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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Pirandello, Where Are You Now When We Need You

   The world today is like a play from the Theatre of the Absurd. We are millions of actors in search of a Playwright. We have neither script nor playbill. The author is not available to explain or answer questions. All we have is a CliffsNotes collection of inferences.

    Borrowing from Kurt Vonnegut's, Books of Bokonon , "Beware of the man who works hard to learn the right way, learns it, and finds himself no further ahead than before. He is full of murderous resentment of people who ignore the right way and are at the head of the pack without even trying to do it right."
    There was a time when young men were told that being courteous, polite and respectful was the way to achieve harmonious interactions with young women and that 4-letter-word vulgarity and grossness particularly in the presence of women was totally verboten. Yet today it seems the vulgarity formerly to be avoided is now issuing forth from the mouths of those very same women. Is this equality gone too far? Are the gals trying to be one of the guys?

    I’m no prude and as a former sailor and a truck driver, I doubt there are any verbal constructions or collections of formerly vulgar words that I haven’t heard. I don’t cringe. I’m beginning to expect it. Yet what I find baffling is that not only are the encouraged behaviors absent, but the completely opposite behavior is being adopted and is achieving what the good behavior was supposed to. The observation that ‘Nice guys finish last’ seems increasingly truer every day.

    I recently overheard a young man recounting an experience he had with an attractive woman who he asked, point blank, "Do you like bad boys?" Whether he got anywhere with that opening was not revealed but to hear that the 'bad boy' description he labeled himself with was expected to gain him more ground than previously acceptable behavior was enlightening in a sort of negative way.

    I'm often told that "I'm too nice" and "I'm too old". Maybe I should paraphrase Charles Schulz' Peanuts character, Snoopy, and say, "Yesterday I was an old man. Today I'm an old man. Tomorrow I'll probably still be an old man. Sigh! There's so little hope for advancement."

    I can't do a damned thing about being older. Being nice? Maybe I should look for a night course on how to become a 'Bad Boy'. Even-79 year old Charles Manson has had a girlfriend for more than 5 years. She's 54 years younger than him. Although I seriously question her mental stability and definitely could not consider someone so young for a date, I have a hard time understanding why an older nice guy like me can't escape the friend zone. Manson's a monster. I'm not.
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tending Bar, Bartending and Tipping

   Anyone can tend bar by simply being there. Not everyone can be a bartender. Bartenders are professionals and should look like professionals. Attire is very important and can help to create a professional image — dark slacks or skirt and clean white dress shirt with or without a tie were at one time the standard uniform even in a local neighborhood bar. Today, holey jeans or short shorts or statement T-shirts or cleavage-revealing tops seem the uniform of choice. Looking professional adds an aura of respectability and emphasizes the authority of the position .

    Greeting customers immediately upon their arrival even if too busy to serve them immediately will usually trigger their "I can see the bartender is busy but he knows I'm here" patience response. On more than one occasion I have left after the bartender walked past me several times without so much as acknowledging my presence. The professional is constantly scanning the bar to keep an eye on new arrivals, possible empties and becoming available without being pushy. People drink at their own comfort pace and pushing them might turn their visit into a battle with the bartender rather than an enjoyable pastime.

    When I began tending bar, I wanted to learn all I could to be able to do a good job behind the bar. I found Trader Vic's Bar Guide to be an invaluable resource more for his mentoring and advice in the first half of the book than for the recipes he included in the rest of the book.

    Routinely ‘forgetting’ that a customer was in with a different companion the night before is a special kind of confidentiality that a bartender must be capable of. Nothing loses customers faster than a bartender who blabs like the town gossip. And that applies to conversations quietly private between a bartender and a customer. Remembering a customer’s preferred drinks but not assuming he’ll have the same thing every time is also a sign of a professional bartender.

    Before young scantily clad females took over the field of tending bar, it was possible to have a conversation on almost any subject. Now, the girls tending bar are so guarded about being made they don’t allow any conversation to go beyond a few words fearing that every guy who comes in is there to gawk at them and imagine possibilities that will never occur. Many do the job quite adequately. There are a few who excel and do the job as professionally as possible maintaining their privacy yet interacting comfortably without undue concern about whether they’re an object.

    I was a bartender for about 5 years before resuming my studies at Penn State. I worked at several up-scale lounges and served a spectrum of customers from all occupations and incomes. One of the men I worked for was a real prince. He paid his bartenders significantly more than the minimum wage at that time and paid all benefits including two weeks paid vacation beginning the first year. During my years there I felt I was there to sell his product and to do so with outstanding service. I made good tips. In time I could predict that my weekly tip income would be at least a certain amount and always more than my net paycheck. It never failed.

    Among the people I served were college students who tipped little or nothing and retirees who tipped what they thought they could afford. They enjoyed the products and services my employer provided them through me. I never whined about the low tippers although, chatting with the other servers, it was often the subject of conversation. I served my share of OB’s and PITA’s (Obnoxious Bastards and Pains in the Ass) but considered it part of that occupation’s landscape.

    Recently I’ve begun seeing Facebook posts shared from a site with the self-explanatory title, If You Can’t Afford to Tip, You Can’t Afford to Go Out to Eat. From the posts I’ve seen, it appears this site is for whiners in an industry they don’t seem to understand. They think that the establishment with its hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property and inventory and professional staff are there purely for the purpose of garnering tips for themselves - the bigger, the better - whether earned or not. Whatever happened to the idea that servers are there to make a profit for the owner?

       There are different explanations for the origin of the practice of tipping but, basically, tips are a gratuity for the quality of service given by the waitress, waiter or bartender based on a percentage of the total bill and the percentage ranging from 10 percent (or a penny) for service so unacceptable it was lousy to 15 percent for routinely acceptable service. When the service is above and beyond, 20 percent is reasonable. For truly outstanding service, 25 percent is the norm.

    More than 25 percent used to be considered vulgar or gauche. Yet today it seems servers are insulted if they’re not over-tipped. I understand that the workers in the service industry are notoriously underpaid, but I frequently hear talk of their picking up a hundred dollars or more during their shift. Why is it then they complain about the low income customer who can’t afford to be lavish?

    What about the fixed income retirees who still have a life ahead of them? Should they be relegated to a stay-at-home existence simply because they can’t over fill the tip jar? From what I’ve seen, servers incomes, with tips, give them an income far and above the tight-budget income of retirees.

    Or maybe Logan’s Run  for old folks? Shall they be sought out and sent to “Carousel“ for “Renewal“ by being vaporized once they can no longer afford to over-tip? Or perhaps they should stay home, drink tap water, sit in a rocking chair and look over their shoulder awaiting the arrival of the Grim Reaper?

    A few words to the wise:

                                             The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
                                              Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
                                              Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
                                              Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

                                                                                                              — Omar Khayyám

    You are getting older. Should you live long enough to become a lower-income retiree, will you be prepared to spend the rest of your life at home because you can’t afford to give lavish tips? We'll see.
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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Online Dating: A Failed Experiment

    Anyone who knows me or has read my blog will know that I am still single, an involuntary bachelor. Several weeks ago I thought I’d try online dating to find someone who might enjoy socializing to see if there would be a magical spark, a magnetism or chemistry hinting at a closer relationship. I researched some of the more popular sites only to discover that more than a few of them are outright scams.

    Some of them offered Free searches. (Nothing’s really free - I knew that.) Their so-called free searches provided pages of pictures of smiling women some of whose smiles actually appeared genuine, others whose smiles looked forced or even tortured possibly with someone standing off-camera yelling at them smile.

    Then the free ended. Clicking on a link to explore the profile of the pictured one a screen popped up stating that, “In order to view Jane Doe’s profile you must upgrade to Premium status” or some variation of that. Cha-ching! Time to smell the money grubbing, quit and run.

    Another site allowed a reading of a woman’s self-description and the possibility of texting her for a more immediate contact. Guess what. Cha-ching! To get her text number, it was necessary to purchase membership credits. I tried that once for a woman who said she was from Palmyra, PA, which is a reasonable distance from my home. When I received a text from her, she revealed she was in Alabama tending to a sick relative but that we could correspond. Nuts to that. I smelled a scam.

    I did an online chat with this rip-off company requesting a total cancellation of my privileges and learned that they don’t refund ANY money for the unused portion of a subscription. I called my credit card company reporting a services offered but not delivered dispute. They said they couldn’t do much because of the subscription nature of the transaction. They did, however, refund about half the cost as a courtesy for a long time good customer.

       I then went to a more reputable (I thought) dating company and discovered that if they have no matches within the specified age range, geographic radius or mutual interests, they’ll send pictures of those who share SOME of my stated interests and wishes. Unfortunately they seemed to totally ignore the little things like Race (I’m basically color blind but have historically been more comfortable with someone closer to my own racial/cultural heritage), Income (they sent me matches from women who expect their guy to have anywhere upwards of $50,000 annual income), and location (I’ve been matched with women from Arizona, Texas, Michigan, New York and Maryland). Maryland might not have been too far but she was looking for a man between 35 and 45 years of age. Don’t these dating sites read the profiles of their subscribers?

    One of the complaints about online dating services is the lack of honesty in profiles. I decided that if total honesty is not apparent in my profile, I’ll give up trying online dating ever again. The following honest profile is the one I posted a couple days ago. I shared it with a lady I’m acquainted with and she said, “Excellent. That is you. Don’t change a word”.

     I will celebrate my 71st birthday during Thanksgiving week but I'm told I look to be in my mid 50s. I live and feel to be in my mid 40s. When I chat with acquaintances about my discomfort at being without a significant other, they usually advise me to stop "hitting" on younger women. I don't "hit" on any women of any age. I try to discern if a woman I meet socially might find continued socializing a pleasant thing. 

     Too often, there's no 'spark', no 'chemistry' so it ends with me winding up in the inescapable 'Friend Zone'. That's better than nothing but it doesn't allow for any closeness or sharing. The trouble with women closer to my age is they seem to have given up on themselves, are often dowdy and very often grossly overweight — totally lacking any appeal to me. They seem to be blind to any baggage they are still carrying around from earlier life experiences, which makes me, I guess, a reverse cougar.
     I love language, laughter and logic; I'm happy to find any display of mind. I blog as "The Old Dinosaur" but I sing as "The Gentleman Troubador". I especially enjoy singing the songs made popular by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Nat King Cole and even Pink Floyd. I recently began covering the Mumfords and Four non-Blondes. Music keeps me excited. I have a trombone, a baritone, a keyboard and a pennywhistle most of which I practice occasionally but my real practice is with my singing.

     I enjoy watching a baseball game and once in a while a football game but I have absolutely no time for basketball, hockey, professional wrestling or Nascar. I spent too many years in a sex-free relationship (it was mutually agreeable) since our compatibilities, while they lasted, were in other things. I thought it was a growing, special friendship - almost Agape - until I realized one day that it had grown toxic. The investment of my time and energy was yielding fewer and fewer returns, hence, my current status as 'without significant other'. I can't afford to be 'lavish' but I'm not a gold digger, either. It's not in my nature.

     I've learned to enjoy simple things such as long drives in the country to enjoy the changes of scenery away from the city. I enjoy quaint country taverns which, sadly, seem to be disappearing rapidly in favor of the more glitzy, chain-type mass appeal operations. I particularly miss intelligent conversations over drinks or over coffee in an all-night diner and the silent glance when each of us knows what the other is thinking. Flea markets are fun. The shore off season is fun.

     I started smoking again a couple months ago after nearly 7 years smoke free. I took a walk down Nostalgia Lane reading French poetry, listening to French music and craving French cigarettes which I was disappointed to discover are not as available as they were in the book store in State College. So I fell back on the brands I smoked when I was a smoker. I've set the day after my birthday as a new 'quit' date.

     Dean Martin sang, "Somewhere There's a Someone for Everyone". I hope that's true. I'm not Mr. Perfect. I've never been Mr. Perfect, but, I'm a good man, an honest man who feels that without sharing, life is empty.

    I‘m asked occasionally if my standards are too high. No. They‘re not. I’m not specifying a hair color or a bra size or nice butt or shapely legs. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some men may demand a woman who is Hollywood glamorous. I’m only hoping to meet a woman who finds me as lovable as I find her appealing which presumes a pleasant personality. What she has between her ears is more important to me than her bra size. I’m not a boob man or a butt man or whatever. I’m not looking for sex but if the match is right, that can happen. I want to share time and thoughts and feelings and conversation. "Good things shared are doubled; bad things shared are halved". Here's to sharing.

    What’s the point of this entry? Venting, to some extent, but more than that to advise, if you’re in a relationship and having minor differences, try to work them out. You probably have more together than apart. If you have major differences and it’ll never work for the two of you, the longer you wait to end it, the older you’ll be. Take it from me, there’s nothing Golden about the Golden Years if you’re by yourself.
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On The Train To Toulon

    It was Bastille Day in 1964 when a young sailor boarded a liberty boat to go ashore for a day exploring the environs of Théoule-sur-Mer not far from Cannes. Since there were no piers long enough nor waters deep enough to tie up a warship, the frigate remained at anchorage off shore.

    The first images through his eyes arriving at the city pier were of young beauties sun-bathing in the warm July of south France. It was immediately apparent that French girls unashamedly revealed to the world that their breasts did indeed have nipples and that bikini tops were merely an option rarely used. "Ah yes", he thought, "The joys of foreign travel".

    With these young sun bathers never out of mind and frequently glanced at he found it difficult to think about food but with concession stands nearby this French language illiterate could browse the food stands and still enjoy viewing the 'beauties of the beach'.  Before long he discovered that French food merchants already knew that Steak and Eggs would be a favorite among any sailors of any language.

    Lunch comfortably taken, the exploration continued toward la gare to catch a train for a ride through the countryside of the Riviera. Toulon was less than 100 kilometers distant and for relatively few francs, Toulon was his destination for this day.

    Once on board he noticed that unlike American railroad cars, this passenger car had a series of compartments along the one side of the car and a passageway the length of the car on the other side. Since his passage was 'economy class' and unreserved, he made his way forward looking for a suitable seat. The next compartment he came upon had only one occupant. A young girl who appeared to be about his age. No further searching was necessary. This was his compartment.

    Navy white hat in hand he entered uncovered quietly and sat on the bench facing the opposite direction. She was at the window facing front. Not wishing to be too forward with this attractive young French woman he nodded and greeted her with a "Bon jour, comment allez vous" and assumed her response was the appropriate counter greeting but since he had already exhausted his entire French vocabulary with his greeting he relied on her facial expressions which seemed friendly.

    This young woman's delicate beauty compelled him to seek some way of communicating with her. The ride to Toulon would last only an hour or so. He searched his brain to find some common ground that would not need spoken words. Music, perhaps a tune hummed which might find a spark of recognition. He quickly dismissed that lacking any instrument or radio. What other common ground do all cultures share beyond music?

    He pondered this question for a while as the French countryside whizzed by accompanied periodically with the monotonal scream of the train's shrill whistle. They exchanged curious glances as the kilometers behind them grew and the ones ahead shrank. He was still young and a bit shy; she was circumspect and demure but it was clear to both of them that they were enjoying their chance meeting. Then it hit him. Math.

    Math? Of course. Even simple arithmetic might be the non-verbal ice breaker for the rest of their ride to Toulon. He composed a simple algebraic problem on a slip of paper and with a smile offered it to her. She looked at it for a moment and after retrieving a pen from her purse quickly solved the equation and, with a smile, handed it back to him both of them now relieved at having found common ground.

    For the remaining kilometers they engaged in a kind of Anglo-French game similar to the TV game show "Win, Lose or Draw" which would become popular many years later. They'd draw a sketch of some recognizable object and name it in their own language, hand it to the other who would upon recognizing the object add the name in their language; he in English, she in French. It was a kind of Rosetta stone approach to communicating.

    It ended ultimately with the exchange of addresses before arriving at her station east of Toulon. They were able to assure each other that someone at home was fluent in the language of the other and that letters sent would be translated.

    Several letters were sent and received, translated and answered in their turn. Until the one that was never answered. She had revealed that she was an avid skier and would whenever possible spend weekends at the resort village of Val d'Isere which, sadly, was prone to serious avalanches.

    He never knew whether she might have been there on the fateful day of a fatal avalanche. Au revoir, Mlle Richir. Dieu vous bénisse!
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Piano Saga Reviewed

    As the end of September draws near, I've begun counting the days until the removal of the damnable piano which, on top of the ever-present, ambient street noises one expects in a city, has been a source of vexatious intrusion of unwanted sounds from morning until night and, at times, into the wee hours of the morning.

    After numerous police calls which yielded no results, I learned the police are under strict instructions to NOT enforce the noise ordinance because the mayor finds the street corner pianos throughout the city to be elevating the city's culture quotient and that they bring much-needed money to the city.

    Failing that solution, I sought out the principals responsible for the placement of the piano and pleaded with them to remove the offending instrument. I received, after several back and forth, good faith communications an assurance that the piano would be removed by the end of September. A separate email from one of those principals [copy included, with my comments] dated August 8, said 50 days or less which places the removal date on or before September 26.

        Aug. 8, 2013

        I am sorry they were playing late last night when you returned home at 2:30. Man, you keep late hours! [True but not pertinent and not anybody else's business.]

        I have been really struggling with what to do with the piano. Finding the proper, balanced response has not been easy.

        I have discussed the issue with at least 30 people, including the MFE [Music For Everyone] board. And to be quite frank, not a single one of them advised me to move the piano. I know that is easy for them to say as they do not hear the piano at late hours. [Hear, hear.]

               But they also said that thousands of people enjoy that piano where it is. 
[Thousands? I'd like to see that list and know where they live and what time of the day or night they enjoyed this piano and how much money they brought to the city solely because of the pianos, specifically the piano at the Prince street parking garage which has troubled me all summer long.]

        Here are the reasons they provided:

        We have placed a note on the piano, urging people not to play after 10:00.
        [The noise ordinance states 9:00 PM as the time limit.]

        While that certainly has not eliminated all of the “knuckleheads” who can’t or refuse to be courteous, it surely has cut it down a good deal.
        [For a little while until one of the aforementioned knuckleheads ripped it off and discarded it.]

        Also, this exhibit will not be there forever. It will be removed in less than 50 days. [August 8 plus 50 days is September 26. That's tomorrow.]

        Most significant, every person I asked, felt that this is a case of balancing the interests of the vast majority versus one individual. In some cases, when it comes to such “community events", sometimes the individual has to cede his or her individual comfort for the good of the whole community.

        [I did not cede my individual comfort. It was unceremoniously robbed from me, however, I did cede my individual comfort for the good of the nation by serving four years honorably in the United  States Navy but that doesn't count. I'm only one person against the vast majority. Vast majority? Much more than 50%? I doubt it.]

        Also, many felt that such “disturbances” are simply a part of living on the city. And that most citizens,at some point, have to endure certain “discomforts” of  city living, as that is simply a part of the deal.

[You are referring to the sounds of your pianos as "disturbances"? Disturbances are the reason cities have noise ordinances. Disturbances are NOT simply a part of living in the city.  Horns honking, tires screeching, stereos blasting, loud one-sided cell phone conversations and loud face-to-face conversations between pedestrians as they walk past are street noises which though objectionable are ambient. But are they NOT "discomforts" I've endured on a daily basis? They go away. Street corner pianos are anything but ambient. I have lived in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Boston, Minneapolis and San Francisco. I resent being talked down to as though I am some country bumpkin just in from the farm. To date, Lancaster with its perpetual construction projects with jack-hammers and concrete saws and gas-powered generators to light warning signs and pianos is, by far, the noisiest city I have ever lived in. Have any of the members of the board ever endured "certain discomforts" for the good of the whole community? Have any of the members of the board ever suffered ANY discomforts? Their specious reasoning sounds well-grounded in the elitism which is pandemic among the moneyed class.]

        While I want to do what we can to meet your need, we’re going to have to ask you to be patient and understanding. We’ll move the piano at the end of September, as scheduled.

        Again, I am terribly sorry. I assure you that your complaint was not taken lightly. [Words are cheap.]

        I truly struggled with what to do, but believe that, on balance, this is the correct course of action. [Which has been no action at all. Maintain the status quo. Dismiss the old vet as an irrelevant piece of chaff. After all, he's only one person, one voice crying out in the wilderness.]


Signed by one of the MFE (Music For Everyone) principals

It's been said many times over the years that "It's an ill wind that blows no good". In this case the good is that I have learned more about pianos and their usual three pedals. The left pedal played with the left foot is called the Una Corda (One cord or piano string instead of all three) and has acquired the label "Soft" pedal.

The middle pedal, if installed, played with the right foot is called the Sostenuto and is referred to as the "tone sustaining" pedal.

The right pedal also played with the right foot is the Damper pedal. When it is depressed, it lifts the dampers on all the strings and has thusly become known as the "Loud" pedal.

The players of this piano seemed always to find only the "Loud" pedal.
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Sunday, September 22, 2013


    The fleet frigate now robbed of mobility and with a gaping hole in its outer skin perched high and dry in the only still-used dry-dock in a disused shipyard in South Boston. The metallic banging of a door on a discarded locker was played by a hot off-shore wind as un-orchestrated percussion in an otherwise quiet symphony of tide testing the dock’s gate and the distant rumble of an MTA subway headed for Dorchester and the fringe suburbs of the capital city.

    A short walk brought the young sailor to the street for an uptown visit to the Boston Common and adjacent Public Garden. Dogs patiently walked their captives and the swan boats meandered lazily around the Duck pond on a clear summer day.

    This virgin sailor had yet to taste the wonder and terror of the sea and the bitter taste of unrequited love. New to life away from small town roots, this new world of strange city and enticing girls was a mélange of curiosity, awe and trepidation.

    Not yet of an age to enjoy adult beverages but wishing a break from exploring this new world, a coffee shop was the choice so back to Tremont street to search for refreshment. The Copper Kettle was less than a block from the notorious Washington street area known as the 'Battle Zone' where of-age sailors plied themselves with alcohols of one form or another as they mingled with B-girls, hookers and other 'strip' personae.

    Ordering a chocolate shake (shades of Radar O'Reilly's grape Ne-Hi) the young Navy man was disappointed to find that in this new world, a chocolate shake was nothing more than syrup stirred into a glass of milk. His waitress, Margie, was about to begin a small epiphany for this far-from-home sailor in a strange place.

    Margie, quite likely Irish, was a delight for this newbie to the real world. She patiently schooled the young tar that a milk shake was called a 'frappe' and coffee with cream and sugar was a coffee regular (pronounced reg-uh-lah) and she seemed as taken with this handsome young man as he with her.

    Though probably the same age, this young lass mesmerized him with her worldly-wise manner and confidence. That she was also pert, perky and pretty added to the fetching aura. Waiting for her shift to end he was delighted when she allowed him to escort her home to Cambridge, a too-short ride away on the Lechmere car.
    They chatted comfortably while walking the short distance from the car stop to her home. He learned her last name. Their lingering shared glances led to the inevitable embrace and good night kiss. The sweet kiss was soon over but not before being punctuated with a most unexpected and never-before-experienced love nip on his lip. It was the end of an exciting and unforgettable day of hope building within.

    Before she went inside, she revealed that she would be leaving Boston to live with her father in Michigan. Sadly clinging to hope and clutching the note paper with her Detroit address, this dejected sailor navigated his way back to the shipyard.

    His letters to her were never answered.    
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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Trains, Trucks, Cars and Bikes

    In vehicles, the protocol for staying out of each others way is generally dictated by the laws of Physics: The smaller, lighter, more vulnerable vehicles avoid conflicts with the larger and heavier. In most cases, the smaller, lighter vehicles are more maneuverable and easier to stop.

    Trains have the right of way, as a matter of law, because they are larger and have more moving inertia and take much longer to stop. Trucks, cars, bikes and people stay out of their way to avoid sudden death or maiming or to avoid a fine which could decimate a bank account.

    Trucks are larger, heavier and take longer to stop than a car. Cars, bikes and people stay out of their way to avoid sudden death, maiming or loss of driving privileges.

    Cars are faster than people and take longer to stop than a pedestrian. People stay out of a cars way.

    Bikes on the other hand have become contrary to the protocol. Cars now have to avoid bikes. Wait a minute. What's wrong here? Trains have Rules for the Conduct of Transportation which they must abide by to avoid derailment or colliding with another train. Trucks have the Regulations by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration which they must adhere to or risk a heavy fine or being placed out of service.

    Cars have licensing and registration and insurance requirements which must be scrupulously obeyed or risk loss of license and registration. Bikes also have regulations which include licensing, lights fore and aft and instructions to follow the rules of the road.

    Why then do I see most bikes without lights and their operators blatantly ignoring the rules — riding northbound in the southbound lane, riding southbound in the northbound lane, crisscrossing all lanes or intersections and ignoring stop signs or red lights meandering freely wherever they wish to go and it is my responsibility to avoid them?

    With the potholes, the surface depressions from poorly filled post-excavation trenches and the higher-than-surface utility access covers from incomplete repaving, when you add avoiding bicyclists this city could have the slogan, "Welcome to Lancaster. It's our pleasure to swerve you".
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Saturday, August 31, 2013

The 500 Hats of an Old Dinosaur

    The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins is a children's book, written by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel). A reference I found in Wikipedia said that he collected hats and got the idea for this children's story while seated behind another passenger on a commuter train out of New York. That other passenger, a businessman, "was so stiff and formal that Geisel wondered what would happen if Geisel took his hat and threw it out the window. Geisel concluded that the man was so 'stuffy' he would just grow a new one."

    This story tells of Bartholomew Cubbins who abiding by the law of his land removed his hat only to discover another had mysteriously appeared. Each time he removed a hat, another magically appeared. He was in such violation of the "remove your hat" law that his life was in danger by punishment from the king. After each removal and subsequent appearance of a new hat it became evident that each hat was more ornate than the previous one. The 500th hat was so exquisite that the king gave him 500 gold coins for the 500th hat and granted him a reprieve.

    I only have seven hats so I'm not in any danger of being threatened with death or acquiring 500 gold coins. I was, however, aggressively approached by a man at a karaoke event who genuinely coveted the hat I was wearing. He offered to buy it he wanted it so desperately. My refusal of his offer was with enough aggressiveness to counteract his. I suspect he was nearing the end of a long session with John Barleycorn.

    I was amazed to find how many young women found my fedora such an attraction. Their covetousness was much gentler, though. One even asked if I would bequeath it to her. On several occasions I happily allowed them to wear my hat for a while. How attractive a fedora can be on a woman.

    My reentry to the world of hats after years of truck driver's baseball caps came about when I started singing some of Frank Sinatra's songs at karaoke. I was told by some they thought I sounded like Frank and taking their word for it, I considered a hat similar to ones that Frank wore would be a fitting prop or trademark. (I wore a hat during my teen years until John Fitzgerald Kennedy showed the world that it's okay for a gentleman to be hatless and only recently began wearing one again.)

    The day I bought my first new hat I walked in to the club and answered the curious eyes with the comment that for my second mid-life crisis I considered a new fedora to be much less expensive than a Lamborghini convertible. I've bought a few more since and have been given one by a gent who never leaves the house any more but I have no intention of amassing a hat collection. Even though I enjoy the new look and the reception I get that Lamborghini would be nice.
Or maybe a 'Vette.

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Romance In Two Centuries

    Looking back at my romances over the years, they can be assigned to categories. For the past couple decades the column heading "Significant Other" would have only one entry, None. In my early years in an 'Old South' Navy port and college town, I wrote sonnets and short stories to woo my heartthrob, a student. I won her away from an abusive Army lieutenant and we spoke of marriage. It was not to be.

    My writings, however, led her to share her thoughts that she saw me as possibly living in a garret in a small tower over-looking city streets much as Chaucer might have done. I am now living in the modern day equivalent of that garret. "Garret" is a much gentler description than "hovel". It's a second floor walk up in a traditionally all male rooming house with a shared bath. If I had running water in my space, I could call it a small studio. Emphasis on small. It's so small I have to go out in the hallway to change my mind. It's adequate. At least, I don't have to go to the well to draw my water. It's a short walk down the hall to an easily accessible tap.

    With some significant improvements in my personal freedom status about a year ago, I've added a few columns to my "Romance" record. The first one is "She Would Be So Nice To Come Home To". Entries in this column are made after several shared moments and pleasant conversations. Subsequent path crossings will determine whether there's enough mutuality to hint at or reveal a wish for more frequent togetherings. Unhappily, I've erased the several entries in that column and moved them to either, "Wishful Thinking/Impossible Dream" or "What Was I Thinking/Duh".

    Occasionally there is a move to the "Friend Zone" but that's with indelible ink and it's not a desirable outcome though it does beat being shunned for admitting a strong attraction. To be permanently relegated to the Friend Zone after hopeful thoughts of emotional ambrosia is like being sent to the dungeon with only bread and water. That sentence can be handed down by caring too much, too soon. Discerning the degree of mutuality is more often than not a labyrinthine enigma. If Goldilocks were around she might teach a course in how to avoid caring too much or caring to little and how to care just right.

       The last column is "She's The One". That column will have only one entry and it will be in bold-faced  font with indelible ink.
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Smoking Ex-Smoker Talks About Smoking

    I quit smoking almost seven years ago after being a heavy smoker most of my life. I started by sneaking a Camel from my mother's pack or finding an unfinished butt in the ashtray on top of the furnace in the kitchen. It was an old house with an old coal-fired furnace in the kitchen next to what had been a house heating fireplace in earlier years. Carrying coal from the dirt cellar to the kitchen was one of my daily chores along with removing the ash pan and dumping it in the metal trash can out back.

    That's about the time I started working part time at the local Esso station (Esso became Exxon) when service stations actually provided service — washing the windshield, checking the oil, checking the tires and pumping gas. I was eleven but big for my age and in a small town, nobody bothered about requiring working papers for young part-timers.

    At the station, the cigarettes were on a shelf next to the cash register and offered a delightful variety of cigarettes that a curious young experimenter could try. Back then, smokers unashamedly enjoyed their smokes anywhere and everywhere.

    Among the many "samples" I tried were Camels, of course, Lucky Strikes (LSMFT - Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco), Pall Mall (in hoc signo vinces - "By this sign shall you conquer" above the brand's popular slogan, Wherever Particular People Congregate), Herbert Tareyton, Old Gold, Chesterfield and non-filtered Kools. It didn't take long to get hooked.

    Smoking was, I thought, a kind of status symbol. I was born not on the wrong side of the tracks but close enough to the tracks downtown that I could never be a part of the uptown "in crowd".

    Fast forward to a couple weeks ago: Except for the last 6 years and 8 months of being an ex-smoker, the longest non-smoking stretch I endured was in the Navy during refueling, re-arming or at General Quarters. Aboard ship, any time the flag Bravo was hoisted, the smoking lamp was out. (Flag Bravo is a red, swallow-tail shaped flag often referred to by old Salts as "Maggie's Britches"). Beyond that, I was pretty much a chain smoker up to 3 packs a day until nearly seven years ago.

    What triggered my falling off the non-smoking wagon? In a nostalgic mood I read some French poetry by Jacques Prévert, Déjeuner du Matin and La Grasse Matinee both of which are talking about a cup of coffee and the former the smoke rising from a cigarette. Any smoker knows that coffee and a cigarette are almost an inseparable pair.

    My late sister discovered the French singer Charles Aznavour and shared his music with me. My head was in a different place and I was not as hooked on his songs as she was. After her untimely death though, I played the records of his she had bought and I listened with a different ear and began liking his music so much that when I had the opportunity to see him in concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, I gladly went.

    Another French song performed by "The Little Sparrow," Edith Piaf, was included in my trip down nostalgia lane. In her Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien she lights a cigarette while reminiscing about her past.

    How easily I remembered the taste and aroma of the Gauloises I smoked when ashore in France, kind of like a French version of Camels. In State College where I was a student, Gauloises were available at the book store on College Avenue. I thought finding a pack here would be a simple matter of going to a tobacco shop. Not so. (I learned that the French no longer make Gauloises. They are now made in Spain.) Although I discovered they would be available via internet, it is my firm intention to return to non-smoking status again so I will not pursue acquisition.

    Unable to close the nostalgia paragraph with French cigarettes, I yielded to the temptation to accept a couple drags from a young lady with whom I sang at a non-smoking karaoke event. I felt attracted to her and her beautiful voice (We sang the Bocelli/Brightman duet Time To Say Goodbye, in Italian) and when she went to the patio for a smoke, I went along to continue our conversation. The next event, I returned the favor by taking advantage of some coupons for Newports that I continued to receive even during my non-smoking years.

    What's my point? Simply this, addiction to cigarettes is forever. Even during my nearly seven years of abstention there was never a day that went by without my thinking about a cigarette. Walking in to a smoke filled room didn't bother me. My triggers were not related to seeing people smoking or to the smell of the smoke. I've often said if second-hand smoke is so bad, why can't I get my "fix" by just taking in deep breaths. My triggers always began as soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning.

    This latest excursion into the smoking world showed me I will never be free of the risk of addiction but, with judicious self control, I can yield to an occasional puff without reverting to my former heavy smoking habit.

    I am not now nor have I ever been nor will I ever be a didactic, proselytizing anti-smoker like some ex-smokers have become. I say, if you got 'em, smoke 'em, but fully know if you decide to quit, you'll have to confirm that decision each and every day.
One Day At A Time
(Where have we heard that before?)
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The Gentleman Troubador

    After many months of disappointing setbacks, it seems my efforts to entertain as a popular singer are close to fruition. I am preparing to complete the acquisition of the few missing links that still remain. Most of the hardware is in my possession. The remaining items are a mixture of hardware and software.

    I have been singing at karaoke venues several times a week for the past year and through those experiences I've revitalized my singing voice and found a pastime I've come to truly enjoy. It is because of the many positive responses I've received and the encouragement to go on my own by some audience members that led me to explore the possibility of becoming an entertainer for groups who would likely appreciate the song selections I've become comfortable with.

    Once I made the decision to pursue this, I researched what I'd need to accomplish this goal. It seemed rather simple, at first, but as I went from step 1 to step 2 there seemed to be an increasing number of additional steps accruing to the process not the least of which was some means of providing the backup music. Without the luxury or convenience of having a live band I have to rely on recorded music.

    The repertoire I wish to offer to clients has expanded to nearly 300 songs including many popularized by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd and others which I add on a regular basis. I've recently enjoyed singing some of Johnny Cash's songs and just this week added Jim Reeves and Ferlin Husky — a wide ranging assortment.

    With that many songs and more to come, I find it such a daunting task to memorize the lyrics to all of them that I've declared it impossible and have opted to use a teleprompter. I'm told that Frank Sinatra in the later years of his career relied on such an aid and we all know that presidents, current and past, have also relied on visual assistance. (I tell people I have the CRS Syndrome — Can't Remember Songs.)

    It seemed, based on my karaoke experiences, the logical means of getting that resource would be to buy karaoke CDs which would provide me with the scrolling lyrics. The next necessity would be a device which could read and display those lyrics. I tried a standard karaoke machine available at many music stores or electronic outlets.

    The first one was defective as was the second one. Can you say "disappointment"? Next came the third unusable machine which led me to throw up my hands in despair and sent me back to the drawing board. The first three were intended by the manufacturer for use beyond the family living room or recreation room but they would have been, even without their defects, unsuitable for dependable service at a performance of two hours or more in length.

    I tried one more commercially available machine of a totally different design in the hope of finding a 'fluky' answer. Fail number four. So, back at the proverbial drawing board I decided to take a different approach and began upgrading a used laptop I had bought from a dealer who I mistakenly trusted would not sell a laptop burdened with interfering junk still on the hard drive.

    With the expert assistance and advice from Dwayne, the operator of  Lancaster's Best Karaoke and owner of Speedy Computer in Lancaster, I now have a 'clean' hard drive on my rather nice Dell laptop. (Dwayne and I became friendly during the many karaoke events of his that I've performed in.)

    I've spent hundreds of dollars buying CD+G karaoke discs which with a few additional add-ons to the laptop will be able to provide both the audio and the scrolling video I need for a performance. Now, with the Bose mini-tower speaker I bought on sale at the Guitar Center, I am only a few final steps from being able to market my product to potential clients. Some people have already expressed interest. I'll be happy when I can tell them that now I'm ready.

    Now about the title I've used for this update. For those of you who have read my blogs as The Old Dinosaur Speaks (dot) Blogspot (dot) com, you learned in my very first blog that I refer to myself as an Old Dinosaur because, both brotherless and childless, I am the last of my family line to carry my name and when I've shuffled off this mortal coil, I will be as extinct as the dinosaurs who went on before me many years ago.

    Joyce Jones and her husband Mike operate High Impact Entertainment as "Jammin' Joyce and Midnight Mike". Through my frequent association with them she has come to know my personality and my range of song choices and suggested that The Gentleman Troubador might be a better stage ID and I should keep the "Old Dinosaur" moniker for my blog.

    I did a little market research and the first person I mentioned it to asked me what a troubador is. I was flabbergasted. I thought everybody had seen at one time or another the Disney film Robin Hood and His Merrie Men in which Alan-A-Dale, a troubador, strolled around singing the latest news of Robin's exploits for the mere cost of a farthing or a ha' penny — "I'll sing a song, a rollicking song as I go along my way, with a hey derry die and a derry die do, and a riddledy, diddley day".

    After that first market research contact (a young lady who had never seen "Robin Hood" in a rerun) almost everyone else said they liked The Gentleman Troubador. Actually several said they liked both. I've decided to go with:

                                                      The Gentleman Troubador.

What are ya' gonna do with an old dinosaur?
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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lieutenant Roseanne Schrage, RN: A Tribute

    A lifetime ago, it seems, Nurse Schrage from Shaker Heights, Ohio, tended a young, scared, homesick sailor hospitalized for a blood clot in his leg. During that three week stay, Nurse Schrage tended not only his physical needs but his psychological needs as well by gifting him with an anthology of Immortal Poems of the English Language after he had read every magazine in the hospital ward and became restless.

    That very anthology is here now on the table beside me. Perhaps she knew how outlook-altering poetry can be. Poetry was described by Wordsworth as being “…the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”

    That very sailor, me, home from the sea many years ago has had a lifetime of love for the poetic word. That anthology, yellowed and fragile from age, has been in my collection ever since and it has provided answers many times to questions about a particular poet or a particular phrase and even as recently as last week found use to reference a powerful thought parallel to another thought expressed on FaceBook.

    The anthology I have was copyrighted in 1952 and a poem attributed then to an anonymous writer has since been attributed to John Wilbye (b.1574 - d.1638).

                Love not me for comely grace,
                For my pleasing eye or face;
                Nor for any outward part,
                No, nor for my constant heart:
                For those may fail or turn to ill,
                   So thou and I shall sever.
                Keep therefore a true woman's eye,
                And love me still, but know not why;
                So hast thou the same reason still
                   To doat upon me ever.

    In my book, the poem immediately before the above one is still without a known author but remains one of the more powerful collections of words of a yearning soul in despair.

                O western wind, when wilt thou blow,
                That the small rain down can rain?
                Christ, if my love were in my arms,
                And I in my bed again!

    It’s seems magical the way poetic rearrangement of words can add synergy to ordinary words. It’s almost linguistic origami. Another magical thing about poetry is its flexibility — it can be sad or joyous or reflective or even humorous.

                Sir, I admit your general rule,
                That every poet is a fool:
                But you yourself may serve to show it,
                That every fool is not a poet.
                                        —  Matthew Prior

A poetry anthology is a field of delight which can be harvested all year around.
Thank you, Nurse Schrage

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Friday, July 26, 2013

The Girl at 36:34

    I’m in love again. This time safely at a distance with no possibility of being rejected. She doesn’t know me or that I’m infatuated with her. I don’t know her or her name. She’s probably Italian since I “met” her while watching a YouTube video of a 2008 Andre Rieu concert [Romantic Paradise - Part 1] in Cortona, Tuscany, Italy.

    The video was moving in and of itself but this young, ethereal, mesmerizing beauty appears for a second or two at 36 minutes and 27 seconds — enough of a glimpse to invoke a bated breath hoping for another glimpse which, fortunately, does happen. The second and clinching appearance is at 36 minutes, 34 seconds.  Her appearances occur after the orchestra’s moving rendition of Verdi’s Grand March from Aida with actual heraldic trumpets and during the rousing Italian National Anthem, “Il Canto Degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians)”. Music aside, her beauty stands on its own; no music necessary to strum my heartstrings.

Bella Signorina
[This link no longer works because of possible copyright infringement I was not aware of.
It may still be accessible through the YouTube video of the Andre Rieu concert mentioned above.]

    My ancestors are from Bavaria but who’s to say they didn’t venture over the Alps for a visit to Italy only a couple hundred kilometers away. Perhaps there’s some Italian in my Heinz 57 ancestral make-up.

    I studied the Italian language in Naples in 1964 and later that year spent a weekend in Florence less than 100 kilometers from Cortona. Had I known of the beauty that would later be in this village, I‘d have made a side trip. Of course, it would have been this lady’s mother (or grandmother probably) I would have happily met. I knew enough Italian by then to have intelligibly greeted her with a cheery, “Buon Giorno, signorina”  [She would not yet have been signora]. That would have gotten her attention; an American sailor speaking to her in her own language.

    I don’t know why certain assortments of physical features are so heart-stoppingly, captivatingly exquisite while others barely arouse a second glance. Many words exist to modify and enhance the word ‘Beauty’ yet there are times when no adjectives added to the word can ever effectively cover the entire spectrum of descriptives. It’s as though some beauties most be seen to be experienced; that any attempt to describe with mere words is doomed to failure. With this young lady, all it took was one look.

    In the meantime, I continue working on my Master’s thesis on “How to Accept Rejection Gracefully and With a Smile”.  Until that’s completed, though, love at a distance is the best I can hope for. It’s much less rewarding but it is not nearly as painful.

    It’s less frustrating to want the impossible and never get it
than it is to want the possible and be denied it.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Happily Never After or One Man's Life Long Journey to Death

    A sobering, jarring realization hit me a day or two ago. I am facing the prospect of spending the rest of my life with nothing to look forward to, nothing to be joyful about getting out of bed for. Why? I’m too old to be regarded as having much value anymore. Not that I ever really did.

    Before I lived long enough to become old, I had the possibility of one day meeting that special someone with whom, for better or for worse, I could hold hands with while we walked through our sunset years together. Had we met in younger years, we’d have enjoyed growing older together. Now, having reached my older years alone, those potential ‘significant others’ regard me as too old or are (for any number of reasons) totally uninterested or are (for any number of reasons) themselves not appealing enough because they’ve made no effort to age gracefully. Aged and frumpy are two not very effective qualities of attractiveness and are, quite frankly, supreme turn-offs.

    That I am attracted to younger women I will not deny. Does that make me a reverse cougar? Or a dirty old man? (Come on. What is a dirty old man? A man whose eyes are still able to distinguish beauty?) My body may have grown older but my perceptions have never been sharper. A younger woman’s beauty does not become less apparent as a man ages.

    This reverse cougar business bears a bit of thought. Reverse cougars are not very well regarded as in “Why don‘t you find somebody your own age, Old Timer?” Unless you are Hugh Hefner or Aristotle Onassis which renders it OK. Don’t know whether it’s their great personality, their notoriety or their wealth which makes (made) them attractive. (That’s a difficult one to figure out, isn't it?) That also calls into question the type of women who flock in from the sidelines.

    So without being famous and without being rich, a man who has the audacity to live long enough to become old should plan on hanging it up and stop hoping to meet someone who’s genuinely attractive rather than someone who might simply be available. “There’s a calamity of such long life" (Thank you, Mister Shakespeare) that the greater the success at remaining alive, the fewer the rewards for doing so.

    And please don’t invoke that childish palliative of the gold-lined streets and all the harps and happiness to look forward to in the afterlife “The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns.” (Thanks again, Will.) There are those whose eyes are fixed firmly on the Pearly Gates but whose feet are planted firmly in mid-air. I am here, now, on Terra Firma. I yearn for a here and now solution to a here and now emptiness in my life.

    On the in-touch-with-reality side of the coin, I fully realize that all I have to offer is me. I have no property, I have no wealth, I have no boat but the fact that some of the women I’ve found attractive seem to be in a relationship with a man who doesn’t revere them allows me a glimmer of hope to go on. They may one day wake up to the fact there’s someone who would happily treat them with the respect they deserve. Maybe age difference will become less important then.

    I can easily dismiss the superficial, promiscuous teasers once it becomes evident that’s their game — nothing substantial can grow from superficiality. A woman who flaunts her sexuality and taunts with a recounting of her many sexual exploits in the presence of a long-time involuntary celibate commits cruel and unusual punishment. They’re the type of person who would pull the wings off of a fly.

    After being a Good Samaritan to a troubled woman, I wasted 35 years believing a brother-sister friendship with that troubled woman would grow into a deeper, more sustaining, friendship as the years passed. I was wrong and the suspected friendship neither expanded nor deepened but instead became toxic. I finally disconnected myself last year. I then entered the barren emptiness of the world of dating after age 50, the ultimate Good Samaritan reward. Bah!

 All I really want is to be half of a couple, sharing, laughing, dancing 
and watching the sunset while it‘s still on the faraway horizon. 
I’m not ready to die.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Music, The Mayor And The Monarchy

    The music in this case is generally not music. It is the aimless, repetitive banging away on a piano keyboard, a piano provided by the non-profit charitable organization Music For Everyone as part of the Keys for the City exhibit. Even if the person at the keyboard were playing a concerto by Beethoven or Prokofiev, the fact that it is unwanted by me in my space renders it an unwarranted intrusion. I want to choose what I listen to and be able to turn it off when I wish.

    From the Music For Everyone website:

             The objective of Keys for the City is to provide access to musical opportunity,
             foster creativity and build a sense of community among the public and, in the process,
             raise awareness for local music and visual arts education initiatives.

    How can disturbing the peace pounding away aimlessly on a piano keyboard at 3 o'clock in the morning on a city corner foster anything but animosity?

    This banging away often begins early in the day and continues well into the night past the legal limit on certain sounds. Therein lies the rub. Even though the city has a noise ordinance, the mayor himself has directed the Lancaster City Police to


                            (That information came to me from an impeccable source.)

From the Lancaster City Code:

                Chapter 198 Noise

                    198-1 Purpose

            The Council, finding that excessive levels of sound are detrimental
            to the physical, mental and social well-being of the residents
            as well as to their comfort, living conditions, general welfare and safety,
            and being therefore a public health and welfare hazard,
            hereby declares it to be necessary to provide for the greater control and
            more effective regulation of excessive sound and the sources of
            excessive sound within the City.
                    198-4 Prohibited Acts; Violations

            B. Specific prohibitions. The following acts and the causing thereof
            are declared to be noise disturbances and therefore in violation of this chapter:
            (1) Radios, television sets, musical instruments and similar devices.
            Operating, playing or permitting the operation or playing of any radio,
            television, phonograph, drum, musical instrument, sound amplifier, automobile radio,                         automobile stereo, high-fidelity equipment or similar device which produces,
            reproduces or amplifies sound: (a) At any time in such a manner as to cause a
            noise disturbance across a property line (boundary),
            or between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. so as to be plainly audible
            across a property line (boundary); [emphasis added by this writer]


        Any sound which annoys or disturbs humans or which causes or tends to cause
        an adverse psychological or physiological effect on humans.
        In addition to the sounds specified in §198-4B hereof, any sound which ...
        B. Annoys or disturbs a reasonable person of normal sensitivities...

   From the Lancaster City Code:

                Part I,
                Chapter 55,
                Part V (Mayor),
                 §55-18 Powers and Duties,
                sub-paragraph I,
        It is the duty of the mayor to:

         "Cause the enforcement of all city laws, codes and ordinances."

    Nothing I was able to find in the city ordinances or the statutes of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania allows a mayor to violate his own city ordinances.

    Reputedly, the mayor has said the pianos elevate the cultural status of the city and bring much needed money to the city. What suburbanites will drive to the center of Lancaster at three in the morning to hear some drunk pounding on a keyboard when the only place open at that hour to spend money would be an over-priced convenience store.

    The unanswered questions are: Can the mayor of a third class city ignore existing ordinances with impunity? Is the mayor pretending to be the king of a not-so-benevolent monarchy? Who decides which ordinances are to be enforced and which will be ignored and of those there are many — lined parking spaces; one vehicle per space; pedestrian crossing protections; speed limits; other violations of the noise ordinances.

    Are we a nation of laws, a city of laws or are we an anarchy?
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pianos, Pianos and More Pianos

    Frank Sinatra sang that he “wants to wake up in a city that never sleeps…” and he was, of course, singing about New York City. If he were around today, he could satisfy that wish right here in good old Lancaster, PA, the town of a thousand pianos. Well, not actually a thousand. It only sounds that way at 2:30 in the morning.

    This city keeps patting itself on the back for all the wondrous expansion of the Arts and artistic endeavors. Has no one stopped to consider that sounds made by a musical instrument are not necessarily music, not necessarily Art. Any ignorant slug can sit at a keyboard and pound on the keys and make sounds, repetitive sounds, the same two chords played over and over and over, punctuated with banging rhythms incorporated as part of the non-concert.

    This has improved the city how? Even if a world famous concert pianist sat at the instrument and performed all the world’s best concertos, would that make the uninvited musical selections more welcome if those sounds invaded my space where I could control neither the choice of music nor the sound level while trying to practice my singing or my pennywhistle or my trombone or simply listen to music of MY choice.

    According to a press release from Music For Everyone, a non-profit charitable organization in Lancaster [PA], the pianos placed at a dozen locations throughout the city for the "Keys For The City" program are to “provide access to musical opportunity, foster creativity and build a sense of community”. Hah! What community sense is developed in the middle of the night by some drunk wannabe concert pianist who doesn’t know a musical fifth from a liquid one?

    That press release also touts the fact that the dozen pianos are “accessible to the public 24/7...” The city’s noise ordinance 198-4 B (1)(a) specifically prohibits operating “Radios, television sets, musical instruments and similar devices…At any time in such a manner as to cause a noise disturbance across a property line OR between the hours of 9:00 PM and 8:00 AM so as to be plainly audible across a property line.” [Lancaster City Police have noted the Capistrano-like return of the pianos and will respond, if called, to any late night keyboard banging. The pianos may be accessible 24/7 but it is NOT legal to play them 24/7.]

    The release goes on to say, “Whether people stop by to play a few notes or an entire piece, there will be thousands of magical, musical moments that will occur around those pianos this summer. This project is a literal expression of what this organization is all about – Music For Everyone.”

    I am a musician though not currently involved professionally. I had my “awareness of music” aroused while young in a more traditional manner — not by disturbing the peace on a street corner. I love music. I love piano music. I love jazz. I love van Cliburn, Rudolph Serkin, Vladimir Horowitz, Dave Brubeck, Hugh Laurie, Saint Elouise and countless other pianists. Even I own a keyboard which I enjoy making sounds with in the PRIVACY of my home. I inflict my sounds on no one else.

    I particularly love being able to choose what I am going to listen to or which instrument I will play. With street corner plinking sounds, whether melodic or discordant, penetrating my space almost all day, almost every day, I cannot change the channel or adjust the volume. It is, in short, a most unwanted, unwarranted intrusion into my space! It’s like being an involuntary resident of a piano practice room.

    What exacerbates the noisiness of this neighborhood seems to involve an acoustical anomaly similar to the whispering corners in the US Capitol building or the grottoes of Syracuse, Sicily, probably because of a natural amphitheatre effect formed by the curves of the alcove beneath the downward spiraling exit ramp from the Prince street parking garage where the one near my home is located.

    Other architectural aspects of this neighborhood include the amplifying effect of the open space in front of the convenience store across the street and the parking lot of a tire store across the other street. Sidewalk conversations seem to be occurring immediately outside the window rather than at the 50 feet or more distance where they are actually occurring.

    Add to this mix a 75 horsepower car with a 300 horsepower CD player at the stop sign just below my window waiting for traffic all the while blaring some rap lyrics through a blown speaker in a language I don’t speak while displaying a red, white and blue non-American flag with a vanity plate declaring the beauty of some place not in the continental USA.

    Think I’ll go to the club. At least there, for a buck or two, I’ll be able to choose the noise.
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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Abbreviations:To Your Health

    Some abbreviations are acronyms, that is, they can be spoken as words such as Radar for RAdio Detection And Ranging. Some are initialisms where the pronunciation as written would be difficult such as LCPD or LGH. (Wikipedia has an excellent entry on the subject of “Acronyms”).

    The health initialisms everybody should know are DVT, PAD and COPD. DVT is particularly important because it stands for the silent killer Deep Vein Thrombosis or blood clot. It was a DVT that killed newsman David Bloom when it broke loose and moved into his lung as a pulmonary embolism (PE).

    David’s wife, Melanie, has taken the tragedy of his death as an opportunity to inform everyone she can about this largely unknown killer of as many as 200,000 people in this country alone. That’s about 10 percent of those who develop a DVT and that death rate is more than AIDS and breast cancer combined. (Check the news article on and search for DVT or David Bloom legacy.)

    From the article, “risk factors include injury, surgery, illness, pregnancy, SMOKING [emphasis added by me], and prolonged immobility” as in driving over-the-road in a truck or sitting in one position without moving your legs for a long time.

    I was an over-the-road truck driver for ten years and I smoked 2 to 3 packs of cigarettes a day. I had a DVT 12 years ago. I also was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) and PAD (Peripheral Artery Disease) both of which resulted from or were worsened by my cigarette smoking.

    I was spared. My DVT didn’t become a PE or a migratory missile winding up in some other damaging location. My dear sister, Bonnie, was not as fortunate. In 1972, multiple PE’s killed her.

    Even though I am smoke free now for more than 6 years, the damaging effects of being a long term smoker are still affecting me. The PAD has resulted in circulatory insufficiency which allows blood and other fluids to accumulate in my lower extremities and set up the conditions ripe for a stasis (stagnation in the normal flow of bodily fluids) ulcer.

    That is the apparent reason for my third occurrence of a leg ulcer. It’s similar to the open sores suffered by some diabetics. This type of ulcer is resistant to healing and calls for immediate medical attention preferably by a wound care specialist. I am immeasurably grateful to nurse Nancy and the doctors in the Wound Care Clinic of the Lebanon VA hospital for their patient, caring treatment of their patient, me.

    Even with all the foregoing, I have to say I still wish for a smoke every day even after all this time. A cigarette in hand was a friend for decades and the bond was an addiction that non-smokers can’t begin to understand. I am not now nor will I ever become one of those holier than thou, rabid, crusading ex-smokers out to “cure” everybody of their habit. If you got ‘em, smoke ‘em. But be informed — bad things can happen.
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Sunday, May 12, 2013


   The benefit of being a caring and sensitive person, beyond the positive effect on the people you deal with, is that your enjoyments are more joyful; the highs are higher. The unfortunate flip side is that the lows are lower; hurts hurt more. It’s terribly painful to be palpably, gut-wrenchingly lovelorn and bereft.

    After only a couple weeks of getting used to the fact that [Ms. name withheld], with her insistent femininity and her curly light brown hair and flashing blue eyes, would never be more than a wish for me she crossed my path again, this time with the man she’s been with for a long time I’ve learned. I wish she hadn’t come in.

    Now even the activities I pursued to keep my mind off my wretched aloneness and her unattainability have lost their power. My motivation and joy of life have evaporated. Climbing into bed, pulling the covers over my head and waiting for the end of the world or death, whichever comes first, is not an option. Neither is getting blind drunk and forgetting that I ever wanted to love.

    My mission, if I choose to accept it, is to learn how to squeeze some joy out of the emptiness that comes from living long enough to become old. I refuse to self destruct. I don’t appreciate self pity or want pity but I don’t want to believe I’ll spend the rest of my life involuntarily celibate simply because I’m older.

    Frank Sinatra thought of his years as vintage wine. His songs speak to me ever more plainly with each passing day even though my wine has turned to vinegar. Maybe one of those who claim to love my voice will see it comes attached to a man. That might restore the wine’s sweetness.

“You give something to me, I’m thankful; You accept something from me, I’m blessed”
— Unknown
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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bureaucratic Logic, An Oxymoron?

    The city has removed the handicapped parking space I used across the street from my residence. Why? Because I didn’t recertify my continuing eligibility for a handicapped space. Why not? Because my doctor is too busy being a doctor and will not allow the dropping off of forms to be filled out.

    I tried that several years ago and the deadline came and went and the form had migrated to the bottom of his IN box. In all following years he completed the form during one of my two annual check-ups, usually May/June or November/December.

    So, what’s the problem? The city has a very strict protocol regarding the annual recertification. They mail the form in December. The form arrives after my fall doctor appointment. They WILL NOT issue a form manually for me to take to my doctor. It HAS TO BE MAILED and invariably on their schedule.

    The deadline for completing and returning the recertification of continuing need is March 15th and failure to meet that deadline “may result in the removal of your handicap parking signs and would require you to reapply and pay a re-installation fee”.

    In past years I have pleaded with the appropriate department to look at the fact that I have lived at this location for more than 20 years, that as long as I keep getting older instead of dying that my condition will not improve and that since I didn’t notify them of a vehicle change or a move that my continuing need at the same location was implicit. I pleaded with them to bend the deadline since I wished my life to be life-driven not form-driven. Could they “bend” the deadline? Of course they could! Would they? Need you ask? The sign is gone!

    The argument that the deadline is part of the city ordinances does not hold water since many city ordinances are routinely ignored. It’s a different kind of selective enforcement not to be confused with the city police department’s Selective Enforcement Unit. Specifically the ordinances pertaining to “Parking within the lines”. What lines? Sections 285-27 and 285-29 state clearly that “all parking spaces shall be designated by lines or markings” and that each parked vehicle “shall be entirely within the lines”. Before the installation of meters, 6 or 7 cars parked in 5 spaces. Since the installation of meters, 6 or 7 cars park in 4 spaces designated by imaginary lines emanating from the two double-headed meters in my block. No enforcement.

    According to a street department spokesperson, they “don’t do that”, that is, paint lines. According to another street department official, they’d have trouble painting lines while cars are parked there. That official DID NOT KNOW there’s a “no parking” time from 2AM to 6AM Mondays when the street is totally free of cars. No enforcement.

    Another routinely unenforced ordinance is the practice of “plugging” the meter. Section 285-33 specifically prohibits extending the parking time beyond the established limit for parking at that location. If the meter says 2 hour limit, it means 2 hour limit. Come back after 1 hour and 59 minutes and drop some more coins in and you would be in violation. And then there are the ignored ordinances pertaining to speed, pedestrian crosswalks and loud exhausts and radios. No enforcement.

    I am not handicapped in the usual sense of the word. Is it even acceptable to use that word anymore other than on the golf course? People are not handicapped or disabled, they’re differently abled. Is that more politically sensitive?

    My “handicap” is PVD (Peripheral Vascular Disease) with circulatory insufficiency, neuropathy and intermittent claudication. Wow, what a mouthful. Simply, my blood vessels can’t get enough oxygen to all the right places quickly enough. Walking hurts and I have to stop frequently to let the pain subside.

    I will miss the convenience of having that handicapped parking space so close to my home. If I can’t get home and park before the Fulton activities or the Ware center activities or the Chameleon activities or the Tally Ho activities, I have to park a block away or stay out until the crowds have gone.

    I will not reapply. I’ll walk. It may be painful but the pain in my legs eventually subsides. And now, the annual pain in my derriere from dealing with the city will also subside.
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