Saturday, March 29, 2014

Notes from the Home - March 29, 2014

   Wednesday was the second anniversary of my arrival at Covenant Woods. In those two years nothing and no one has impressed me more than Russ. He is one cool, competent young man. From the moment he got behind the wheel of the Aveo on that cold, rainy morning in Ashtabula to drive me and the U Haul down here, I’ve been in awe. He hasn’t done anything spectacular, but the way he’s gone about the things he has done for me is special. Russ looks at the job that needs to be done, figures out how to do it, and he just does it.

   Monday, he took me shopping for a new television. When we got back, Russ set about setting it up for me. He opened the box and pulled out its contents. Unlike his father, he placed the bags of small parts neatly on the table. I’ve always preferred to throw the small stuff carelessly aside and then spend ten or fifteen minutes trying to find it when one of the parts is needed. In order to work with the part I just found, I would carelessly toss aside the bag with its remaining parts and look for it again a few minutes later.

   Eventually, a screwdriver was needed, and Russ’ father didn’t have one. Without complaint, without so much as even an “Oh, crap,” Russ said, “I’ve got to run home and get a screwdriver. I’ll be back in a couple minutes.” He did, he was, and the TV was up and going a moment later.

   Besides helping his spastic father, Russ has been cranking out cartoons day after day. His credits include, but are not limited to, Readers’ Digest, Saturday Evening Post, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and Women’s World. That is spectacular. Not long ago, Russ sent a submission to a dairy publication. The magazine didn’t buy any of Russ’ cartoons, but editor returned them with a letter, saying that if Russ was interested they might throw some work his way. However, the editor told Russ the cows in his cartoons looked more like beef cattle, and he enclosed some pictures of dairy cows so Russ can practice Bossy’s portrait.

   He came over this morning and said he’d sold two cartoons last week. One was to Women’s Day, a regular customer, and one to The New York Teacher. Russ contacted an editor at the New York Teacher a few weeks ago and was told that the magazine didn’t buy much from freelancers. Undeterred, Russ got a submission together, and the magazine bought one. How about that, freelance fans?


   Stacey, one of the servers, was unusually reserved at dinner Tuesday. Al asked if anything was wrong. She said there had been a staff meeting earlier in the day and handed Al a sheet of paper. It was a copy of a page from a retirement home/nursing home trade publication. The gist of it was that staff should address the residents as Mr. or Mrs., unless given permission by the resident to use his or her first name. And under no circumstances should a staff person use words such as “honey,” “dear,” or “darling” when talking to a resident.

   Mae came by a little later and Stacey showed her the paper. Mae read it carefully, scowled, tossed the paper toward the middle of the table and said, “Don’t worry. This was written by a Yankee. Everybody in the South is “Honey,” “Dear,” or “Darling.”

   A few minutes later, Mae added, “In the South you can say anything you want about a person. You can say mean things and tell terrible lies about someone as long as when you’re through you say, ‘Bless her heart.’”


   Al renewed acquaintances with a nurse he has known for many years when he went to the St. Francis Medical Center this week. After they talked for a few minutes, the woman asked him about his experiences Vietnam. She was interested because she had recently read The Ether Zone: U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment B-52, Project Delta, by Ray Morris. She told Al an Elton Park is mentioned several times in the book. Al is Alton Park, and she wondered if the author had misspelled Al’s name. Al didn’t know. But the book is now on its way to Covenant Woods; Amazon says it will arrive Thursday. We should know by next weekend if Al by another name is a famous man.

   I am a little worried, however. The book description on Amazon contains the sentence: “This small unit of less than 100 U.S. Army Special Forces amassed a record for bravery that rivals few.” Shouldn’t it be: “. . . that few rival.”?

   The other faux pas to catch my attention this week was a Facebook post by an old friend who shall remain nameless, because he saved me from countless mistakes over the years:

   “NOT MEANT FOR YOUNG EARS!!! (Please, make sure your kiddos are around if you decide to play the link... very, very raw language)”



Sunday, March 23, 2014

Notes from the Home - March 23, 2014

   It was warm, sunny and almost summer-like when I went for a jaunt through the Covenant Woods’ parking lots Friday afternoon. It was an interesting little sojourn. Down by the duplexes, I met James. He was in the maintenance department’s golf cart, on his way to install a ceiling fan, but in no hurry to get at it.
   James and I frequently talk in the morning when I stop by while he’s at the dumpster taking care of the garbage. The topic of those trash talks is almost always sports, with James giving me the rundown of all he saw on SportsCenter. But now, after lunch, James talked about Randy, who has been pressed into service as a night security person. Randy is tart of tongue, loud of voice, quick of wit and bawdy.
   “Me and Randy have a lot fun when we work together,” James said.
   Johnny, the maintenance supervisor, doesn’t seem to be his happy self these days. Someone said his girlfriend broke up with him. But whatever the reason, he’s not the hale-fellow-well-met he was a month ago. Steve, the other member of the maintenance crew, never says much. In fact, until the day he came to unclog my bathtub drain, all he had ever said to me was, “Hello, sir.” That day he said, looking at the work order, “It’s your bathtub drain that’s backing up?” And when he was finished, he said, “That should do it. If it gives you any more problems, let us know.” Since then, all Steve has said to me is “Hello, sir.”
   Not long after I resumed my “walk,” my path crossed Annie’s. She was a mixture of excitement and dread. She was giddy because the baby shower she had for her daughter Chelsea was a success. Things didn’t go exactly according to plan, but there were no disasters, and almost a week later, Annie was one relieved woman.
   I don’t know all the details, but Chelsea isn’t married and will be going into the military soon. Annie will be more mother than grandmother for quite some time. Hence the dread.
   Annie had to get back to work, and I went on my way. In the parking lot behind Building C, Anita, the woman who interviewed Al the week before for Tim Maggart’s Memorial Day show at the Springer, was putting her equipment into the trunk of her car. She said she had just finished interviewing Bobby, another Covenant Woods veteran, for the same project. She asked if Al had said anything about his interview. He wasn’t at all happy with his performance, I told her.
   “Tell him I edited his interview yesterday, and it’s great stuff. He said a lot of good things.”
   Then I headed for the great indoors, savoring one of the most pleasant hours I’ve had at Covenant Woods.
   When I relayed Anita’s message to Al, he said, “When people see that they’re going to say, ‘That man is crazy as hell.’”
   In the spirit of St. Paddy’s Day, which it happened to be, Mae came into the dining room carrying a green beanie with a shamrock with the inscription “Kiss me. I’m Irish” dangling from it. She walked directly to our table, put the beanie on Al’s head and did as the shamrock instructed. The lipstick on his forehead told a tale on Al. Numerous folks pointed that out to him, but it didn’t register. Tuesday evening, when the conversation turned to Mae’s kiss, Al said, “I got up this morning, looked in the mirror and there were Mae’s lips. Why didn’t someone tell me?”
   Richie is acting strangely; strange even by his already strange standards. One afternoon three weeks ago, he walked into my apartment without so much as a knock. I was lying down at the time and told him to leave. He said “they” asked him to check on me. When I asked who “they” were, he said the front office, but offered no names. Around that time he also walked into Al’s apartment, Coach’s apartment and one or two others without bothering to knock.
   Then he went somewhere for a week. When he got back, he stayed drunker than usual. He came through the dining room one night and thanked me for not getting him in trouble. Whether or not that had anything to do with him sashaying into my room, I don’t know. A day or two later, when we passed in the hall, he gushed about how good I looked.
   At one-fifteen Tuesday morning I was awakened by the sound of William and Richie yelling at each other. At eleven Tuesday night, there was more of the same. Besides being loud, their tete-ta-tetes are remarkable for their length. They go on and on and on, and yet it seems that between them they have a vocabulary of three words: one is a synonym for feces, one is a synonym for anus, and, of course, there is the ever-popular synonym for intercourse – three words to build a discussion on. And it got worse. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, I was awakened by Johnny Mathis singing “Chances Are.” I was poised to call the desk with a complaint for the third time in twenty-four hours, but the volume went way down as soon as Johnny was through. Chances are “Chances Are” has some of Richie’s memories attached to it.
   I saw Randy this morning; he was on his way home after keeping the place secure through the night. He was full of complaints about having to work midnights.
   “I thought I was through with this shit two weeks ago,” he said. “They hired a new guy – a CALL-ledge GRAJ-you-ate, no less. He had two nights of orientation with Warren. Then he worked one night by himself and quit.
   “By the way, how’s your neighbor doing? The night you called I went down there to talk to him. I could hear his TV all the way down the hall. He was so drunk he spit every time he said a word. I told him I didn’t need a shower.”
   “He’s been pretty quiet,” I said. “I was worried last night. I heard him tell somebody he was looking forward to the UConn-Villanova game, and it didn’t start until nine-thirty. Either he watched it somewhere else, or he passed out and slept through it.”
   “He probably passed out.”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

After Further Review

   Had I bothered to check the calendar, I might not have been so rash. It was, after all, the Ides of March. On that pleasant afternoon, there wasn’t much shaking at the old-folks’ home and I found myself surfing the web, eventually landing on the Star Beacon website. Taking a leisurely scroll through the national news on my way to the sports news, I came upon the headline “Scientists home in on the real ‘fat gene’”
   “Hone!” I seethed. “You idiot, the word is hone. You ‘hone in’ on something. You don’t ‘home in.’”
   Back when I was a productive member of the human race I would have been satisfied with simply finding the error. Now, I have nothing but time on my hands. Time to trudge through the websites of countless language mavens in order to amass a mountain of evidence that “home in” isn’t merely wrong, it is most sincerely wrong.
   (Author’s note: I was not leveling my accusations at the good folks in the Star Beacon newsroom. The story in question is from the Los Angeles Times. I was certain the error was imported from the West Coast.)
   Perched at my laptop, I honed in on “honed in.” The search was but a nanosecond or two old when it became clear that I should have been homing in. At I came upon this: “. . . use of it [hone in] especially in writing is likely to be called a mistake. Home in or in figurative use zero in does nicely.”
   The situation worsened at, where Richard Nordquist writes, “home in, not hone in, is the correct phrase.” According to Nordquist, the phrase was first used in the 19th century to refer to what homing pigeons do. Later, it also came to refer to what aircraft and missiles do.
   In an excerpt from Merriam-Webster Dictionary of American Usage, 1994, Mary McCrory and William Safire get kudos for their 1980 chastisements of George H.W. Bush, who, during the presidential campaign, talked about “honing in on the issues.” “Safire observed that hone in on is a confused variant of home in on and there seems to be little doubt that he was right,” at least according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, 1994.
   I stand corrected. No I don’t; I can’t stand to be wrong. I’ll sit corrected.
   In breaking news on the linguistic front, German is sounding more and more like American English these days. According to a story by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson on the NPR website, the Germans have borrowed more than 10,000 American words since 1990. One of the more widely used borrowed words is “sorry,” which the Germans pronounce “sogh-ee.”
   Why is it so popular? Well, Anatol Stefanowitsch, an English linguistics professor at the Free University of Berlin, told Nelson: “I mean, ‘sorry’ is quite a useful way of apologizing because it doesn't commit you to very much. It's very easy to say ‘sorry.’”
   Early on in this piece I suggested the editor who used “home in” in the headline was an idiot. Before I close, I want to say to him or her, “I’m sorry.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Notes from the Home - March 9, 2014

   Saturday evening, listening to A Prairie Home Companion, I waxed Keilloresque:

   It’s been a quiet week in Covenant Woods, my retirement community, here on banks of the Chattahoochee. Spring dropped by today. The rain, which has been with us most of the week, finally stopped. The sky cleared, the sun shone brightly, and the temperature rose. By afternoon a man going out for a walk could leave his jacket in the closet. The pansies, which had been beaten down by days of endless rain and cold, where suddenly perky again. The trees are sporting branches thick with buds, and the fruit trees seem anxious to burst beautifully into blossom. In the hallway, Vera and Millie stopped to look out the window and admire the daffodils and azaleas. Whenever two people passed on the sidewalk, one of them was sure to ask, “Enjoying this beautiful weather?” And the other would answer, “I’ve been waiting all winter for a day like this.”

   And that’s the news from Covenant Woods, where all the women are old, all the men are senile, and all their grandchildren are above average.

   Earlier in the week, when the weather was not so nice, I began to wonder what people here think of me; I mean really think of me. Monday morning it rained; all morning, it rained. It drizzled for a while, it misted for a while, it showered for a while and it poured for a while. There was never a moment without precipitation.

   Early in the afternoon, I went up front to get my rent statement. Sarah was working at the desk, and as she thumbed through the statements to find mine she asked if I had been outside riding around earlier. I told her no. She shot me a skeptical glance, like the one Mom used when she suspected, but couldn’t prove, that I was being untruthful. A look that had liar, liar, pants on fire written all over it.

   “Are you sure?” Sarah asked.

   “Yes,” I said and retired to my apartment to write a check.

   I was back in the lobby a few minutes later, on my way to the business office drop box to rid myself of the funds that had been cluttering my checking account. Before I could get there, Johnny, the maintenance supervisor, appeared.

   “Did you go out this morning?” he asked.

   “No, too wet.”

   “You sure?” he asked, putting on the face he had borrowed from Sarah. “You be careful. We don’t want you getting sick.”

   It was then I realized, nobody at Covenant Woods thinks this Yankee has enough sense to come in out of the rain.


   Two weeks ago, Penelope asked Al if he would mind being interviewed by a man with a video recorder. Al said he’d be glad to talk to the gentleman. Then he began to fret profusely. I don’t know how well Penelope explained the purpose of the interview and how it was to be conducted. And I don’t know how much of Penelope’s explanation Al didn’t hear, didn’t understand or simply ignored. In any event, Al would have been a rich man had someone given him a nickel every time he said, “I wish I knew what they are after.”

   On Monday Penelope told Al the interview would take place in his room at two o’clock Wednesday afternoon. More than once, heck, more than a half dozen times, Al interrupted the flow of Tuesday’s dinner conversation to announce, “Tom, I need you to be there with me while I’m being interviewed.” He called me later that evening and again at noon on Wednesday to remind me to be there at two.

   When I reported, as ordered, to Al’s room, Anita, the interviewer, was already there. A 2013 graduate of Columbus State University and now working for the National Civil War Naval Museum here in Columbus, she was busy setting up the camera and lighting. Al was only one of the items on her interviewing agenda. That same afternoon she was scheduled to talk to Jim, another Covenant Woods’ resident, who is retired from the Air Force, and she will interview several more veterans from the Columbus area in the next week or two.

   Anita explained that the gentleman Penelope told Al about is Tim Maggart, a local singer and songwriter. He is producing a show called A Link in the Chain of Freedom, which will be presented at the Springer Opera House over the Memorial Day weekend. Mr. Maggart will perform live, and between songs snippets of the various taped interviews will be shown.

   Al had trouble with the interview. He couldn’t collect his thoughts, and when he collected them he had a difficult time expressing them. Anita tried to help him focus but soon gave up and let him ramble. He was having trouble breathing and occasionally blamed me for the whole thing. “Damn it, Tom, you’re the one who found that stuff about me on the Internet,” he said. “That’s what got me started.”

   Anita looked at her watch, said she had to go see Jim and turned off the camera and light. While she gathered her equipment, Al continued to talk, suddenly coherent and making sense. Al has told me about the times he had to deliver talks in an auditorium full of senior officers. On those occasions, his voice had to fill the hall, his diction had to be perfect and he had to cover the subject completely. He always makes them sound as if they were just like any other day in Army, but I wonder if some of that long forgotten pressure for perfection returned for Wednesday’s interview.


The Resident Journal

This is the current issue of The Resident Journal, minus the pictures. Chuck Baston, a Covenant Woods' resident, came up with the idea...