Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Beauty and the Beast

    One of the poems written by John Keats opens with the observation that, "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever". Another poem's opening line, this by Lord Byron, is, "She walks in beauty, like the night..." The unanswered question which remains even after eons of thought and study and discussion by artists, musicians and philosophers, "What is beauty?".

    Among the various definitions offered are, "The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality" and "One that is beautiful, especially a beautiful woman."

    Some behavioral scientists believe that awareness of beauty and beautiful things is hard wired in the human brain from birth and that it has more to do with harmonious agreement among the various qualities which describe the object or sound or person and less to do with what is fashionable for the moment.

    So from an early age the appreciation of what is beautiful and what is not becomes a life-long learning process. That implies that the longer a person lives, the more sensitive and aware that person becomes to beautiful things. Unfortunately it seems to apply only to inanimate things.

    Enter the beast, an older man who still finds beauty in a younger woman. Such older man is allowed to find beauty in art and music but after a certain age appreciating the beauty of any woman more than a few years younger than himself renders him the dubious status of "dirty old man".

    Some definitions of "dirty old man" describe a "middle-aged man roughly between the ages of 45 and 65 with lecherous inclinations". "Lecherous" is defined as "excessive indulgence in sexual activity".

    How then, I wonder, can a sensitive, thoughtful man who has had the good fortune of surviving into middle age and who still marvels at the nubile beauty of a young woman with absolutely no sexual activity, excessive or otherwise, be labeled a "dirty old man". At what age must he limit himself to appreciating the beauty of music, the arts and poetry but not to the living beauty of an attractive younger woman?

    Were this man wealthy or powerful (Can they be separated? Wealth can engender power; power can generate wealth) he would be applauded by his contemporaries for capturing a beautiful young thing half his age or less (You sly old devil you — wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

    Cases in point, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who wed billionaire Aristotle Onassis and all the very young women who flocked to Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion in Chicago. It appears that if a man has prizes to offer, the age difference is of no concern and a younger woman will happily share her femininity and her femaleness.

    But, if a man has the good fortune of surviving to middle age or beyond and has only himself and neither land nor wealth to share, a younger woman may be happy to talk about the weather or the sports page but little else.

    Beautiful day today. Hey, what do you think about them Phillies this season?

I guess I'm ready.
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Sunday, March 23, 2014

To Stop or Not to Stop, That is the Question

    The laws governing when to stop for a school bus vary from state to state but all states require vehicles to stop when the top red lights on the bus are flashing. The very few exceptions are generally common sense exceptions such as traffic moving in the opposite direction on a divided highway with a substantial physical barrier such as a concrete divider or a guide rail.*

    The rules for the school bus driver are very explicit about when the flashing red lights are to be activated and when they are not to be used. Also explicit is the timing and the distance at which to activate the advance warning yellow flashing lights before activating the red lights.

    I came upon a situation recently where a school bus was stopped and no warning lights were flashing except the ordinary four-way flashers used to indicate a break down or a stopped vehicle on a roadway. Traffic in both directions was stopped and beginning to cause a long back up. I was aware that this was not a required stopping situation so I turned on my four-ways and walked toward the bus to see if the driver was having a mechanical problem and met him as he walked toward the rear passenger side of his bus.

    He began deploying a ramp to allow his wheel-chair bound passenger to get off the bus. I asked him to confirm that driving past his bus was legal and he confirmed that it was completely legal for cars to pass when discharging a wheel chair passenger from the passenger side on the curb side of the street.

    I returned to my car and with a hand signal indicated to the other drivers patiently waiting that it was okay to proceed. Seeing such confusion among so many drivers led me to search the law to see if I could find the specific language to share it with those who find themselves uncertain about when it's legal to pass a stopped bus.

    I found it in the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes:

     Title 75

         Chapter 33. Rules of the Road in General

              Subchapter D. Special Stops Required

                  Section 3345, Meeting or overtaking school bus.
                       subsection, (f.1) Use of school buses for transportation of disabled persons.

— Whenever a school bus is being used upon a highway or trafficway for the transportation of disabled persons exclusively and the school bus is equipped with red signal lights, the driver of the school bus may actuate the signal lights in the same manner as set forth in this section regarding the transportation of school children. The driver of a vehicle approaching the school bus shall have the same duties regarding stopping, passing and overtaking as he does with respect to a school bus carrying school children.

    I emphasized the words "may actuate" to show it is one of the few non-mandatory circumstances where it is at the school bus driver's discretion to determine whether safety considerations might demand the use of the signal lights.

    The key clues for an upcoming stop are the top yellow lights flashing which must begin no more than 300 feet from a stop and no less than 150 feet from that stop. When the yellow flashing lights come on, be prepared for a stop about to happen. If none of the top lights are flashing, you may pass the bus in either direction, but once the red lights begin flashing there should never be any confusion about stopping. STOP. And when you stop, make sure you are no closer than 10 feet from the bus. After the last exiting student has reached a point of safety, the driver will turn the lights off and retract the semaphore arm and you can then proceed.

    If in doubt, STOP. We're talking about our school children's safety. They are our future even if they haven't learned yet how to buckle their belts at their waistline.

*   *   *
*Guide rail has replaced the former term guard rail for unknown reasons but it has been suggested that 'guard rail' implies greater protection from potential injury than that structure can provide. Some barriers may, by the very nature of their construction, cause injury rather than prevent it. To lessen the potential liability of a municipality, the words have been 'softened' to better shield the municipality from expensive litigation.
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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Melting Pots, Salad Bowls and Official Language

    Even before the 1908 premiere of Israel Zangwill's play, The Melting Pot, our country has been described as one because of  the mixture of different nationalities, cultures and races. But 'melting pot' is not really an apt metaphor to describe the melange of people who populate this country.

    For instance, the heterogeneous ingredients including iron, carbon, nickel, chromium, titanium and others will, in a melting pot, fuse to become stainless steel - a homogeneous result. There is nothing homogeneous about the population of America.

    Amy Chua, a scholar from Yale University has suggested that the term, Salad Bowl, would be a much more accurate description since none of the ingredients in a salad lose their individual identity in a kind of peaceful coexistence.

    An 'Official' language is an excellent idea because a common language spoken fluently by every person is as the salad dressing binding this admixture of peoples. The question remains, "Which language should be the Official language?"

    There are some groups presenting bills before government assemblies to declare Spanish the official language. Why? Spanish as spoken by Puerto Ricans is not the same as Spanish spoken by Mexicans nor is it the same as that spoken by natives of Spain. Similarly, the French spoken by natives of Quebec is not the same as the French spoken by the natives of France. And some languages require gestures or altered inflections to achieve understanding.

    English on the other hand is such an accumulation of words with roots from a whole spectrum of other world cultures and languages that whatever message is to be conveyed can be done with such exacting precision that any nuances intended will be delivered by the right choice of words. English is infinitely flexible and though misunderstanding can occur, a more appropriate choice of 'right' words can eliminate any misunderstanding.

    Those who come to this country and encounter English as a second language should be welcome to retain their native language as part of their cultural identity. The diversity adds flavor to our salad bowl. Considering that English was the language spoken by the majority of those already populating the salad bowl, additional ingredients should not be allowed to overwhelm the basic character of the salad.

    Not to adopt English because of any "I was here first so I make the rules" attitude. If that were the case, our primary language might be Nordic after Leif Ericson's (son of Eric the Red) landing in far north America 500 hundred or so years before the Mayflower pilgrims arrived or perhaps the Wampanoag language which greeted the pilgrims. The sheer weight of years of the accepted use of English commends its use.

    It's the long arm of a lever which exerts its force on the short end not the other way around.
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Sunday, March 16, 2014

"O Say Can You See...", Or Not

    A recent Facebook posting, "Should the National Anthem be sung before sporting events?" raises the question, Why? Of National Anthems I've heard, many if not most speak of strength and valor in the successful defense of home and country. Is a sporting event the outcome of which will have no significant impact on a country or its people worthy of such commemoration? Consider the anthems of other countries:

France: La Marseillaise [Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin] (War Song for the Army of the Rhine)

    "Arise, children of the Fatherland
     The day of glory has arrived!
     Against us, tyranny
     Raises its bloody banner...

    "To arms, citizens
     Form your battalions
     Let's march, let's march!
     Let an impure blood   
     Water our furrows!"

    In the film, "Casablanca", the singing of this anthem brought some to tears of patriotic fervor.

                                             http://youtu.be/KTsg9i6lvqU

Italy: Il Canto degli Italiani (Song of the Italians)

    "Fratelli d'Italia,
    l'Italia s'è desta...

    ...siam pronti alla morte.
    Siam pronti alla morte,..."

   (Brothers of Italy,
    Italy has woken...

    ...We are ready to die.
    We are ready to die...")

    In an Andre Rieu concert in Cortona, Italy, his performance of this anthem aroused a fervent patriotic spirit in the audience.

                                         http://youtu.be/bUjIepKt9DY

    Now to our National Anthem: I was brought to tears by Roseanne Barr's outrageous rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a baseball game between the Padres and the Reds on July 25, 1990. It was patently offensive.

    (Barr claimed that some baseball officials encouraged her to "bring humor to the song").

    It's not a "song". It's an anthem. Our National Anthem!

    Other famous and not-so-famous celebrities have presented their own disrespectful musical variations on our National Anthem and it besmirches the values for which our Star Spangled Banner stands.

    I was also brought to tears on the parade ground at morning Assembly during the bugle playing To The Colors as the flag was raised smartly to full staff followed by the Navy band's instrumental version of our Anthem.

    The living are giving and the dead have given to protect our flag and what it stands for. If sports officials and fans insist on presenting our National Anthem prior to a usually bloodless competition, then ensure it is done with the dignity and respect it deserves. No less than a military band or orchestra can accomplish that. Let the raucous and profane remain as part of the half time show if you must.
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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

    On Christmas eve I drove to Harrisburg to attend a karaoke event, the only one relatively close that I knew about. I had planned on singing several Christmas songs from my repertoire but as the evening progressed, the mood of the room though festive was less Christmassy. It was more like a gathering of comfortable friends and acquaintances than a Christmas eve gathering. Although I was a total stranger, I was made to feel welcome by the other visitors and the wait staff.

    A present offered by the management was their purchase of a drink for anyone in the military or who had served in the military. It was totally unexpected and not at all required but it was a warming gesture by the management and spoke well for the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center.

    The entrance to the Center was on a side street off of Third street and at first was not readily apparent so a couple trips meandering around the side streets gave me a reminding glimpse of the neighborhood I once lived in while working for the Department of Labor and Industry. The streets were deserted though on a cold winter's eve that was not to be unexpected. Plus, people with families were probably snuggled in their warm homes enjoying together time on a special evening at home.

    I was able to park nearly in front of one of my former addresses on Third street. I shuddered as I remembered that experience. I saw the apartment during the day time before moving in and it seemed cozy, reasonably priced and conveniently close to my job. It didn't take long for me to realize what a horrible mistake I had made. When the roaches climbed up on my easy chair and started reading the newspaper over my shoulder I knew it was time to leave. I joked with co-workers at that time that the bugs were rearranging my furniture without my permission while I slept and that did it!

    I had never before experienced a roach infestation and, initially, my naiveté allowed me to believe I could get them under control. During my several weeks at that address. I accumulated 20 adhesive roach traps filled on all sides with the unwelcome guests. I stacked them on the kitchen counter as a heads-up for the next unwary apartment shopper. I moved out completely one night in several hours. Fortunately I found a nicer, bug-free apartment in Steelton and, though farther away, it was much more suitable. Also, fortunately, I completed the move without any 'hitchhikers". I was relieved.

    Before finding a parking spot my drive around the neighborhood put me in sight of the high rise which was my first residence in the city directly across the street from the Labor and Industry building. I remember looking out of that 11th floor window over the Harrisburg rail yard and even though I've enjoyed railroad locales all my life, I had a dark sense of unexplainable foreboding. The culmination of that ominous feeling was a series of events (beyond the scope of this narrative) which changed my life forever. Oh how I wish I had learned to listen to my inner voice sooner rather than later.

    Even though I had a very pleasant time last evening, I was struck with how quickly the feelings of emptiness and sterility return every time I visit Harrisburg.  It's the same now as it was then. When the thousands of state employees have left for their homes in the suburbs or the country, only a sinister skeleton remains behind. It gives me the chills regardless of the season.
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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mimi, A Tragedy

    Mary was her name. How she came to be Mimi to all who knew her I never learned. In our early school years, we were class mates. Too young for anything as complicated as an infatuation we were simply class mates who grew to like each other. One day she to asked me to visit her home to play a game of Monopoly.

    Her father was one of the dentists in our small town. Their home was on the top of a hill just outside the town. Looking north from her front, tree-filled lawn the town filled the panorama with all its landmark structures, the tall smokestack outside the Anchor Packing department of the asbestos plant, the elevated water tank on struts nearly as tall as the smokestack, the church on the town square with its steeple clock easily visible but too distant for the time to be read.
   
    The railroad tracks running east and west through town near the factories were visible in the foreground and depending on the time of day, a steam locomotive could be seen shifting railroad cars to and from the industries, empty cars out, loaded cars in. Once the crew had finished their work in town, they assembled the cars into a train and moved east toward the next town to complete the shifting operation in that town repeating in every small town along the way on their return to Reading. Further in the distance was the manned fire tower in a clearing along the Horseshoe trail meandering over the hills far north of the town.

    In one of her trees lived a squirrel who would make an occasional appearance dashing across the yard, warily in the presence of non-squirrels, seeking whatever squirrels seek on a warm summer afternoon. Mimi told me the squirrel's name was Nicky. She explained that there was a nick in one of his ears. She surmised that Nicky had survived a hunter's assault but suffered the nick from narrowly escaping the full load of shotgun pellets. Flitting about as he did, it was not possible to get a closer look at the nick so her plausible assumption became the accepted explanation.

    The bicycle ride to her home was easy until the last quarter mile which required me to push my bike up the steep hill. Reaching the top of the hill I was rewarded with the restorative coolness of the shady grove and a gentle breeze and usually some lemonade prepared by her mother. On my first visit I was struck by the sight of a wall bookshelf filled from floor to ceiling with books of enough variety that the study might have been used effectively as a mini-library. She ushered me to a table in the adjacent sunroom where we would begin our game.

    She sat with her back toward the windows which allowed the sunlight to filter through first the trees and then through the curly strands of her neck length curly blonde hair. She had a fetching smile as of one who was comfortably confident going in to this game of the afternoon.

    Her confidence was not misplaced. Though I had played monopoly many times with my buddies and had come out on top once in a while I never, ever won a game with Mimi. In fact, I was so bad that she set up a Curtis fund for me. Every time I passed 'Go' she'd throw a dollar into my fund for later use to keep me from going bankrupt.

    We repeated these game afternoons often and I looked forward to the visits. As time went by her father grew fond of me and offered to let me borrow books from his library to be returned on my next visit and traded for another. I believe I read every Hardy Boys book published to that time. The Hardy Boys and their detective father, Fenton, became almost real to me as if I had met them and become one of their companions helping them unravel whatever mystery they were helping their father with.

    During these visits I came to know that Mimi had two older brothers, James and Robert if I remember correctly. Both had graduated from Oberlin college and that is where she would eventually go after graduation from high school. Sadly, she told me that all three of them had inherited a recessive gene which would ultimately kill all three. In the 1940s, not much was known about treating leukemia.

    I knew nothing about leukemia. I knew that people die. To hear her calmly tell me that she would not live long enough to have a 'normal' life was a shock I wasn't prepared for. Ultimately her brothers died and she continued on as though she wasn't affected even though she knew she was. We passed through our pre-teen years and at some point, she transferred to another school that would, perhaps, offer her a better preparation for Oberlin. I lost contact with her but learned from people who knew her that she graduated from high school and went on to college. I also learned that she had married while in college. From that point on I know nothing.   

    Over the years I have thought often about my superior Monopoly opponent with her curly blonde sun-lit hair and remember how precocious she was. Reading Salingers short story "For Esmé - with Love and Squalor" set in a tea shop in Devon, England in WW2 reminded me of Mimi. Esmé, too, was precocious and near Mimi's age the last time I saw her.

    Theodore Roethke's "Elegy for Jane" provided me another reminder the first time I read it when he speaks of Jane's neck curls while he mourns her deadly fall from a horse summing up that [He has] "no rights in this matter, neither father nor lover".

    The smokestack is gone, the water tower is gone, the trains no longer go to Reading, both her parents are gone and Nicky's dead, too.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tales From The Friend Zone

    Advice from experienced writers to beginning writers: "Write what you know about". I know about the friend zone. At first, upon arriving here on several occasions I accepted that I wasn't being dismissed out of hand but held in some degree of reserve, perhaps. As time passed and seniority in The Zone grew, it became easier to see that it was in fact a kind of dismissal to a special purgatory. However, on closer examination I discovered I had misread the sign over the door. It wasn't purgatory at all. The sign over the door said Welcome to HELL.

    Alas, even in a state of grace, I wasn't given an opportunity to expiate my sins whatever they might have been. It became imperative for me to discover what wrongs I might have committed which put me in this despicable, forlorn place with no hope for expiation. The first one was easy. I had lived long enough to become too old for consideration as a viable alternative for any candidates out there. No expiation warranted or possible there. It was the natural flow of life.

    The next one was a bit more elusive since it seemed to contradict everything I thought I knew. Thanks to some postings on Facebook, I began seeing some of the misguided notions I was laboring under, such as "The Right Way to Kiss a Girl: Push her up against a wall, hold her arms above her head and kiss her like you mean it!"

    Well that kind of throws the old "sugar and spice and everything nice" out the window. Pushing her against the wall sounds mildly like assault. Hold her arms above her head sounds like borderline restraint. Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart could do that and it would have been romantic, I guess, but a woman who appreciates that kind of approach is definitely not going to consider a kiss meaningful if it's initiated with gentleness. Live and learn.

    As far as the age thing, that's probably the first, unchangeable item that gets me thrown into the friend zone dungeon. I'm not a violent person but the next time someone tells me that age is only a number or that you're only as old as you feel they'd better be prepared for a denunciation the likes of which they have never before experienced.

    Another volunteered gem coming my way from time to time is to look for someone my own age. Logical you think. Well the fact is for me I don't care about the numbers. I do care about appeal. If the appeal, the magic, that indefinable spark is there, the age doesn't matter. In reality though the only women I've met close to my age all seem much older than their numbers might say. I live, act and feel 20 years younger than I am which makes them too old for me. And the spark is not there.

    Still another gem is to "be happy". Duh. Flip a switch and choose 'happy' mode, eh? Or do what you like to do. Of course. What I'm happy doing is sharing and being half of a couple. Any other activity is a time-filling substitute, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes less so but it's kind of hard to be a couple when you're only one. It's like telling 6 eggs to go forth and be a dozen. Don't invite too many people to breakfast. I try to maintain a positive outlook but self-delusion is not in my repertoire.

    In a previous blog entry I spoke of seeing so-called Bad Boys making all the headway. I jokingly talked about taking a night course on how to become a 'Bad Boy'. Of course I was kidding. There's no bad boy in me. Some of the ones I've seen in operation are obnoxious jerks and it's easy for me to believe that the women who respond to that don't possess the depth of character that I hope to find in a significant other.

    So, what's the answer? The answer is, there is no answer. What to do? Keep on keeping on just like I've been doing. Tomorrow's another day. Maybe the sun will rise.
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