Thursday, February 21, 2013

Teardrops and Coffeespoons

    T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock in The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock  “[has] known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, [and] measured out [his] life with coffee spoons”. I think I have measured my life with teardrops.

    It seems a lifetime ago since attending Penn State but I remember well my part time job tending bar at the Phyrst, a rathskeller-type college bar one flight below street level with a brass headboard at the bottom of the stairs. It foretold of an atmosphere transitional between the Beatnik era and the Hippie generation.

    It was as popular for quiet-corner-thinking-about-next-paper-due as it was for drinking and socializing. It was there I had the pleasure of spending time with a young lady whose middle name was “Darby”. I thought that a most poetic and artistic name and quite appropriate for her since her major was the Fine Arts.

    We first met on the bus between Lewistown and State College for the final leg of the return to campus after a holiday break. She shared with me some delightful philosophies, encouraged me with an observation and invitation “You have a lot to offer. Come along and be happy,” and introduced me to Erik (sometimes Eric) Satie whose Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes are still as musically pleasing as they were from the first. Mysterious and haunting but pleasing in spite of (or perhaps because of) their mysteriousness.

    It was at a table at the Phyrst where I wrote a poem about the butt-encrusted floor and stale beer smells and Prufrock-wise observance that my life could be measured with beer bottles and cigarette butts.

    Fast forward to now, remaining mindful of the fifty plus years of beer bottles and cigarette butts, and the observation has changed to poetry and song lyrics. A poem is the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; of emotions recollected in tranquility”. Poems quite often are the substance of songs which become popular because of their resonance with human experience. It would be presumptuous to conclude that all human emotions have been sung about in one genre or another but it is hard to think of an emotion that has not been sung about.

    My life can be measured (or described) in lines from a poem or lyrics from a song. The pictures painted in words by poets provide song writers the connection to the emotions we all experience in life — love, fear, frustration, disappointment, rejection. The emotional resonance or sympathetic vibration aroused by the tempo and the tune is what gives us our joyful or tearful remembrance of feelings past.

    In my recent karaoke experiences I have come across a spectrum of emotions expressed in song by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Leon Russell, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, and many more. Sinatra’s lyrics alone cover a lifetime’s worth of living experience.

            The titles hint strongly at the emotional content:

                Something Stupid
                    “and then I spoil it all by saying something stupid like,
                        ‘I love you‘.”

                My Funny Valentine

                Memories of You

                I Can’t Believe I’m Losing You
                    “Is this the way our romance ends?”

                Didn’t We?
                    “This time we almost made the pieces fit, didn't we? “
                Cry Me A River

                Here’s That Rainy Day

                Drinkin’ Again

                You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To

                Love’s Been Good To Me

                It Was A Very Good Year

                Send In The Clowns

    Even in poetry never committed to the lyrics of a song there is an emotional component unreachable by ordinary prose. My recent heart-breaking contact with a woman I only knew a short time has brought to life the words of an e. e. cummings poem, somewhere I have never traveled.

    Excerpted from “somewhere I have never traveled” :

        your eyes have their silence:
        in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
        or which i cannot touch because they are too near

        the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
        compels me with the color of its countries,
        rendering death and forever with each breathing

        the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
        nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

    Her eyes had their silence. I felt enclosed by her most frail gesture yet could not touch because she was not close enough. For a long time the phrase “the power of your intense fragility” caused me wonder because I had not really experienced it until after meeting this young lady. After discovering our attractions were neither mutually strong nor directed toward each other I retreated to the outside-looking-in so to speak.

    I saw her a day or two ago, from a distance, and the power of her intense fragility finally led me to know and understand that sensation.

    I no longer wonder. I now just simply wander.

            “I have been a rover.
             I have walked alone,
             hiked a hundred highways
             and never found a home…”
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It Was A Very Good Year

    Whenever I sing this Sinatra standard at karaoke events, I recall my “stages” in a similar manner.

    When I was 17, I learned that I was not quite ready for college even though the H.S. guidance counselor said I was college material. Shortly after returning to non-scholastic life I turned 18 and learned that as a draft-eligible young man, no company was interested in hiring me even for the most menial position. So, in order to avoid being drafted into the Army, I enlisted in the Navy.

    That, after boot camp and electronics school, put me aboard a brand new ship in the Charlestown Naval Shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. That ship, the USS Leahy (DLG-16), was being fitted out and readied for sea to join the fleet. The Leahy was my home for three years.

    That billet in Boston gave me ample time to thoroughly explore the city (and fall in love with it) and educated me about things I had no prior knowledge of. Like the Hatch Memorial shell (a gift from Maria, the sister of Edward A. Hatch, to the city of Boston in memory of her brother) where Arthur Fiedler and his Boston Pops played every Fourth of July.  The perimeter of the stagefront is emblazoned in bronze with the names of many of the world’s greatest composers some whose names I hadn’t heard of until hearing their music years later.

    The Hatch shell is nestled comfortably between Storrow drive and the Charles River basin on a piece of land called “The Esplanade”. I didn’t know then that an esplanade is simply a promenade or public walkway situated near water.

    One afternoon while enjoying a stroll on the Esplanade, I saw a young woman in a sailboat having some obvious difficulty negotiating her small craft. To the rescue I dashed to save this damsel in distress on the deep. Well actually, she was just a young girl bearing a bit of badness on the basin but as a suave, daring (I thought) young sailor I felt compelled to save her from whatever plight a grounded sail boater might have suffered with the wind luffing her sail and pinning her to the shore line.

    Discovery! I didn’t know the first thing about sailing! I (we) waited patiently until another sailor (of the civilian persuasion) came along and with his powered boat pulled us (I was her passenger by then) to her mooring. Failure though I was as a “sailing” sailor, her father expressed his gratitude for my efforts and good intentions by inviting me aboard his mini-yacht for a cruise up river to his boat club.

    In the Sinatra song, It Was A Very Good Year, the phrase, “When I was 35, it was a very good year for blue-blooded girls”, reminds me very much of that incident. I wasn’t 35 then. I wasn’t even 21. But it was a very good year.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Lions and Dinosaurs, Oh My

    Although I am a Dinosaur (see my blog entry July 2010) I wish to call attention to a Lions Club event (can Lions and Dinosaurs really get along?) coming up in April at the Manheim Auto Auction. [The Lions Club (Lions Clubs International) is the world's largest service organization.]

    In 2012 the Manheim Lions Club partnered with Doug Herbert’s B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe) foundation to train teen drivers how to stay alive by learning safe driving.  Doug Herbert (Top Fuel NHRA racer) started this non-profit foundation in 2008 after the horrific traffic deaths of his sons, James and Jon.

    This sounds like an excellent program especially since many schools have, for cost-cutting or potential liability reasons, dropped their Driver's Ed courses. Teen drivers with their extremely limited driving experience and likely an inadequate knowledge of the physics of moving objects are at a much elevated risk of injury or death in today's fast-paced, gotta-get-there-now mentality. Too many crashes are dismissed as "accidents" when, in fact, most if not all of them could have been avoided if the drivers had focused their entire attention on driving.

    A rudimentary knowledge of the Smith system Ⓡ™ 5 points:

        1) Aim High in Steering (Look at least 15 seconds ahead of you)
        2) Get The Big Picture (Work for a 360 degree panoramic awareness)
        3) Keep Your Eyes Moving (Scan all your mirrors EVERY 5 to 8 seconds)
        4) Leave Yourself an Out (Control your space -Don’t get boxed in)
        5) Make Sure They See You

       is a valuable asset for anyone interested in spending more time driving while they’re driving, than they are in gabbing, gawking or other non-specific tom-foolery!

                                                    Driving is serious business!

    When I was a teenager, I saw the deadly results of teens in automobile crashes and I wondered what kind of crash would be the one to kill me. It seemed an almost natural way for teens to die. But after further thought I realized that accidents were not accidental, that they COULD be avoided.

     I now can claim over a million crash-free, violation-free miles in an 18-wheeler and untold thousands of miles in my personal vehicle. It appalls me when I see speeders and tailgaters mindlessly risking lives simply because they lack patience or were never properly trained to recognize potential dangers lurking around every corner.

    (And as for so-called Acts of God — I really don’t think any God would call in lightning to fell a tree just in time for it to crash down on your car and crush you. I’d call that Perversity of Circumstance.)

Accidents are not accidental!

    If you are a teen or the parent of a teen and would like to know more about B.R.A.K.E.S. check out their website at or contact the Manheim Lions Club or the sponsor, The Hondru Family of Dealerships.

Don't be a reckless driver
Be a wreck-less driver

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Frank Sinatra, James Young and Me

    Ever since I began singing Sinatra songs at various karaoke venues, I’ve been told of a local singer who has become a celebrated Sinatra impersonator. Finally, I had the opportunity to meet this famous impersonator and he is everything I’d been told he was.

    Entertaining, affable and crowd friendly this man, James Young, does the “Chairman of the Board” proud. James in the piano bar atmosphere (sans piano) engaged his audience with pleasant banter only a small intimate setting can allow.

    James will tell you during the course of the evening about his former career as a police officer and that he is now free to enjoy his new career as “Frank Sinatra”. He was visited last evening by a former police Captain, now retired, who was once his supervisor.

    In the same manner of professional gentleman as Frank was, he offered me the mike to do one of the few songs I knew the words to without the crutch of a karaoke tele-prompter. I felt honored and I was pleased that I remembered most of the words. (He coached me on a couple of the lyrics like the gentleman he is.)

    In his new career he is sometimes joined by Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. impersonators for a glimpse back at the post-Bogart “Rat Pack” days. When not joined by the others, James will insert some Dean Martin of his own for his act.

    James website is at for information about his itinerary and event schedule. He is a frequent performer in the Columbia, Pa, restaurant, Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen at the corner of Lancaster Avenue and Cherry street.

    Even if you are not a Sinatra fan, an evening at Prudhomme’s with their menu, pleasant atmosphere, friendly staff and James Young entertaining would be an evening well spent.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dr. Mardy and Charlie Brown

    Although I have long been a fan of Charlie Brown and all the other characters in the Peanuts comic strip it is only through the latest newsletter from Dr. Mardy Grothe that I am reminded of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz’s passing 13 years ago come February 12.

    Charles Schulz’s interest in Ethics and Theology was evident through the words spoken by his characters and he has given us many memorable quotes some of which became popular on greeting cards. If a card sending occasion arose, I’d look first through the Charlie Brown selections before making my choice often finding that Charlie or Peanuts or Linus or Lucy had spoken words appropriate to the circumstance.

    A simple internet search will yield many sites which offer huge collections of Schulz quotes, and among them. Dr. Mardy’s newsletter also includes some of his favorites such as:

"I love mankind, it's people I can't stand."

"There is no greater burden than great potential."

"In the Book of Life, The answers aren't in the back."

"It always looks darkest just before it gets totally black."

"It's either the flu or love . . . the symptoms are the same."

"There's a difference between a philosophy and a bumper sticker."

"Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use."

"I have a new philosophy. I'm only going to dread one day at a time."

This one from

“I think we can rule out 'mixed brain dominance' as a cause of your poor performance at school, Charlie Brown. Have you ruled out stupidity?"

And not to forget that world famous beagle, Snoopy, WW I flying ace, in his frequent quixotic pursuits of the Red Baron.

    “Yesterday I was a dog. Today I'm a dog. Tomorrow I'll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There's so little hope for advancement.”

    About Dr. Mardy Grothe:

    He is a psychologist originally trained as an individual therapist and marriage counselor and he has a “longstanding interest in words, language, and quotations. As some people collect coins or stamps or butterflies, he is a passionate quotation collector, with well over 100,000 quotations in his personal collection. In the coming years, he looks forward to producing more books in this area.” (from the biography page of his website

Six of his books in the “Word and Language Arena” are:

Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You:
Chiasmus and a World of Quotations That Mean What They Say and Say What They Mean
(Viking, 1999)

Paradoxical Wit & Wisdom From History's Greatest Wordsmiths
(HarperCollins, 2004)

Viva la Repartee:
Clever Comebacks & Witty Retorts From History's Great Wits & Wordsmiths
(HarperCollins, 2005)

I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like:
A Comprehensive Compilation of History's Greatest Analogies, Metaphors, and Similes
(HarperCollins, 2008)

An Anthology of Aphorisms that Begin With the Word "If"
(HarperCollins, 2009)

A Quotation Lover's Guide to Things You Should Never Do, Never Say, or Never Forget
(HarperCollins, 2011)

    If you enjoy words and the many ways they are used beyond simple communication, you might find a weekly eNewsletter from Dr. Mardy a refreshing break from your routine. I know I do.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Moors of Brecknock

    I’ve never been to the moors of England but whenever I hear the word, I immediately conjure up a vision of some unwelcome foreboding landscape in want of cultivation and sunlight as in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” or some other mystery Sherlock Holmes might have been involved in.

    On Tuesday I was called to deliver freight to eastern Pennsylvania and shortly after beginning the trip I came upon an area of open land in which the browned dead grass and leafless trees were swathed in a low, slowly swirling mist which, had it been a degree colder, would have been hoarfrost.

    The trees close to the highway at the edge of this “moor” were stretching their naked limbs skyward as if in supplication, “Please, leave us again. We’ve been bare too long.”

    I shivered a bit at the sight and shortly after welcomed the relative elevation of mist-free Berks county and pleasant thoughts of activities planned for later that day.

    Patience. Imbolc is past. It won’t be long now. Re-leaf is on its way.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Music for Everyone

    No less a personage than Friedrich Nietzsche, the noted German philosopher, poet and composer, said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” I concur.

    Anyone taking the time for even a casual glance at some of my blog entries will see that music holds a significant place in my life. I became a music lover more than 60 years ago with 45 rpm vinyl records of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Beethoven symphonies, Rossini overtures and all the pop stars of the 50’s as well as some from earlier decades.

    I moved from mere listening to actual participation when I joined the church choir and the high school Glee Club. I also played the trombone and the baritone horn in the high school band. In the Navy, I sang in the Bluejackets choir.

    After the Navy, I returned to mere listener status for many years for no particular reasons except, probably, lack of both opportunity and motivation. Until recently.

    I found an affordable used trombone and a baritone horn and have been concentrating on reviving the talents I once was confident of. I’ve added to those instruments a penny whistle (I’ve nearly mastered “Amazing Grace” and am working on the melody played by Jean Luc Picard on his Ressikan flute in the Star Trek:TNG episode, “The Inner Light”).

    Vocally, I have reawakened the singing voice I once enjoyed by participating in various karaoke events I’ve spoken of in other blog entries. I doubt I’ll ever stop enjoying karaoke; however, the number of people wishing to participate places a limit on the number of songs any one performer will have time to do during the course of the evening.

    So, I ranged about looking for other outlets to pursue my singing interests. I have found that outlet with the Music For Everyone Community Chorus. In my blog entry on January 3, “Music, Monks and Mortality,” I spoke of the joy of music exhibited by Andre Rieu and the members of his Johann Strauss Orchestra. I have seen that same joie de musique in the singers in the Community Chorus and their cheerful director, A. J. Walker.

    This group of non-professional singers under the tutelage and expert direction of A. J. (who is also the Director of Music at Linden Hall School) is performing most professionally. The repertoire is far from traditional but the love of music by ALL is the driving force which ensures you will enjoy any presentation you are fortunate enough to experience.

    I have been welcomed by this group and I am happy to be one of them.

                                               You may not have heard of Community Chorus.
                                                                       You will.
                                                    They are not an up and coming group.
                                                                    They’re here.

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Groundhogs and Wooly Bears

     Rodents and worms predicting the weather. What would Paul Harvey say?

    “Groundhog” is an alias for Marmot (genus Marmota) which is simply an inflated title for a rodent. And then there’s the wooly bear caterpillar which is nothing more than the larva of any number of moths. How could the color of the fur in their coat in the fall possibly predict the likelihood of a severe or mild winter. If Al Gore were correct, all wooly bears would be wearing only blonde.

    On Groundhog day, whether the day is cloudy when the groundhog emerges from his burrow or whether he is shaded from the sun by the shadows of all the top hats worn by the flock of prognosticator stewards and handlers, there will remain approximately 6 weeks until spring arrives as evidenced by the vernal equinox when the length of day equals the length of night.
    I use the word “approximately” since that is the equivalent of the word “probability” used by meteorologists.

                      “There is a 100% probability that there will be weather.
                      Whether it’s wet, dry, cold, white or windy remains to be seen.
                      The latest computer models indicate if this happens,
                      then that’ll happen. If not, then something else will happen,
Well, if nothing else happens, we'll have tradition. That is not unpredictable.
It will never change.

And there you have the rest of the story.
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