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 Today.com 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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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Rail Testing and Real Testing

    In the late 1960s and early 1970s I worked for Sperry Rail Service testing railroad rails to find any developing defects within the rails which could result in a broken rail ending in a potentially devastating derailment. One of our test routes was through West Virginia on the Norfolk and Western railroad.

    The terrain between Williamson, WV and Bluefield, WV is quite hilly and isolated.  The testing is done at a speed no more than 13 mph and to completely test both main tracks between those two points took several days. At the end of each testing day, a tie-down spot was chosen about midway between Williamson and Bluefield in the railroad town of Iaeger, West Virginia. That put us at the most convenient location for a quick return to the spot where testing stopped at the end of the previous work day.

    In Iager, the tie-down spot for the night was in front of the old freight station where the necessary facilities were available to us. After completing the daily maintenance on our rail test car, we were free to enjoy the pleasures of a small town evening on the town.

    One of those pleasures was Marie’s bar where many of the local young women would socialize and might offer a challenge to “Flip you a quarter for the jukebox”. It was an easy challenge. The odds were generally 50/50 and either way, some music would result from the quarters put up by the loser of the toss. It was music since Rap didn’t exist yet. Anne Murray’s Little Snowbird or any of Merle Haggard’s or Charley Pride’s songs would likely have been among the choices.

    These young ladies were not B-girls hustling for the house. They were just local ladies out for some socializing. And the challenge was honest, not underhanded. And therein comes the real testing.

    I had the opportunity last evening to socialize among some younger local ladies. A couple of them seemed eager to listen to a crooning Old Dinosaur. Their interest felt genuine until they INSISTED I have a shot with them. Rachel asked what I would like. I told her Windsor and she ordered for the three of us including her friend Emily.

    They listened to my next song, applauded and chatted a bit longer and then left. I hung around for another song or two and asked the bartender, an inexperienced trainee, for my tab. I was shocked to discover the round Rachel ordered for us was on my tab.

    Unlike Iaeger, where the ladies who want something ask for it, these two B-girls-in-training chose to use underhanded means to get a free drink. Had they asked, I might have offered to buy them a drink. They chose instead to hustle. How cheap!

    The real test is in trying to determine whether the small town taproom in an economically depressed small town will have more genuine honesty than would an upscale lounge in a thriving community.

    I think it’s time to start thinking in terms of rich white trash rather than the more common counterpart.
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