonder elected officials never accomplish anything? 

Replace government with private enterprise, you say. That seems to be an easy answer. But, like most easy answers, it doesn’t hold up. A chart on opensecrets.org indicates that 2.45 billion dollars was spent last year by those lobbying Congress and various Federal agencies. Not all that money came from organizations promoting American ideals; some of it came from groups spouting immoral, socialist nonsense. But if just half those lobbying dollars came from groups promoting free and unfettered enterprise, then the private sector spent 1.225 billion dollars to buy off people who can’t be bought. The money might as well have been flushed down the toilet. At least then it would have clogged the sewers and revealed another example of shoddy government workmanship. 

Perhaps it’s human nature to try to buy influence, even when those selling it simply take the money and run. If that is the case, we ought to be searching for ways to bring down the cost of lobbying. According to the group Public Citizen, forty-three percent of those who left Congress between 1998 and 2006 became lobbyists, with an average salary of two million dollars a year. That is a lot of money to spend on the impossible task of influencing steadfast, brave and honest politicians who will not be bought nor enticed into changing their minds. And, of course, the costs involved in lobbying are passed on to the consumer.

What is to be done? Why not let the unemployed do the lobbying? Lobbying is a pursuit that those lobbied tell us doesn’t produce results, not even minimal results. But millions of unemployed would be willing to lobby for minimal wages. It’s a perfect match. 

Because an elected official is immune to outside pressures, it won’t matter if the lobbyist who approaches him is wearing a tailored suit or scruffy blue jeans and ratty sneakers. Nor will it matter to the official if the lobbyist takes him to lunch at McDonald’s instead of a gourmet restaurant. The savings realized from lobbying on the cheap could result in lower prices for American consumers. But don’t bet on it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wherever Ego, I Go


The trouble with ego is that it must be fed from time to time. I like to think mine is an insignificant thing, a part of me that requires very little attention. Besides, it does better when it is nourished by others. I’m never sure whether people are being sincere or condescending when they say nice things. But who cares? My ego can’t get enough of it.

Recently, my ego has been strutting proudly and taking its lumps. The reason for both is the page on blogspot.com that lets me know how many people are reading my blog and the countries they are in when they access it. The numbers are not earth shattering. On a good day, the blog will have ten or fifteen page views. The good days are the days I post a link on Facebook, which leads me to believe the hits are from friends and relatives. Perhaps they’re reading it just to be kind, but at least they’re kind on a consistent basis. And consistent kindness, whether sincere or not, nourishes the hungry ego.

Not everyone who reads the blog, however, is a Facebook friend. Someone in Russia occasionally drops by. In fact, there have been days when more page views originated in Russia than in the United States, not that there were more than two or three from either country. Once I even got an e-mail from someone in Russia. It was written in the Cyrillic alphabet, and I had to run it through the Google translator. The writer didn’t express an opinion on my writing; he wanted to know if he could advertise in the Star Beacon

 That caused me to worry that the Russians might be up to something evil. Maybe they were trying to get into my computer to relieve me of my identity and the paltry pile of cash in my savings account. But on a more egotistical note, I have spent a significant amount time thinking the Russians are stealing the things I’ve written and making trillions of rubles selling them as the work of Ivan Rippenov. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if they shared a few rubles with me, but they haven’t. Still, my ego being what it is, enjoys going to bed believing I’m Russia’s latest literary sensation.
 
But there has also been a worrisome visitor. A week ago, someone looked around the blog from a website with the ominous name getdentalimplantsnow.com. I admit to having some large gaps where teeth used to be, but I don’t think they’re big enough to be spotted from cyberspace. I am convinced it has to do with how I write or what I write about. Every word I put down must cry out, “These are the thoughts of an addled no-longer-young person.”

Do readers see me as a doddering old fool? There would be advantages: all my typos would be overlooked. “Don’t pay any attention to the misspellings, missing words and silly syntax,” the persnickety reader might say. “He’s not as sharp as he used to be, and he wasn’t very sharp to begin with.” Or maybe they picture me – at least the ones who remember Laugh In – as the lecherous character on the park bench who was always hoping to seduce Ruth Buzzi. The guy who defined the hereafter as “If you’re not here after what I’m here after, you’ll be here after I’m gone.”

Giving the impression that I’m a spirited skirt-chasing geezer is better than being thought of as a dispirited fogy. But, getdentalimplantsnow.com sounds like an advertising campaign targeting the old and toothless. And it’s taken a bite out of my ego.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oodles of Tuna Noodle

Tom emptied a bag of egg noodles into the pot of boiling water, gave them a quick stir, set the oven for 350 and went looking for cream of celery soup and tuna. He wasn't a stranger to the kitchen. Because he got home from work an hour-and-a-half before Debbie, his wife, Tom was the weekday cook. He was a step - maybe two - above adequate at the stove, and most of the meals he prepared were more challenging than tuna-noodle casserole.

He had been looking forward to pork chops all day until Bethany, their eight-year-old daughter, asked for tuna-noodle. How could he say "no" when she begged with pleading voice and imploring eyes? But when he opened the kitchen cabinet, he realized it would have been wiser to make sure all the ingredients were on hand before starting. As Tom's search became more frantic, Bethany, perched on the counter, began to worry. "You promised, Daddy," she said. Fortunately, the soup and tuna turned up behind the box of shredded wheat.

Tom poured the soup into a bowl, added a little milk and a splash of Worcestershire sauce and gave Bethany a tablespoon to stir the concoction. Then he opened the tuna and squeezed out the liquid gunk. When Tom pronounced the noodles done, Bethany got the colander.

He covered the bottom of the casserole dish with a layer of noodles, put some tuna on top of them and put another layer of noodles on top of that. Tom thought it would be easier to dump everything into the casserole and stir, but The Joy of Cooking said to layer the noodles and tuna. Every job needs a boss, and Bethany was delighted to provide the required supervision. As she watched him put the final layer of noodles into the casserole, she said, "Daddy, don't use all of them." He left a fistful of noodles, and then, again in accordance with the rules set down in The Joy of Cooking, poured the soup mixture on top of the noodles and tuna. But not all the soup; Bethany requested he leave some in the bowl. While he put the casserole in the over, she took a noodle, smeared it around in the soup bowl and popped it in her mouth. Then she took another one and repeated the process, and kept repeating it until the noodles were gone.

The greatest reward a parent can get for cooking dinner, Tom thought, was watching his children enjoy the meal, even if they didn't always wait for it to be cooked.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Act Now; Think Later

I don't know, but I think as answers go, "I don't know" doesn't get much respect. This is strange in an age when "straight talk" is said to be greatly admired. Yet it is the people who spout nonsense with conviction who are esteemed for their straightforward manner, while those who offer a humble but absolutely truthful "I don't know," are thought to be devious and untrustworthy.

Whether this is the human condition or something uniquely American is hard to say. Certainly the insufferable know-it-all hero has been a mainstay of American entertainment. There was the tall, handsome, arrogant stranger who walked into the saloon. Standing at the bar, he systematically examined the souls of the patrons. By the time he had finished his whiskey - which did not affect his gait or his judgment - the stranger knew who was rustling cattle. This was surprising, since the locals weren't aware that cattle were being rustled.

The stranger pushed the empty bottle toward the bartender and left. Outside, he tipped his hat and said "Howdy, ma'am," to the town's old maid schoolmarm. He stepped off the sidewalk and, with steely determination, walked down the middle of the dusty street, while the honest citizens scurried into the barbershop and general store. Then he stopped, spun around, drew his gun, and fired at the solitary figure standing outside the livery stable, sending the rustler-in-chief to his great reward. Although the stranger had been in town for about an hour and had spent most that time in the saloon, the person on the receiving end of his bullet was always an evildoer, never the minister, or stable boy, or the man on his way to the station to meet his wife and kids who were coming in from Abilene on the 12:57.

The stranger's ability to hone in on the bad guy and rid the community of him with a single shot might seem miraculous, but with the help of a seasoned screenwriter it was just another day in the cow town. The miracle is how the hero in the 21st Century has managed to deduce so much more, more quickly and with less thought. Not that he's had much choice. In a ninety-minute movie, the strong, silent hero had a few moments to look pensive. On television, where the function of the story is to give the viewer a momentary break from commercials, the hero hardly has time to react and no time to ponder, no time to think. Fortunately, the hero, usually a cop, has an array of state-of-the-art forensic tools. All he needs is a sneaking suspicion that there is a vital piece of evidence somewhere and a couple lackeys to fetch it. Within seconds of arriving at the crime scene, one of the cops will spot a single strand of hair in a shag carpet twenty feet away. The hair is rushed to police headquarters and run through a battery of tests, which inevitably prove the hero's suspicion was in fact correct. On television, one of the telltale signs of a heroic person is that he knows when he is correct he is not merely correct, he is in fact correct.

Those of us on the couch do not have the benefit of a screenwriter and can't always be sure that what we think is in fact brilliant and incisive. The truth is, what we think is more likely foolish. And if we do have a brilliant notion, chances are we'll mistake it for foolishness and do something idiotic instead. That never stops us. We blunder on, determined to make our next half-assed decision in half the time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Pursuit of the Purse


“A Cleveland Court resident told police her purse was stolen while visiting a friend Thursday morning.”
Star Beacon November 19, 2011

“Chief, we’ve got another one.”
“Another what, Hennigan?”
“Stolen purse. A Mrs. Elsie Greenwood called and said her purse was stolen.”
“Hennigan, it’s the 21st Century and this is a big city. Purses are stolen all the time.”
“I know. I wasn’t born yesterday. Jeez, I’ve been on the force for fifteen years,” Hennigan said. “But this one’s different.”
“You said, ‘We’ve got another one.’ Those were you’re exact words. Right?”
“Yeah.”
“Well, if we’ve had other ones, how can this one be different? Tell me that, Hennigan.”
“OK, OK. Let’s just say this purse was stolen in a unique manner.”
“Get with the program, Hennigan. My dictionary says unique means ‘existing as the only one or as the sole example; single; solitary in type or characteristics.’ This purse snatching can’t be unique if there were others like it.”
“Chief, if you would bother read all the definitions, you’d find that unique can also mean ‘not typical; unusual.’ And this case is certainly unusual.”
“Why didn’t you say that in the first place? All you people playing fast and loose with the language are putting the nation and all of Western Civilization at risk.”
“Sorry, Chief.”
“Yes, you’re one sorry cop, Hennigan. So, what is so unusual about Elsie Greenwood and her stolen purse?”
“It seems Mrs. Greenwood’s purse was making a social call when it was filched.”
“What?”
“The purse had gone next door and was having an intimate moment with Mary Erbell’s purse when it was stolen.”
“And Ms. Erbell is in custody, I hope.”
“No, she isn’t, Chief.”
“Why not, Hennigan? I bet this Ms. Erbell broad stole her neighbor’s purse. Lock her up.”
“We were going to, but Mrs. Greenwood says her purse was on the kitchen table when she ate breakfast. She knows this because she made a shopping list while she ate and then put in her purse.”
“So when did the purse go missing?”
“Mrs. Greenwood said she did the dishes right after breakfast, and that’s when her purse went next door.”
“The purse just got up and went next door?”
“That’s right, Chief. They say the new purses have that capability.”
“And you believe them?”
“This is the third report we’ve received in the last month of a purse being stolen while visiting a friend. Remember, I thought it was unique, but you corrected me. This has happened a few times before, so it is unusual. Highly unusual, I would think.”
“And I think you are uniquely credulous, Hennigan. While Greenwood was doing her dishes, Erbell sneaked in and swiped the purse. That’s what happened.”
“Chief, Greenwood said her purse disappeared sometime between nine and nine-fifteen that morning. According to three people in the neighborhood, Erbell was outside at that time, yelling at a woman named Mitzy, whose beagle left a calling card on her tree lawn. Even Greenwood says she heard the altercation. Besides, Ms. Erbell is a large, clumsy woman. If she was creeping around in your kitchen as you did the dishes, you’d notice.”
“So, how do we know Greenwood’s purse was visiting Erbell’s?”
“Erbell says she saw them on the stand in the hallway.  Apparently their straps were entwined and they were doing the pocketbook equivalent of making eyes at each other.”
“Hennigan!”
“ No, I’m serious, Chief. All these Smart Phones and other gadgets women put into their purses, make it possible for the purses to do things they’ve never done before. Some purses even develop emotions. Apparently, the Greenwood and Erbell purses were having an affair.”
“Says who?”
“Greenwood and Erbell.”
“I think you’re all crazy. But if it wasn’t Erbell, are there other suspects?”
“Well, a woman called Candy Barr lives down the street, and her purse was involved with Erbell’s for a few months. From what we’ve determined, Candy’s purse is no sweetie. In fact, it became insanely jealous when it discovered the Greenwood purse was seeing Erbell’s.”
“So the Greenwood purse had the Erbell purse in its clutches, eh?”
“That’s right, Chief. And we figure Barr’s purse snapped.”
“Now what?”
“We’re going to get a search warrant for the Barr place. If we find Greenwood’s purse, Candy will have to shoulder the blame, and once we have the case in hand, we can bag her for receiving stolen goods.”
“Good job, Hennigan. And for you, that is unique”

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving at its Verse

Some Fowl Words

Oh, the turkey is in despair

As he frets about Thanksgiving.

The fowl calls "Foul," says it's unfair.

Oh, the turkey is in despair,

"What's wrong with steak, well-done or rare?

Have you no shame or misgiving?"

Oh, the turkey is in despair

As he frets about Thanksgiving.



'Tis the Season Opener

Christmas comes but once a year, which is just as well,

although all the retailers would like to have more

so every single week there would be a Black Friday,

with hordes of crazed, lusting shoppers outside the store

at three-ten in the morning, credit card in hand.

Christmas: a great excuse for a shopping orgy.


The proudly religious also up and orgy

over "Season's Greetings," a term they don't take well.

And "Happy Holidays" gives the devil a hand,

they say. "And we'll not shop here, not even once more

unless the cash registers in your godless store

tell the clerks to say "Merry Christmas" by Friday.


That way, when the saved go shopping on Black Friday

they can revel religiously in the orgy

and shop with wild, untamed abandon in the store,

certain that big spending makes God love them so well.

With every smile and proper greeting, they spend more,

and piles of cash go into the store owner's hand.


"Merry Christmas:" a small price for cash in the hand.

No wonder retailers so enjoy Black Friday

and hope consumer greed will lead to more.

Shoppers spend money they don't have to fund the orgy,

pulling buckets of cash from the credit card well,

forgetting that dunning notices are in store.


A timid person faces danger in the store.

A Type-A shopper might hit him with her purse or hand.

He'll leave in an ambulance, and she'll say, "Oh, well.

Wimps should know better than to shop on Black Friday;

you've got to be tough to survive this mad orgy.

He's out of the way now, and I'm going to shop more."


The retailer is so glad she keeps spending more;

If she's got money, she's welcome in his store.

Voyeuristic economists watch the orgy

to see if it's giving business a fiscal hand,

or if it's just another nondescript Friday,

when despite the madness, the stores do not fare well.


The annual orgy, set to begin once more.

To get things going well, you must spend big at the store.

Credit cards in hand, go deep into debt on Friday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Exacerbating Exasperation

While reading today I came upon the word exacerbate. It's been a while since an author told me a situation had been exacerbated. That seems strange, because even the most cockeyed optimist would have to admit there is a whole lot of exacerbating going on. There might be a situation out there that is not being aggravated or increasing in severity, bitterness or violence, or just plain getting worse, but I don't know what it is. Still, no one, or hardly anyone, says our current problems are being exacerbated. Present day pundits, like those who preceded them, are sure that every problem is getting bigger by the hour and is well on its way to becoming unsolvable. Depending on his or her point of view, the problem is the incompetents in the White House, or the idiots in Congress; the one percent with the wealth, or the ninety-nine percent without it; the greedy unions, or the money-grubbing capitalists; the armed-to-the-teeth NRA, or the soft-on-crime ACLU; the educational system that doesn't educate, or the effete, ivory-tower intellectuals who are educated; the decaying industrial base that can't compete, or the rascally Chinese who have rigged the rules.

But as all our problems get bigger, it is a rare pundit who opines, "the crisis is being exacerbated by..." It wasn't always this way. In the 1980s and 90s, commentators constantly told us that the crisis du jour was being exacerbated. Now, hardly ever. And, as it turns out, the book I was reading had a 1998 copyright.

Like the moon, the popularity of a word waxes and wanes, and right now iconic is waxing more than S.C. Johnson. Anything that has been around a week-and-a-half is iconic. There are iconic TV shows, iconic movies, iconic stars, iconic personalities, iconic sports heroes, iconic buildings, iconic automobiles, iconic places, iconic candies, iconic fashions and, presumably, iconic icons. The increasing use of icon has nothing to do with something found in a Russian Orthodox Church and everything to do with those things found on your computer's desktop. If the high-tech types had called the pictograms pictograms there might not be any iconic people, places or things.

But trite or not, it would quite an ego boost to be called iconic. Too bad by the time someone refers to me as iconic, all our difficulties will be exacerbating again, iconic will be listed as archaic and, alas and alack, so will I.


Memories of Max


Maxine died Monday. These few unforgettable moments are from August 2010.


     There were fifteen of us at the Edgewood Diner, most of us retired from the Ashtabula County Board of Developmental Disabilities, where we had worked in the Adult Services Program at Ash/Craft Industries. Three or four were looking forward to returning to Florida at the first sign of winter.
     After a few minutes of politely bringing everyone up to date with our lives, we began talking of the past and getting raucous. Like the eight million in the Naked City, we each had a story - in fact, most of us had several to share. We laughed at ourselves, we laughed at each other and we laughed at former colleagues who weren't there. We laughed at our frequent ineptitude and marveled at the even more frequent insight and brilliance of the people we were supposed to be helping.
     I had been told several times over the years that I would know when it was time to retire. As it turned out, Multiple Sclerosis intervened and forced me to retire before I was ready. A few years earlier, I had a job that kept me on my feet most of the day, and at home I cut the grass, shoveled snow, cleaned the gutters, often made dinner, sometimes did the ironing, played ball with the kids, went to Little League games and band concerts, and took long, meandering walks. But now I spent most of my waking hours in a wheelchair.
     Maxine was there, and she put it all in perspective for me. She is seventy-one, originally from Nova Scotia and has the most wonderful accent and self-deprecating sense of humor. She also has cancer, and she wore a baseball cap to hide the smattering of hair that had sprouted since her last series of treatments. Not long before I had heard Maxine might have just a few months to live. If she was suffering that night from either the disease or the treatments, it didn't show.
     "Tom, tell me the truth now," she said when she came in, "do your loins still long for me."
     It was vintage Max. Then she spent the evening telling her stories, wonderful stories. Like the time an Ash/Craft client - a woman who in appearance and attitude resembled the Maxine of greeting card fame - asked her if she had found a man.
     "No, not yet," Maxine told her.
     "Well," the client said, "if you'd fix yourself up a little maybe you could get one."
     One day, Maxine was talking to the staff psychologist about care for the aged, and a client walked by and heard just a snippet of the conversation. Later in the day, the client went up to Maxine and asked: "So, how's your new boyfriend?"
"What new boyfriend?"
     "Jerry."
     "Jerry?"
     "Yeah, Jerry. You know, Jerry Atricks."
     And there was the time a client put a bag of chocolate chip cookies on Maxine's desk. Maxine said she couldn't accept them, but the client kept insisting.
     "I went to the doctor the other day," Maxine said, trying another approach. "He told me chocolate cause me to get cysts."
     "Well, it doesn't give the shits," the client said.
     As the gathering was breaking up, Maxine asked me, "How did this happen to two such wonderful people as ourselves?"
     Neither of us had an answer, of course. I told her, in many ways I feel fortunate: I'm not suffering and I have good insurance. But the not being able to do all the things I once did gets me down.
     "I know two things," Maxine said. "I'm not in control of this, and I have to take things one day at a time. This is my life, and I'm going to make the most of it."
     Sometimes, the ebb and flow of life, like the tides, cannot be controlled. But sometimes, in small ways, it can. And I thank Maxine for reminding me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

All Set

After I set the challenge for myself, I set about searching for the English word with the largest set of definitions. Hoping to be set straight, I went to Google, which set before me an extensive set of websites that might provide the answer. Opting for the link to dictionary.com, I was set back on my heels when I discovered that the Oxford English Dictionary, which is a set of several volumes, set forth 496 definitions for "set." "Set" not only set the record for definitions, it set it in convincing fashion, topping runner-up "run," which merits a mere 396 definitions.

But as I set out to set forth my thoughts on the word "set," I was beset by doubts that in my hurry to set my ideas on paper I might inadvertently set myself up for failure. What if I wrote something foolish and set tongues wagging about my idiocy? Then, as I was about to set two books and a tablet on the table, I realized the table was set for dinner, and with our best set of Melmac dishes. I knew at once it would be a while until I could set to work, and so I set my stuff on the recliner and waited for dinner to be set before me.

After we ate and the dishes had been set aside, I set my mind to the matter at hand and set a time limit of three hours to complete an essay. I hoped a glance at all the definitions would set off an explosion of creativity. But, no. My mind remained set in its unimaginative mode, and even my efforts to set aside a few ideas in order to set a solid foundation for thought the next morning came to naught. It was unsettling. I was dead set against giving up. It was no use. I should have called my tennis buddy and set a date to play a set or two. Instead I sat there trying to set things in perspective. Alas, the little exercise turned out to be another set back.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Maple Tree

Yesterday, a single shaft of sunlight broke through the ominous clouds and fell upon the maple tree across the way. And the maple, resplendent in its autumn leaves, like a star in the spotlight at the Oscars, dazzled all who saw it.

It stormed last night: lightning, thunder and a fierce wind. By morning, the maple was disheveled, half dressed, tattered and lifeless. Soon its naked arms and fingers will be clothed in snow – until spring, when life begins again.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

All News is Old News

Is Africa a preview of the world's future?

With apologies to D'Arcy Egan, the Plain Dealer's outdoors writer.

I have taken the liberty of rewriting a portion of Mr. Egan's article "Is the Illinois River a preview of Lake Erie's future? The Battle Against Asian Carp," which appeared in the October 22, 2011 edition of the Plain Dealer. After all, the Asian Carp isn't the first invasive species.

The Wooly Mammoth Press-Prevaricator, Oct. 22, 55,001 BC

SOMEWHERE IN AFRICA - There have been experts who say human beings won't survive outside of this small enclave in Africa. The rest of the world is too cold, they suggest, and will not provide the level of comfort the funny looking bipeds need in order to thrive and reproduce.

But nobody needs to tell the saber-tooth tigers and mastodons how amazingly adaptable and resilient humans are, and how they can easily overwhelm and change a way of life. The humans are thriving here, and many mammoth scientists firmly believe they would flourish in other parts of the globe, especially in places where there is plenty of game and a wealth of fish in the lakes and rivers to encourage them to eat heartily.

As you travel through Africa, it is startling to watch the humans become comfortable on the lands they have claimed for themselves. The humans are seemingly everywhere, from smart-mouthed youngsters to behemoths who can weigh 300 pounds and much more.

It is impossible not to imagine what would happen should these erstwhile apes continue to come down from the trees and migrate to other areas.

Humans have proven they can dominate an ecosystem, displacing the native animal species. In some sections of Africa, humans already make up 90 percent of the population. Day by day, the humans are expanding their range, with new populations most recently found in a place called Europe.

If they make it to other parts of the world, experts say the humans could overwhelm the native species and, given their ravenous habits, deplete the food supply.

In the worst case, various species could face the danger of flying spears and arrows, and predatory species could see their prey disappear.

A 15-mile tour of one river provided a clear picture. Humans were everywhere, ready to grab rocks and spears at the sound of approaching wildlife. They could be spotted all along the banks of the river. They jumped up and down, yelling for their young to bring them weapons. The erratic "thumps" we felt were caused by humans hitting us with rocks they tossed from the shore.

When the number of humans increased in Asia Minor a few years ago, native species were amazed. They couldn't believe humans used weapons to obtain food, and sometimes made a game of killing native species. Dangerously armed humans were stalking the same animals local species relied on for nourishment.

"Of course they're dangerous," said one lion. "A tiger cub was recently hit by a flying spear. The spear punctured his chest. He needed to have it removed by his parents."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Preposterous Predicament

The assignment was to have fun with words beginning with P-R-E. I had fun doing this. Whether or not anyone else will find any fun in it remains to be seen.


Jackie was surprised to see Herman, her husband, in the middle of the living room attempting to touch his toes.

"What, pray tell, are you doing?"

"My preamble," he said, slowly raising himself to the full-upright position, although his stomach remained several inches below his belt. "These are the stretching exercises I do before taking my walk."

"Your walk usually ends up a prebendary."

"I know. I know," Herman said. "There were times when I walked to the bar and bent the elbow for a few days and usually wound up in the gutter. But those days are over. I'm jumping on the wagon."

"If I were you, I'd be careful. As fat as you are, if you jump on, you'll probably put the wagon in a prefixed condition."

"They'll just have to repair it," he said. "Besides, I'm going on a diet and I'll soon be a sight to behold."

"I bet," Jackie said. "I'd love to stay and watch your preamble. But I've got an appointment with the doctor, and I want to be prelate. They get so angry when I'm not on time."

After Jackie left, Herman wandered into the bedroom and looked at himself in the full-length mirror. He wasn't proud of the rotund reflection, but he thought he should have Jackie take a picture of his prefigure. Then, when he got down to a buff one-sixty-five, she could take a picture of his post-diet form. Maybe he could sell his weight-loss secrets and get rich.

A financial windfall would solve many problems. Right now, they had enough money, but with wage freezes, inflation and a balloon mortgage, the future would require some belt tightening beyond that needed to keep Herman's pants up around his soon to be slimmer waist. The pretension was obvious every time Herman and Jackie talked about finances. In a month or two, he was sure they'd have to start making difficult choices, and their fiscal fears and anxieties would dominate thoughts and discussions.

At lunchtime, Herman looked for something healthy in the kitchen. He found some prepared apples, but he didn't like to eat the skins and he didn't want to take the time to remove them. So, he went to his stash of Snicker's bars and devoured seven of them. He would have had more, but he heard Jackie come in.

"So, Mr. I'm on a Diet, who ate all the candy bars?" she asked, sneering at the empty wrappers on the counter.

With no time to prefabricate, Herman had invent a story on the spot.

"Little Johnny from next door came over and I let have a few Snicker's. It made him happy, and it got rid some temptation. I'm serious about this diet, you know."

He could tell Jackie was in a prevent mood. She wanted to tell Herman exactly what she thought of him, to yell, and shout, and scream at him. She managed to hold herself in check, but Herman knew he was just one wrong move from setting off a torrent of vitriol.

Two days later, the stress was too much for Herman. He had always thought he was a presage and would one day be renown for his wisdom. But now he was curled up on the couch in his underwear, sucking his thumb and mumbling endlessly in prediction. Jackie smiled. The doctor, who was also her lover, had told her that when Herman began babbling like a child not yet able to speak clearly, she would have no trouble getting him committed and getting a divorce. The doctor had also said he would marry Jackie. But once Herman was out of the way, he said he'd have to give marriage some thought.

"And when do you think you'll think about it?" she asked.

"I'm really busy right now," the doctor said. "I might be able to preponderate some in a couple weeks. Unfortunately, I won't be able to do any actual thinking for at least six months."

Jackie slammed the phone down. "He might be predeceased now," she thought. "But he won't be for long."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

History: Same Stuff, Different Epoch

Plain Dealer outdoors writer D'arcy Egan recently wrote a series of articles on efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. In one piece, he discussed the Asian carp's presence in the Illinois River. And what he said about the march of the Asian carp, it seemed to me, could have been said about the march of another species, and I took the liberty of rewriting a section of that piece.

Is Africa a preview of the world's future?

With apologies to D'Arcy Egan, the Plain Dealer's outdoors writer.

The Wooly Mammoth Press-Prevaricator, Oct. 22, 55,001 BC

SOMEWHERE IN AFRICA - There have been experts who say human beings won't survive outside of this small enclave in Africa. The rest of the world is too cold, they suggest, and will not provide the level of comfort the funny looking bipeds need in order to thrive and reproduce.

But nobody needs to tell the saber-tooth tigers and mastodons how amazingly adaptable and resilient humans are, and how they can easily overwhelm and change a way of life. The humans are thriving here, and many mammoth scientists firmly believe they would flourish in other parts of the globe, especially in places where there is plenty of game and a wealth of fish in the lakes and rivers to encourage them to eat heartily.

As you travel through Africa, it is startling to watch the humans become comfortable on the lands they have claimed for themselves. The humans are seemingly everywhere, from smart-mouthed youngsters to behemoths who can weigh 300 pounds and much more.

It is impossible not to imagine what would happen should these erstwhile apes continue to come down from the trees and migrate to other areas.

Humans have proven they can dominate an ecosystem, displacing the native animal species. In some sections of Africa, humans already make up 90 percent of the population. Day by day, the humans are expanding their range, with new populations most recently found in a place called Europe.

If they make it to other parts of the world, experts say the humans could overwhelm the native species and, given their ravenous habits, deplete the food supply.

In the worst case, various species could face the danger of flying spears and arrows, and predatory species could see their prey disappear.

A 15-mile tour of one river provided a clear picture. Humans were everywhere, ready to grab rocks and spears at the sound of approaching wildlife. They could be spotted all along the banks of the river. They jumped up and down, yelling for their young to bring them weapons. The erratic "thumps" we felt were caused by humans hitting us with rocks they tossed from the shore.

When the number of humans increased in Asia Minor a few years ago, native species were amazed. They couldn't believe humans used weapons to obtain food, and sometimes made a game of killing native species. Dangerously armed humans were stalking the same animals local species relied on for nourishment.

"Of course they're dangerous," said a one lion. "A tiger cub was recently hit by a flying spear. The spear punctured his chest. He needed to have it removed by his parents."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gee, I Didn't See That

"The man who doesn't read," someone once said, "is no better off than the man who can't." 'Tis true. 'Tis true. And 'tis equally true of the man who does not read carefully. That truth smacked me across the face not once but twice within forty-eight hours. And I was trying to get to the library both times. Strange, isn't it.

For some time now I've been telling myself I need a project. After several months of telling myself this, I got around to looking for one, and after a few more months of feigned thought and purposeful procrastination, I determined, one day last week, what the project should be. In the early 1990s, my byline appeared twice in Cobblestone, a history magazine for middle school kids. Why not see what I can do twenty years later, I thought. Being a thoroughly modern man, I went to the magazine's website and took a look at its theme list for the coming year. Saturday morning I found a couple topics I thought I could handle and checked the Ashtabula Library's hours on its website and found it was open from ten until two on Saturdays.

It was quarter of ten, so I powered up the wheelchair and headed to the library at a brisk two-and-a-half miles an hour. I haven't made many trips uptown in the wheelchair, so there was an element of discovery. What I discovered was, not all the sidewalks are ramped. Undeterred by this inconvenience, I managed to reach the library at quarter past ten. That's when I saw the sign on the door, and the sign said the library was open from eleven until four on Saturdays. I stared at it, uttered a few inappropriate utterances, checked to see what time the library opened on Monday and went back from whence I came.

At home, I rolled into the computer room and got on the library's website, determined to verify the webmaster's incompetence. There they were, the hours, in italics, just as I remembered them. But, beneath those hours, also in italics, was a note that those were the summer hours. Directly above the all the italics, in bold Times New Roman, the same print used for the other five days the library is open, the Saturday hours were listed as eleven until four. OK, I guess I should have given it a closer look the first time. But the library would reopen at ten on Monday, according to both the sign on the door and the information on the library's website.

When I got the library Monday morning, the parking lot was empty. Where are all the readers in this town? And the library employees, do they all walk to work? Perhaps they do, but they didn't on Monday. On the door, right above the sign with the hours was another sign: "We will be closed Monday, October 10, for Columbus Day," Too bad I didn't bother to read it on Saturday, October 8.

It Did Not Compute


The computer has been uncooperative for several days.

High Tech and High Strung

The computer is congested
With all the stuff it’s ingested -
The silly poems that I’ve devised
And the inane things I’ve surmised.
Yes indeedy it’s been force-fed
All my foolish nonsense instead
Of important things and the like.
Now it’s told me to take a hike.
All I asked it to do was print,
It said, “Listen, bub, take a hint,
I can’t answer when you call.
I’m not responding. That is all.”

Bad Computer

My computer needs dissected
For not behaving as it ought.
Since it hates to be corrected,
My computer needs dissected
And most thoroughly inspected
Before it’s taken out and shot.
My computer needs dissected
For not behaving as it ought.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Stumped on the Stump


It's in the dictionary: disambiguate.
It reminds me of Bush's misrememberate,
a word that always makes me hyperventilate
and sometimes even makes me discombobulate.
They're words for those who want to circumambulate
proven facts. Politicians overcompensate

with sesquipedalians to overcompensate
for ideas they'd rather not disambiguate.
They also tiptoe as they circumambulate,
or say, "Oh, I guess I must misremeberate.
That liberal press just makes me discombobulate
and more than once it's made me hyperventilate."

It is not abnormal to hyperventilate
when one's stumped and trying to overcompensate
while working so hard not to discombobulate,
worried that someone's going to disambiguate
his harangue. Then he'll claim to misrememberate,
or convolute the truth and circumambulate

it if he can. If he can't circumambulate
embarrassing stuff, he might hyperventilate,
which sometimes causes him to misrememberate
the lies he's spewed. So then he'll overcompensate
and slip in some truth that might disambiguate
the ambiguity and discombobulate

his campaign. And his hopes to discombobulate
the electorate and to circumambulate
the truth will be dashed. If folks disambiguate
his thoughts, all he can do is hyperventilate,
although, he doesn't want to overcompensate
and say he's been known to misrememberate.

The admission that he might misrememberate
could lead voters to think he'll discombobulate
under pressure. He'd rather overcompensate
by making up stuff that will circumambulate
the unpleasant, or make you hyperventilate
and just too distracted to disambiguate.

Politicians overcompensate, misrememberate.
If you disambiguate, they'll circumambulate,
Discombobulate and then hyperventilate.





Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Give Me that Old Time Religion


I am sitting here waiting for God to speak to me. He hasn't yet, and I'm not sure why. I mean, I'm here every day, listening for his voice in my head, or on the phone, maybe. I even cast a hopeful glance at my e-mail now and then in case that's how God reaches people nowadays. How much trouble would it be for him to call and say, "Just wanted to let you know, Tom, that you're soooo, soooo special, and I have endowed you with special powers of understanding, prophecy and insight"? He's awfully busy, I know, assuring each of the Republican presidential candidates that only he or she can save the country from perdition. But, come on, he's God, isn't he? Surely there's an angel available to take over pumping up Rick Perry's ego for a few minutes while the big guy gets in touch with me. Besides, Rick's well-coifed head might explode if the pumping doesn't stop soon.

I know I won't be an easy case for the angels and archangels, the cherubim and seraphim, and all the heavenly hosts. I've been a happy heathen for decades, and it's been a very long time since my shadow last darkened the door to the sanctuary. So much has changed, and I'll require a considerable amount of remedial work. 

You see, as a lad I donned a white shirt, coat and tie each week for the trek down South Park Road to Sunday school. And as I recall, at least one Sunday a year was given over to a discussion of the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. In that story, the Pharisee stood in the middle of the temple and, with great gusto, thanked God for making him wonderful and awe-inspiring. One of Pharisee's more notable gifts from God was a great set of lungs, which he used to let the less blessed know how proud he was to be him.  Meanwhile, the publican sneaked into a broom closet, mumbled a humble word or two and went on his way to stumble and bumble through life. This annual lesson ended with the admonition to go forth and emulate the publican.

Even to one such as I who has not been paying close attention, it is obvious the theologians have had a change of heart. It is the Pharisees who are favored by God. And if you don't believe me watch FOX News for a few minutes. Everywhere you turn the modern Pharisees are ecstatic because they're sure that voice they hear is the voice of God. And why does God speak to them? Dah. Because they're so wonderful. God doesn't talk to just anybody, you know. There are six billion people on the planet, and God can't very well talk to them all. As a result, he limits his conversation to those who are well off, well groomed, well spoken and who have marvelously self-satisfied smirks. 

And there's that thing about the meek inheriting the Earth. Like all the other ancient wisdom that makes the 21st-Century Pharisees uncomfortable, it is, they say, a faulty translation. Remember, God loves those who love themselves. Meek means weak, and God doesn't like the wishy-washy, full-of-doubt types. That's what all the blessed and wonderful people say, and they know because God told them they are blessed and wonderful. 

But, wait a minute. If all the exceedingly blessed, wonderful and outrageously proud are going to spend eternity at the right hand of God - and they are because God has told them they will - then inheriting the Earth won't be such a bad deal. All those swelled heads will make Heaven awfully crowded.

Life is Good at Covenant Woods???

WARNING: It has been nearly two months since I've written a word for this blog, or for anything else. If, for some strange reason, you ...