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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