A random look at the life and times of Jim Rising recovering radio addict and newspaper columnist.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I was going to write a nice warm and fuzzy column for today. After all it is Christmas Eve. I was going to talk about the glories of Christmases long, long ago because it is the most wonderful time of the year. I really wanted to tug at your heartstrings and write about chestnuts and wassailing, what ever that is.
But then I heard about the kitties. And I saw the pictures of the kitties. And I began to wonder if there are indeed any “ better angels of our nature” as Lincoln said 147 years ago.
There isn’t much that shocks me anymore. Reading the paper and watching and listening to the news on a regular basis has thoroughly tamped down my shock mechanism. When you live in a world where a Mommy can put a newborn outside in sub zero weather you begin to get a bit jaded. At least I do.
But the kitties got to me. The pictures set the hook. Little kitties with their ears sagging under the weight of so called “bananabells” is just plain wrong. Ever see pictures of dogs dressed up for Halloween? They all have this expression in their eyes that seems to say “Why are you doing this to me? I feel ridiculous.” Looking at the kitties they seem to be saying “This is wrong. Take this crap off me!”
You see, the kitties had no say in the matter. And that’s what really is wrong.
I know they are just dumb animals. But they do have the ability to learn ( can they think?) and feel pain. And we as their caretakers have a responsibility to do right by them. A responsibility not to make them into “Gothic Kittens.”
I am going to make a ridiculous comparison. In some of the less than civilized parts of the world a practice called Female Genital Mutilation is done to young girls, presumably without their consent. I don’t think I need or want to go into the details. I know, I know, to compare that to the mutilations of kitties is a far stretch even for me. I do think, however you can tell a great deal about a society by the way it treats it’s pets, not to mention it’s young girls. It’s just a quick slide down the slippery slope to hell that lives in my mind to get there. I said it was a ridiculous comparison. But it happens every day.
One of the kitties was advertised as a gothic cat under the name “Snarley Monster” on various on-line sites.
I think we know who the real monsters are. Or then again I could be wrong.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


He had been barking all night. I have trouble sleeping sometimes and this was one of those nights. It was the day after the big ice storm. Everything had been covered in a film of black ice. Walking anywhere on the Rising Ranch was next to impossible. A trip from the house to the garage was life threatening. A gymnast would have been envious of my moves as I got my feet above my head twice. Haven’t done that since kindergarten. But this was the next day. I rise early. It could be the name. It could be that I have to be at the gym for 5am. I am the first guy there. I like to arrive a little early. I get up at 4am most days but day after ice storm days I get up at around 3:30. I wasn’t asleep anyway. The dog had kept me up. The ice was mostly gone but now it was raining. Hard. And it was cold. The dog seemed to be barking more frantically now. Dogs can communicate a lot with a bark. This one was saying very plainly, “Help!” It sounded close. Real close.

I grabbed a five cell flashlight. Cops call them emergency nightsticks. Walking was a nightmare. It’s uneven ground and was soaking wet and slippery. Mud tried to suck my boots off. I could see the dog on the other side of our fence thru the privacy slats. Technically it was on the annoying neighbor’s property but it wasn’t his dog. Its eyes shone dull red in the flashlights beam. I had to walk to the end of the fence and back up again. Did I mention the cold hard rain? I got a look at the animal thru the rain from about five feet away. It was a big white dog, could have been an Airedale or a large standard poodle. It was stuck somehow. I got a little closer and it snapped and growled at me. This was above my pay grade.

Back at the house on with 911 they promised to “send” someone.

By the time I had to go no show. After an hour I checked in with the Long Suffering Wife and still no joy. This time the 911 call connected me to the State Police who took the info. And someone came for the dog.

He probably wouldn’t have made it much longer. It was just below freezing and he was in some distress.

Later on I got calls from the ASPCA and the Dog warden. Did I report a lost dog? This was hours later. Glad it wasn’t my dog. Or me. But then again I could be wrong.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A bit of undigested Roast Beef....

Charles Dickens wrote the following exchange between Ebenezer Scrooge and two charity workers for his Christmas Carol 164 years ago. With apologies to Mr. Dickens I have taken the liberty of updating it somewhat for this festive season that doth approacheth. Wow-that’s a Dickens type word. Easy to fall into his pattern. 16 days till Christmas, gentle readers.

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, the horseless carriage makers, the lenders and the ninny’s who play the stock market and who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of huge bailouts; hundreds of thousands are in want of big government bucks, air."

"Are there no prisons?"

"Plenty of prisons. But OJ is already going to serve at least nine years. And even as we speak our Great President Bush is busy pardoning many a white collar criminal. The prisons are no place for the rich Mr. Scrooge. The very thought of placing the leaders of the financial free world in prisons. It makes one shudder. Haven’t you ever heard the words of the great bard Dylan?”

“Dylan Thomas?”

“Um no. Bob, not Thomas my good sir. In any case you and Dickens will be long dead before either of them are born. But I speak of the Dylan who sang “Steal a little and they throw you in jail, Steal a lot and they make you king.”

“What shall I put you down for?"


"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the prisons and the workhouses, -- they cost enough, -- and those who are badly off must go there. So send the big three horseless carriage makers, Ford CEO Alan Mulally, General Motors CEO Richard Wagoner and Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli to the end of the unemployment line. "

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Of course we all know how the story comes out. Scrooge is confronted by three ghosts and has his attitude readjusted. Unfortunately for us a little attitude adjustment isn’t going to solve our current economic disaster. The Bob Cratchit’s of the current bona-fide recession won’t be helped even if Scrooge buys them the biggest turkey he can find. It’s gonna be a long cold lonely winter. Or then again, I could be wrong.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gobble, Gobble.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and all the through the house….no wait I’m mixing it up with Christmas again. In any case tomorrow starts the free fall headlong rush into the holidays or as I like to put it the “Holidaze”. No work gets done, people get distracted and weight goes back on. It’s a month long combination of a slowdown in some ways but a frantic pace in others. I could take this time to reminisce about the glories of Thanksgivings long ago. Like the one where the turkey landed with a splash in the toilet. I have told that one before though. I could also use this space to talk about my oldest son’s Thanksgiving last year. He has settled in the Deep South and sent me pictures of himself deep frying a turkey. Any enterprise involving cooking, a 55 gallon drum filled with boiling oil and a fire extinguisher just seems like a good time to me. But that’s a story for another time. I could let you in on the Thanksgiving dinner my out of state Daughter cooked. A guest finished her meal and then whipped out the Tupperware and proceeded to pack the leftovers for herself. Not really in the spirit of things but a story best left untold for now. No, today I want to concentrate on letter to the editor I saw a while ago. In Broadheadsville there is a diner called Penelope’s. This year as they have for quite some time they will once again offer a free Thanksgiving Day dinner to the needy. They serve 100 people free of charge. It’s a great thing to do and I applaud it. But the real reason I want to bring some attention to this is the message of the letter. Let me quote you some of the text. “At Thanksgiving, we at Penelope’s pray for the safety of our Men and Women in the military, a cure for Cancer and, especially for God to grant wisdom to our elected officials to guide us to peace and prosperity.”
At the beginning of the letter the writer references a 1,000 meal giveaway done in the spring. And they say “Since that time we’ve not seen an improvement in the financial situation in our community.”
But at Penelope’s they don’t just wring their hands in quiet desperation. They roll up their sleeves and feed the hungry. Sure in the big scheme of things it doesn’t make a difference. But to those hungry and in need tomorrow I can assure you it makes a BIG difference. What we need in this great country of ours right now is lots more Penelope’s diners. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A time for every season

It’s Fall. Any number of tell tale signs confirm this. Just a glance at the calendar should be enough. But many other sights, sounds and smells tell me that it’s time to put the shorts away for another year. Smells? Sure. The tang of burning leaves. Of course someone is always burning something near the Rising Ranch but I don’t mind the smell of a pile of leaves smoldering. Smells like…..Fall. Of course to go along with the burning leaves you hear the incessant dull roar of leaf blowers across the landscape. I can put up with it. I myself hate the end of the rake that you have to hold. You know. The side that gives you blisters? So a leaf blower works fine for me. I do understand it is possible to use them during the day and not at 6am or after 9pm but who am I to quibble? Sights? Well for one thing the deer and other animals have begun the annual migration from the left side to the right side of the road. But then again some of them are contrarians and go from right to left. Of course they do this all year long but for some reason during the fall the animal population of Northeastern Pa seems to live on the asphalt. Or more likely, die on the asphalt. Judging by the amount of corpses on and beside the road we have no fear of extinction of skunks, opossums or deer anytime soon. But some are luckier than others. The other day I saw a huge flock of turkeys and I wasn’t at a political rally. Rim shot, please. There must have been 20 or more, all in a line, taking their sweet time to cross the road. I stopped to watch. The tail end Charlie stopped and turned to look back at something. The rest of the flock was well into the woods. Charlie turned and if he was a human you would have heard him say “Woo woo woo.” Like Curly of the Three Stooges. He jumped a few feet in the air, shook his head and ran after the flock with that peculiar turkey trot in high gear. It was a Disney moment. It’s Fall. It’s the last few days of fifty degree temperatures before the deep freezer door is left open to chill us to the bone until Spring. Its bushel baskets of apples, piles of pumpkins that will not be Jack-o-lanterns but may become pies or soup. It’s the planning and thinking and plotting out the Thanksgiving feast. And it’s the first time you hear Christmas carols and see decorations, too soon, always too soon. But then again, I could be wrong.

The taxman cometh.

All of the nearly 200 have the same words. Reading them all over and over again is a mind numbing exercise but probably not as mind numbing as seeing your own property in the Luzerne County Sheriff’s sale flyer. I can’t imagine what it must be like to see your home or business to be listed in the stilted legal jargon. “Exposed to public sale by vendue or outcry to the highest and best bidders.” I had to look up “Vendue.” It means “a public sale at auction.” Outcry I had no problem with. It’s interesting though that the word cry slips into what looks to me to be a somewhat heartless process. There are, to be exact, 182 sales in this flyer dated Friday November 21st. Its 28 pages long. I am willing to bet that there are more than 182 stories to go along with those listings. You can read between the lines on some of them by looking at the title section. Lots of titles held by husbands and wives with one or the other deceased. Now with the spouse gone the house is too expensive or too big or too something. The kids don’t want it or live out of state or there are no kids. The payments to the taxman are forgotten and the property will soon be up for grabs to the highest or the best bidder. Best bidder? Who gets to decide what is best for what was a home once and is now just another line in the Luzerne County Sherriff’s sale. Some sales I am sure are the product of divorce. Some are just business as usual. Some may even be up for sale because or criminal activity. The cold hard fact is that we have on our hands the perfect storm of economic strife. High gas prices, tumbling stocks, and rampant unemployment. Here in Luzerne County we also face the reassessment that just took place and will take effect next year unless a dark planet crashes into the sun. Many many more of these sales will be taking place. So much so that I fear that the future Luzerne County Sheriff’s sale flyer may be the size of a set of encyclopedias. You may see that one delivered by tractor trailer trucks. It’s not funny, this grim prognosis. People’s lives will change. Whole neighborhoods may be looking like the streets of Centralia before this is done. I am sure that the Sherriff and his department take no joy from all this. To be part of a process that in the legal words involves “seized and taken” can’t be something to look forward to during your workday. But then again, I could be wrong.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Did you Boscov Today?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that losing the Boscov store in downtown Wilkes-Barre would be a good thing. But I question some of the statements made recently by the powers that be about the city of Wilkes-Barre loaning 3 million smackers to keep it afloat. Mayor Tom Leighton swears-no wait let me rephrase that because we know Tom Leighton does NOT swear. He wouldn’t say excrement if he had a mouth full of it. It’s not in his vocabulary. Not even if he hits his thumb with a hammer. Hizzoner said “This will have no impact on the taxpayers.” Interesting choice of words. Impact? Does that mean if the loan to a bankrupt store, which after all is what Boscov is right now, is never repaid then that’s ok? Then where did the money come from? “This money does not come out of our general fund” says the Mayor. Then where from does it come? The special fund? The fund to pay for losing lawsuits against private citizens? That fund has been tapped out recently. According to published reports the loans are being financed through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They have an address in Washington D.C. I checked it on the internet which is now, as Homer Simpson says, on computers. So the money is coming from our country tiz of thee’s Government. Where does the Government get that money? From the big printing press in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, I know. It’s just down the street. But where does the money really come from? Here’s a hint. You pay taxes, right? And even though the Mayor says all is well a teeny tiny bit of uncertainty exists. Todd Vonderheid, Chief Executive of the Greater Wilkes-Barre chamber of Business and industry said “There’s clearly some risk.” Hmmm. 3 Million dollars is a lot of risk in a city that from all appearances does not have mountains of cash stored in silos. I hope Boscov’s survives. I really do. Because I have this sinking feeling if they don’t that I know who will be paying the bill no matter what the powers that be say. Oh and could they use some of the 3 million to maybe spruce up the joint a tad? Last time I was there the store was showing its age and not well. A little paint, some new carpets and maybe a swipe with a dust mop would be a help. Near the escalator that was broken that day I counted in my line of sight 15 light fixtures with burned out bulbs.
If the lights are out, there isn’t anybody home. Or then again I could be wrong.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

God and State.

I have always been told that two topics you should never discuss are religion and politics. It’s a sure way to get into an argument. Well with recent events I am going to have to respectfully decline that advice. What in the world is going on in the Catholic Church? Have they lost their minds or have they never heard of the concept of separation of church and state? Thomas Jefferson said “legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. It’s not just an American concept. Back in 1864 Pope Pius IX issued a document that read in part "The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.". But it seems that concept has gone the way of the Latin mass.
The Most Reverend Joseph F. Martino, D.D., Hist. E.D. ,The Bishop of Scranton recently ordered that a lengthy homily of his be read in church and placed in the printed bulletins. This was done before the election. It said in part “Our Lord, Jesus Christ, does not..….ask us to take up his Cross only to have us leave it at the voting booth door.” Most of the homily condemns “pro-choice candidates” and although he doesn’t spell it right out the meaning is obvious. Vote Democratic-go to hell!
Now, after the election A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest, The Rev. Jay Scott Newman of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Hussein Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him "constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil." Nice touch Father Jay, including the middle name “Hussein”. The blogosphere is full of ranting that our next president is a Middle Eastern sleeper cell already and the Hussein reference helps a lot. I am sure that plays well in the Bible belt of which Greenville is the buckle.
And the idea that Obama is the “Anti-Christ” is out there too-but to call the President “Intrinsically evil”? Holy Cow!
Maybe the church should confine itself to it’s plateful of troubles. Shrinking congregations. The lack of funds generated from those shrinking congregations. The lack of new priests. The lack of priests who don’t touch little boys and girls. The millions and millions taken direct from the collection plates to defend those pedophile priests. Here’s one from the blogosphere: The true reason the church is so vehement about pro-choice is because the pedophile priests need a steady supply of new victims. Heresy? Sure. But in its way no worse than calling the leader of the free world whether you like him, love him or hate him, evil. But then again I might be wrong.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"not dead. e's just resting!"

No one really likes their neighbors. I don’t. On both sides of the Rising Ranch I am surrounded by annoying people. Actually annoying is far too mild a word. These people would try the patience of Gandhi. On one side I have a skinflint who is too cheap to pay for garbage pick-up so he burns his trash. All his trash. At times it smells like I have moved next door to a crematorium. On another side I have a maniac who runs power equipment 24/7/365. Nothing like the sound of a chainsaw in the morning. EVERY MORNING. But my problems pale compared to this poor woman in Dallas. It sounds like something out of a Monty Python sketch. Or maybe the punch line to a bad joke. I refer to the news item the other day about the woman and the parrot. It seems that there is a parrot living on Country Club Road in Dallas. I have been on Country Club Road in Dallas. It sounds far nicer than it really is. It’s named, I would presume, after the Irem Temple Country Club which is indeed on the road in question. You have a love to road that has a 15 foot high fez as a sign on it. The tassel alone will take your breath away! The image of a County Club with tuxedoed men and gowned ladies shipping sherry on the verandah? Not so much at the Irem Country Club. But that has nothing to do with our story. It seems that this parrot that lives on Country Club Road is noisy. Noisy enough that it’s “repetitious screeching and screaming” is keeping the neighbors from taking an afternoon nap. The vocal bird lives about 30 feet away from the bedroom of the anonymous would be napper. It probably sounds like the parrot is on her nightstand trying out for American Idol. The unfortunate woman tried to do the right thing. After speaking to the parrot owners, she appealed to the board of supervisors for help. And got nada. Zip. Bupkis. She was told to get a lawyer. It’s considered a private matter. In case you think the woman is overly sensitive it’s been verified that a parrot screech can exceed 150 decibels. Just for context standing 100 feet from a departing jet airplane rates 130 decibels. A rock concert averages 120 DB. So I think the woman has cause for complaint. In the famous Monty Python Sketch the Norwegian Blue Parrot ends up as an Ex-parrot. I predict a similar ending for the Parrot of Country Club Road if it doesn’t learn to speak softly. But then again I could be wrong.

Vote for me, I'll give you a tree!

Deadline forced this to be written days before the election was over. Assumptions were made, among them that the election is indeed over and that we have a winner. Some assembly required.

Hear that? Or rather, DON’T hear that? The sound of silence after the deafening roar of two years of campaigns that all spun down last night.
I have never seen or heard such a revolting display of mud slinging, self aggrandizing, unprecedented, bull crap emanating from TV, Radio and the Newspapers and don’t forget I was alive while Nixon was in office. But it’s over and the people have spoken.
Fill in the blank here: ____________has won the highest office in the land.
It was a historic campaign. Many elements were played out for the first time in our nation’s history. First black candidate, oldest candidate, most spending (reportedly $293 Million for McCain, $573 Million for Obama) and so on.
There are a lot of questions facing blank. He has to know that on Tuesday January 20th at noon when he says ''I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.'' the enormous responsibility that passes to him. The economy, the war, and the energy crises- he’s going to have his hands full.
Blank may or may not have been my first choice. It doesn’t matter now. What matters is that the promises of change start happening. If you think back about the past campaign many dire predictions were made if blank won. Questions about his competency, his ability to meet the challenge, his record have all been raised. Will blank die or be assassinated in office is a concern. Is Vice-President blank up to the challenge of stepping in the biggest shoes in the land? Do we want to find out?
President blank has incredible power right now. He would do well to remember the words of a British Lord from 1887:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
But I have faith in the system. Not necessarily in the people who populate the system, but the system itself with its checks and balances has worked for the past 220 years. But even the framers of the constitution had doubts. That’s why Article II -Section 4. reads:
“The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
It’s a safety blanket that I hope we don’t need-But I for one can sleep a little easier knowing it exists.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Change? You mean spare change, right?

I know less then nothing about high finance. A good day is when I find change on the street. A great day is when it’s silver and not copper. I can watch the carnage that is our nation’s economy from the safe and secure vantage point of not having two nickels to rub together. I don’t play the stock market. Hell in this day and age I don’t think anyone plays the stock market-it’s hardly a game anymore. Images of men throwing themselves from New York City skyscrapers appear before me when I think about how bad things are on Wall Street. How bad is it? The company I used to work for, which is now laying off people faster than political candidates make campaign promises, issued me a bunch of stock options when they liked me. They were worthless then. Stock options seem to me like having sex with a full body condom on. Really what’s the point? I think the option price on the lowest of them was in the 60 dollar range. The stock is trading now at $1.40. The usual jokes about using the stock options as toilet paper come to mind but actually the paper is too rough for that and leaves ink on your behind. Not much good for blowing your nose on either. Not real absorbent. Is there any thing worth less than worthless? I said I don’t play the stock market. But I do have a 401k. The same company that gave me the stock options used to make a contribution to that. I missed out on that when I left their employ but now they have stopped that little gift so I didn’t miss much. My 401k lost so much money so fast even before the stock market began acting like a Hershey park roller coaster that I put it in deep freeze mode. I am sure this is against all the advice any economist would give but not only did it stop the hemorrhaging of dough but I actually, according to my last statement, made a little money. How the hell did that happen, don’t ask me. Ask the economist next to you at the soup kitchen. Another thing I don’t understand is how all the gas stations know it’s almost election time. The closer we get to November 4th the lower the price at the pump goes. I saw a “2” on the front of a gas price the other day. At least I think it was a two. It was very dusty. Of course all the “2’s” will be long gone after we make our choice on that Tuesday in November. Look for bright and shiny “5’s” then. Or then again I could be wrong.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

See I told you so

In 17 days I will do something I have never done before. I wish I could say I will do it with a joyful heart. I wish I could I could say I will do it with the spirit of adventure and excitement that often accompanies first time experience. But sadly I am approaching this milestone in my life as more like a millstone around my neck. For the sad truth is I will exercise my franchise for the first time on November 4th and I wish it was under different circumstances. To be sure I am not proud of this particular track record. But to understand why I have never set foot in a voting booth we must go back to a day 33 years ago. I realize that for some of you, maybe even most of you, that is a long time. But in my mind it seems like yesterday. I became completely disillusioned with politics that day and I have never ever really recovered. From 1968 when he was first elected as president my generation screamed as loud as we could that Richard Nixon was a crook. It seemed that no one believed us, a bunch of overfed, long-haired leaping young people. No one, that is until Tricky Dick hung himself and succumbed to the charges of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th president of the United States became the first president to resign in August of 1974. “See we told you so!” seemed weak at the time. It still does. It turned me off politics so strongly that I vowed never to participate in a system that could elect a person so crooked that he had to be installed into his grave with a power auger. But that was then, this is now. Maybe if I had been more political in the intervening years, maybe if I had found the intestinal fortitude to hold my nose and to vote for some of the lesser scumbags that have run for office maybe just maybe this country wouldn’t be in the awful fix it’s in now. Yeah and maybe pigs can fertilize fields by doing crop-dusting flights. I have no real hope that my lonely little vote will make a difference in this year’s outcome. I watched in smug self satisfaction seven years ago as the election was stolen. But this year I have to vote. If I don’t vote and the wrong person gets the brass ring I will not be able to say “See I told you so.” I just wish that my first time behind the curtain I could vote for someone, not against someone. Or then again, God help us please, I could be wrong.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Butt out!

“Smoking or non-smoking?” A phrase that will soon be heard as often as “I need a new buggy whip.” Or “Honey the dinosaurs are tearing up the garden again.” I for one am glad to see smoking butted out of most places. It’s true I was a smoker. A pretty good smoker at that. A pack a day on good days (or bad days depending on your point of view) and sometimes quite a bit more than that. So, like most ex-smokers I now hate the smell of tobacco being burned worse than I hate death. Now, if I understand it correctly, the law prohibits smoking at restaurants that serve alcohol if a percentage of their total sales are derived from selling food. So if you don’t sell many eats, patrons can puff away. I have heard some refer to this as the “Dive bar” exemption.
Quite a few questions have been raised as to how this is being regulated. Who checks the receipts to make sure the law is being complied with? In the “dive bars” I have been in (and I have been in a few) there are typically quite a few salty snacks available presumably to increase beverage consumption.
Not to mention pickled pigs feet. I was once at such a bar where a wager was made between a local and an out of towner about the consumption of one of those pink fetus like objects in the big glass jar. If I remember correctly (there were mature beverages being consumed) the figure was $50. Of course the local got the money and the pigs’ foot. (feet?) But my point is would the $50 clams count towards the smoking restriction now a days? Just a thought.

There are still two problems with smoking that need to be cleared up. Smokers are now prohibited in a lot of places from smoking right outside the door. But they have just moved a few feet further. There still is a steel grey cloud to wade through and piles of stinky butts. It’s just in a different place.

And the biggest problem? People still throw burning cigarette butts out of car windows. It’s obnoxious and dangerous. I read a book once where the hero was a guy who was Mr. Environment to the point that he developed this device to punish smokers who discharged from the car. He would pick up the butts, load it in this thing and catch up with the person. He would get them to roll down the window and fire the butt back into the car. Extreme? Yeah, I guess. But many times I wish I had the sack to do just that. But then again I could be wrong.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

700 Billion Bailout.

I am not ever going to be mistaken for an economist. I can, on a good day, give the correct change to the clerk to buy a newspaper but there are days I can’t do even that. Big numbers scare me, especially when I have to write them in the column marked withdrawals in my checkbook. Any thing with more than a zero or two gets entered with handwriting that looks like a chicken had a seizure with a pen strapped to his leg.
But in the interest of keeping current with economic events I present:

Some ways of looking at 700,000,000,000.

Actually let’s start much smaller. 80 years we may get on this planet. 29,200 days, 700,800 hours and 42,048,000 minutes. So if you paid back a dollar a minute it would take 16,647 lifetimes to pay back 700 Billion. Better start counting! Here is another way of slicing this pie:

To count out one Billion nonstop without sleep or eating it would take Thirty-Nine years. To count out 700 Billion would take 27,300 years. That’s a lot of Red Bull. It would be the year 29308 when you finished. Makes the year 2525 seem like it’s just around the corner.

A Billion pennies stacked would reach nearly one thousand miles high.
The image shows a billion pennies.

700 billion would reach 700 thousand miles high.

700 billion worth of pennies would fill about 30 sears towers.

As of 2007, there are about 138 million taxpayers in the United States. If I understand this 700 Billion dollar bailout at all then those taxpayers (Hey, that’s you and me!) are the people who would be paying that 700 billion dollars. That comes out to be nearly $5,100 per tax payer. So for a couple that is over $10,000. The day the government puts $10,000 into the checkbook of this taxpayer would be a very happy day indeed.

But the money is not going to be coming into your checkbook or my checkbook. The Government is going to give it to someone else.
Consider this. Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense has been quoted as saying "According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions.” In other words the military lost $2.3 trillion.
The picture shows what a stack of a trillion pennies would look like to scale. That's the empire state building.

One Trillion dollars is One Thousand Billion dollars. To count out a Trillion dollars nonstop without sleeping or eating it would take Thirty-Nine Thousand (39,000) years. I am not sure how much Red Bull that would take.

So this government of ours lost more than 300 Billion more than the bailout would cost.
Sen. Everett Dirkson is rumored to have said "A billion here, a billion there..., pretty soon, you're talking real money." So what’s a trillion between friends, right? Or then again I could be wrong.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bloomsburg Fair 2008

A trip to the Bloomsburg fair is like a harbinger of the inevitable slide into weather that doesn’t support the wearing of shorts here in NEPA. It’s almost impossible to contemplate that in a few short weeks we will be digging out hats, gloves, boots, sweaters and polar artic fleece undies. But for one all too brief shining week we can pretend it’s still summer. The 154th annual edition of the fair that draws close to half a million people is going on right now. Two things are missing from this years Bloomsburg fair. One important, one personal. More on that in a moment. The fair is nothing if not efficient. You park in one of the immense lots and a tractor pulling trolleys transports you to the gate. A comparison to Disney World was made. Disney it’s not. The trolleys need a shot of WD-40-they squeak and squeal like girls at Jonas Bothers concert. And the operators of the tractors are in the dictionary under “Jackrabbit starts and stops.” The word lurch comes to mind and I don’t mean the Adams family. But a promenade around the grounds, stuffing your face at every corner soon makes up for the ride. Oh, the agriculture and 4H displays are great. But you go to the fair to stuff your face.
And that brings me to the two missing elements from this year’s gluttony fest.
Phil’s Cajun Kitchen has stopped selling Jambalaya. For the unitiated Cajun Jambalya is basically rice and whatever is in the kitchen. Sausage, chicken, oinion, peppers, celery spices and hot sauce. MMM good. But, alas no more. For me this is like finding out there is no Santa and what’s this about the Easter Bunny? A bowl of Phil’s steaming concoction was the perfect breakfast at the fair. It was good for lunch and dinner too. RIP Jambalaya.

But the more important absence at the fair this year is somewhat more ominous. No bees. No nasty yellowjackets. On the surface this is a blessing. The winged univited guests made fair going uncomfortable at times, competing for sweet stuff. In years past a purchase of soda meant the possibilty of getting stung or at least hazed by a squadron of the busy insects. But this year there were few if any buzzing around. Either this means the Bloomsburg fair has figured out a way to charge them and they can’t afford it or…colony collapse disorder, a mysterious disease killing off bees nationwide has hit our area. And that is a very scary thing indeed. Someone said, “No bees, No humans” and that’s about right. Without the pollination of bees, fruits and vegtables could disappear like Phil’s Jambalya.
Or then again I could be wrong.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

M O O N that spells moon.

The last few nights have been a full moon.
One night when it was clear I was up at 3 am and it was bright enough to read a newspaper with. So I grabbed a copy of the Times leader and perused the Police blotter.
The fact that people act crazier and there is more crime during a full moon is under some dispute. In spite of the word lunacy which comes from the Latin for Moon or Luna. Some psychologists say it’s a bunch of hooey. But ask any policeman or emergency room worker.
Back to the police blotter-in the past three days there have been over 60 reports printed. I don’t know if that’s more or less than normal but it seems like a lot.
Domestic disputes, stolen vehicles, vandalism all in incredible variety. A stolen kid’s bike, a ripped off basketball hoop, a license plate taken from a car, holiday decorations stolen from a car (what holiday?) Solar lights ripped off from a front yard. Someone even liberated two air conditioners from a fire hall. Now that takes intestinal fortitude.
And a bunch of people who had more than their share of John Barleycorn. A guy arrested for throwing food and a mattress into the street. A lady who was driving on the sidewalk. A woman who was found drinking a beer in public then gave police a fake name. A 32 year old gal arrested for exposing her breasts to passing motorists. At 9am.
Some things that are just plain sad. Someone broke into a place and stole an undetermined amount of hypodermic needles. You don’t need a psychologist to figure out where those will end up. A 2 year old thrown from a car into the road, then scooped up and put back in the car which drove off. Witnesses said the car was being driven recklessly. And a man who broke into a house was found inside the residence, not his own, cooking.
There are a thousand stories in the naked city under a full moon.
As Warren Zevon put it. Ahhh oooo!

It taint this or that.

I think we need to add another season to the calendar. This time right now to me is the “Taint” of the seasons. I suppose a little definition is in order here. The word “Taint” is generally used to describe something that isn’t one thing or another. I have heard it used mostly in anatomically oriented references but that’s as far as I will go with that one. Suffice to say the “Taint” is inbetween. I suppose also that you could make a case for there being “Taints” each time the season changes but this time of year is the one I think best fits. It is the time between the best time of the year, Summer; glorious, hot, sticky, sensual Summer and Fall, when things start to head downhill for the Winter. I always find it a little hard to handle the fact that in a couple of months we will have gone from weather that supports the wearing of the most minimal of clothing and no shoes to a time of sweaters, heavy coats, boots, hats and gloves. But that is life in NEPA I guess. But for the next few weeks we are in between. It’s actually been hotter this September after Labor Day (it reached 89 on September 4th) than it was for the entire month of August. So it’s not any surprise that these days in the “Taint” can go from one extreme to another. I can remember going to the Bloomsburg fair some years in shorts and T-shirts and other years bundled up in winter clothes. Bloomsburg fair week, by the way is towards the end of “Taint.” So when exactly does the “Taint” begin and end? The beginning is easy. The day after Labor Day signals the end of summer. This wisdom comes from anyone who has ever been a kid. Pools close, schools open, it’s not Summer anymore. It’s “Taint.” But when does Fall officially start? A Google search on that will make your head spin. There is way too much time on way too many people’s hands on the internet. You can get almost any date you want for the start of Fall. My little moleskin calendar says 9/22 is the first day of Autumn. We will call that the official date for our purposes here, but in the hearts and minds of NEPA I am pretty sure Fall starts when, well, when the leaves begin to fall in sufficient enough quantity that rakes come out of hibernation and the sound of leaf blowers fills the air. That’s not a standard that you can set your watch by, obviously but it feels right to me. But then again I could be wrong.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Clean up in aisle four.

I do the grocery shopping now. Have been for almost the past year. I don’t mind and actually kind of enjoy it. The other day I had filled my basket with my order and headed to the check-out to cash out and be on my way.
The long suffering wife has taught me to look over the checkers very carefully. You need one who looks like they won’t put up too much of a fight over coupons you are using. You also have to balance that need with the size of the person/persons order in front of you.
I chose carefully this day, The girl behind the register was very cute, blond, well put together and there were only two others in front of me. An older gent who was nearly done, or so it appeared and a 20 something guy with just a few items, one of which was a small bouquet of flowers. Aww, something to give his girl, or his Mom. The old guy was having a real problem. Something to do with writing his check. The cute checkout girl was very solicitous to him. I had picked right! Pretty and nice. A combo that doesn’t happen very often. The younger guy in front of me was getting impatient. You could tell.
Finally the senior citizen cleared out and as I began to load my order on the belt the young guy struck up a conversation with the checker. I didn’t hear all of it but I did catch the end. “These are for you” he said, proffering the small bouquet of flowers. “Wow” I thought, what a cheesy pick-up technique.
The cute check out girl looked at them like they were a dead rat and said “Oh I can’t take those. My boyfriend will have a fit.” I didn’t hear the pick up artists reply but the checker said “Do you still want them?” Pick up boy said “Yes” and scurried out.
I turned to the cute checker and asked “Do you often get flowers?” She looked at me and I could tell she was sizing me up. She decided I was old and no threat (when did this happen to me?) so she said “That’s the third time he’s done that. Can’t take a hint. And I don’t even HAVE a boyfriend.”
I already had more information than Mr. Pick up and I wasn’t even in the game! Being a pretty woman in a public place is hard sometimes I suspect.
I bet this sort of thing goes on all the time probably not three times in a row like our bouquet bearer but often enough. “He might be a stalker” I said.
Her eyes flew wide open and she said “You think?” I don’t know why I did it, but as I started to walk away I said to her “I just saw him put the flowers on your car.” Just another day at the grocery store. Or then again I could be wrong.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rascal Flatts Review

With a flash bang that must have been seen and heard in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton the Rascal Flatts “Bob your head” tour touched down at the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Sunday night and brought 16 thousand to their feet in a hurry.
Gary LeVox, Jay Demarcus, and Joe Don Rooney rode down to the super high-tech stage on a futuristic scaffolding from what looked like a hundred feet in the air. Think Mad Max’sd thunderdome meets ET’s Spaceship. The stage set included huge risers for the keyboard, drummer and pedal steel player with immense video screens on two sides. In the center was a semi circle screen that concealed the stairway to the scaffolding. Through most of the nearly two hour show at least five young ladies did the frug and the mash potatoe behind the screen. Just like shindig! Which brings me to the only criticism I can make of the spectacle. Where was the country? Oh sure the five piece back up band included a fiddle player who could play down the devil or Charlie Daniels but try as I might I couldn’t hear the pedal steel.
But I don’t mean to say it’s bad. In fact the show was just short of amazing.
From the opener “Still feels good” from the latest CD it was clear that these guys can sing. The effortless harmony that is their trademark was in full force Sunday night. Launching into “Life is a highway” Gary Levox (Le Vox means the voice, right?) made you forget all about Tom Cochrane. The list of hits that follwed included “Love you out loud”, Everday, a rousing version of “Stand” and the pop sounding “Take me there”. Then after an overly long speech from Joe Don where he thanked the employees of “Dunder Mifflin” for being so doggone nice it seemed like ti was time for the obligiatory acoustic set. Joe Don laid down a nice version of “Movin’ on with just an acoustic guitaur and Jay Demarcus sang a sadly truncated “Skin” while noodling on a keybord. The Medly roared back into the full band behind Gary belting out “Feels like today.”
The Flatts will release their first greatest hits CD shortly and it’s bound to include every song they played Sunday night. After the band was introduced the pace picked up with “Fast cars and freedom, “ Bless the broken road”, “What hurts the most” and the set ended with “Here’s to you.”
The encore brought the trio back out for “Me and my gang” and the night ended predictably but not badly with “Bob that head.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


An article in the Times Leader caught my attention the other day because it mentioned the Weekender.
The story was about the PLCB and its policing efforts to prevent the discriminatory practice of “Ladies nights” at local watering holes. About this I have no opinion. I can’t see the harm but whatever. It’s funny that it’s ok to have nights for people who work in the service industry. Isn’t that discriminatory against those who don’t? But what peaked my interest was the comment from some PLCB honcho that “We always read the weekender to see if bars are running ladies nights” or words to that effect. Really? Well I am not sure if the PLCB ever reads this column but if they do I have a message for them. LET US BUY SIX PACKS IN GROCERY STORES. When I first moved to NEPA (28 years ago) I was astounded to learn the rules of beer buying. I was less astounded than amused when I found out that the purported reason for the rules was to “reduce consumption.” Huh? Let me get this straight. By forcing beer consumers to buy an entire case at a beer distributor rather than a six pack that will reduce consumption? An interesting concept but I am not sure that’s working out so good. Because there are lots of places where you can buy just a six pack. Bars, some convenience stores and a few delis. But in most cases you pay substantially more. And the selection generally sucks,
Whenever I travel back to my home states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine I am always amazed when I see beer in the grocery store. It just seems like a dream. You mean I can buy just a six pack and I won’t get charged with a crime? Amazing. And here’s another concept. In some places you can buy a single bottle. Or a mixed six pack. So if you want to try a new brew you don’t have to make the commitment of a whole case.
Now I realize that there are probably many economic reasons that my poor beer addled brain can’t understand about this whole concept. Surely there is a reason beyond “Reducing consumption” for this madness.
But here is my real point. Some grocery stores are allowed to sell wine. Not beer, not hard liquor but wine is ok? Why? And now Wegmans can sell beer. Why can’t the grocery store I go to sell me a six pack? Why can’t they have a big cooler full of all the many brands I want to try? Then I could go the beer distributor and buy a case and everyone is happy. Or then again I could be wrong.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Rectum? I damn near killed him!

"I have a sad story to tell you
It may hurt your feelings a bit
Last night when I walked into my bathroom
I stepped in a big pile of ...shhhhh . . . aving cream,
be nice and clean. . . .
Shave ev'ry day and you'll always look keen." Benny Bell.

The following is true. Names and places are also true. No one is being protected here. Our story begins, as so many do, at the Pocono race track. A day long adventure, including the ingestion of a multitude of mature beverages, a hoagie the length and circumference of a Clydesdale’s leg and a dump truck full of snacks ranging from peanuts to jalapeƱo and habanero beef jerky. Hot? Like the hinges of hell in your mouth! Well you name it; it went in the pie hole. We were ready to begin the trek homeward.
It’s not a long drive but that summer’s eve it seemed like the Bataan death march. About 15 minutes into what should have been about an hours drive traffic stopped dead. Then when we did move it was only at a snail’s pace and only fifty feet at a time.
An hour passed. I knew I was in trouble.
I have been acquainted with my bowels for more than five decades. I know almost to the second how much time I left before I have an accident that will put me in a trance as I fill my pants and then have to throw my underwear in the woods. Not that as a self respecting adult male I have ever had to do that. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I have no idea what happened to that underwear, dear.
We finally got on the open road. My internal bowel gauge was telling me I had about 20 minutes. I frantically searched my memory of our route for places to take a dump. In my discomfort I wondered if I could just knock on someone’s door at random and beg.
Things were getting tense below the belt. I was sweating and cramping. It made driving more than an adventure. I am proud to say my traveling companions knew not of my distress. Of course as passengers they were enjoying even more adult beverages. That may have dulled their senses somewhat.
The cramps intensified. I knew that if I tried to relieve the pressure by opening the gas valve that I would have, how can I put this delicately, shat myself. So I kept the exhaust valve tightly clenched and gripped the wheel until my knuckles turned white.
At last I remembered. There was a convenience mart up ahead a few miles. I checked my bowel gauge and it said maybe. Hurry.
As I pulled into the parking lot in a four wheel skid I threw the door open and told my passengers’ of my mission. “Why don’t you just do it behind the store?” Mickey asked. Right.
My bowel gauge sensed we were close. It registered a two minute warning.
I headed for the store praying they had a restroom. YES! Over there! As I moved towards it (ever try to walk nonchalantly while holding your butt cheeks in a clench?) I noticed the door to the hallway was heavy duty steel. It had huge u shaped metal prongs on either side of it with a two by four leaning on the wall. My mind registered that it must be to secure the door from what ever was on the other side. I really didn’t care. Bowel gauge at 1:30 and counting.
Into the hallway I moved and thanks be to the God who watches over little children and drunks the Men’s room door was unlocked. I flung it open.
Two things struck me at once. It stank. I mean not a bad smell. But an aroma you could cut with a chainsaw if you didn’t mind ruining the blade. And number two. It was filthy. Here is the cover of the Rolling Stones Beggars’ Banquet album that they outlawed. This toilet makes the one I was in look like a surgical operating room.
In the hell hole I had just entered there was a guy using the urinal. The stall was occupied and locked. I must have groaned because the guy at the urinal looked at me and said “Bedonnaminute.” He was so drunk, I noticed that when he turned to look at me he was pissing on his shoes.
My bowels, sensing where I was notified me that the countdown was T-minus 15 seconds and the tanks were filling.
The stall door opened and a small boy darted out and made a bee line for the door. My drunken companion said “Smhellylilshitainah? Which I translated to mean “Smelly little shit, is he not?”
I lunged for the door. And things started to do downhill fast.
First off my bowels began to make the noise that submarines do before they go under water. A klaxon sounded and “DIVE DIVE DIVE” was being shouted.
But the “Smehlly” little kid had not flushed his offering. I tried the handle and all became clear. Toilet broken. No Flushee.
At this point to say I didn’t give a shit would be wrong. I did. And I did right on top of the little kids. What choice did I have?
While this was going on the drunk not two feet away began to yell. ‘Yarnt taking a shit in there ar ya? Holy F(*% how can you do that? Ar ya shitting in there? Hey guys, he’s taking shit in here!”
He went out the door and I continued my duty. “Bang!” the door slammed open and the drunk and several more like him came in to offer me advice. ”Jesus, man-are you really shitting in there? Don’t sit on the seat. I can’t F*&%ing believe that you are F$%^ing shitting in there!” And so on.
It took me what felt like ten years to finish my duty. Again, thanks to the Lord of dirty filthy bathrooms there was toilet paper.
My tormenters eventually tired of yelling at me ( I think it had more to do with the aroma I was producing then anything else) and as I left my pile in the bowl and headed out the door I figured the arrangement out. The bathrooms were a shared affair with a bar next to the convenient mart and the bar was hosting a Hell’s Angels happy hour.
I hurried out of the store but not without knocking over a display of something on my way out. The Indian behind the counter yelled something at me but I was moving at warp nine by then.
I relayed this story to the long suffering wife whose only comment was, “Why didn’t you go before you left?” The kind of advice you give to a potty trained three year old right? But alas I am much older and wiser than that. Right?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

8 08 08 lucky?

I have taken a part-time job. It’s almost not a job at all except for the fact that I have to show up. Before I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago the gym where I work out posted a note on the locker room door. They needed someone to open the joint up at 4:30am Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 3.5 hours a day.
Since I spent more than thirty years as a morning radio announcer getting up that early is an engrained habit. The perks include a free gym membership and a few extra dollars a week to put towards my newly reassessed mansion/estate. I haven’t worked a job where I had to be anywhere on a regular basis for almost a year. I actually kind of like it. So before I went on vacation I told them that if no one wanted it when I returned I would take it. That’s exactly what happened.
The first day, 8 08 08 was a disaster.
I am able to wake up without using an alarm clock. I can tell myself what time I want to wake up and I do. I am also one of those insufferable people who can climb out of bed completely awake and even with a hangover that would kill a lesser man, usually in pretty good mood.
But just to be one the safe side I had the long suffering wife set an alarm clock.
I don’t know what made me turn over and look at the clock. For a few seconds I couldn’t believe it, and then I started swearing. It was 4:55am!
A great way to start a new job! Late the first day.
With hair standing straight up and clothes thrown on I raced out the door and drove like Dale Jr. was on my tail. Thank God there were no cops or deer in my way on my route! I live pretty close so I made it only five minutes late. But still loads of grumbling from the early birds. And I had forgotten all my careful notes about how to do the job so I had to wing it.
The day just got better. I was supposed to review a concert that night for the Weekender. On our way to the show the long suffering wife’s car conked out. Stopped dead in its tracks. Right near the Moosic entrance ramp of I-81. So I called my buddy and he helped me get a tow. I am lucky to have a friend like that. While we waited on the side of I-81 (staying in the car became not an option. Watching huge 18 wheelers bear down on us in the rearview was just too nerve wracking) an SUV pulled up behind our car. Then leaned on the horn like it was in the way. I struggled up the steep bank to see what the hell was going on. The tinted window rolled down and the driver said “Is that your car?” A moment here to describe the driver. She was blonde. Very blonde. Now I am happily married but I am not blind. She had on tube top that was dangerously full. Tribal tattoos on her arm. The car smelled like…well it smelled real good. And she was drop dead gorgeous.
She was in the words of the late Rick James “The kind you don’t take home to mother.” A snap judgment maybe but I stand by it.
“Yes it is.” I managed to stammer.
“Oh crap! My girlfriend has the exact same car and she said she was broken down right here.”
What are the chances? Sure enough as I looked down the highway I saw another car with flashers on about a mile away. It was a twin to my Wife’s car.
The babe in the SUV pulled out and soon after my friend and the tow truck arrived.
I never did make it to the show.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Hummingbird do-do.

I don’t know if it was poo or pee. More on that in a bit.

I love hummingbirds more than any other bird. They are so cool! No other bird can hover in place like a tiny helicopter. They can go 63 miles per hour in a dive and they sound like a huge bee. Plus they are so little. About the length of your index finger and weighing an astonishing 1/8th of an ounce. Perfect little creatures. They can even fly backwards!
We have always fed the “Hummers” at the Rising ranch. But until this year we never got more than a few. For years I dutifully filled the light bulb shaped feeder with the pricey red stuff that I bought at the feed store. A few of the little guys would come to visit but not many.
This year I followed the advice of the Long suffering wife’s sister and made my own syrup for the feeder. It’s pretty simple. A four to one ratio of sugar and water boiled to dissolve the sugar does the trick.
Within hours of setting up the new food we were overrun with the buzzers.
I was overjoyed! For the first time we had the males fighting over the feeder. Females would tank up like little pigs, eating so much that when they left the feeder they had trouble gaining altitude.
I changing the feed one day I removed the feeder for a few minutes. The hummers were in a blind panic. Where did it go? They hovered where it was supposed to be, flew in circles and generally acted like they were starving.
After seeing a few fights between males I was told that multiple feeders would end the hummer wars.
Of course I went too far and at one point I had four feeders up. Domino’s sugar stock went up.
I have settled on two main feeders on the porch by the bar-b-q cooker and one by the kitchen window.
Our neck of the woods is the exclusive territory of the Ruby-throated hummingbird. The males have the red throat and we seem to get a lot more females at the feeder.
They have absolutely no fear of me and routinely gas up while I am cooking burgers on the grill. With a wing beat rate up to 80 per second they sound like a bee on steroids.
I have not had good luck getting a picture. I have a crappy digital camera (it’s actually a video camera that takes stills) and by the time I get one in the viewfinder they take off at 65mph.

From our kitchen I have a clear view from my place at the table of the two main feeders.
The other day a fine specimen was hovering between the two feeders. As I watched it took a dump. Or maybe a whiz. How could you tell? There was no doubt that it pushed something out of it’s exhaust vent. A little silver colored stream.
I have never heard anyone else say they have seen a Hummingbird go.
Look up Hummingbird shit on Google and you will get some interesting sites, none of which have anything to do with what comes out of the rear of a hummer. Hummingbird Poo gets you a very nice blog from a single Mom in Texas somewhere but she only says “No one ever said watch out for the Hummingbird poo.”
So I feel kinda special.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Soft Soap


That’s the name of the commercial. Take a look at it.
I don’t argue with the message that being a girl in today’s society is tough.
I am sure it is although I have no personal experience to know.
But being a kid is tough. Always has been. Always will.
And I am sorry to say that I think being a boy is just as tough, if not tougher than being a girl. The expectations on what it takes to be a MAN in our society bombard boys just as much and in even more sinister ways than the ones directed at girls. Watch any recruitment ad for any armed service for more insight.
The ad in question depicts the young girl being bombarded with images that are supposed to warp her young mind about the concepts of beauty. But let’s face it, no matter what century you live in there has always been some sort of pressure to conform to the norms of society as far as appearance goes.

Walk through any museum and see standards of beauty and dress that we find less attractive in this age but back when Rueben painted those zaftig models they were what everyone thought they should look like.

The Oriental custom of binding feet to make them tiny seems barbaric to us as does the African custom of elongating the neck by use of metal bands. But they thought it was beautiful.

My thinking is that you aren’t going to change society and its pressure to make people look and dress a certain way unless you legislate it. See Red China for how that looks.

But why the concentration on young girls? Whether you’re plumbing goesinto or goesouta you have intense pressure from the time you enter kindergarten on through the rest of your life to conform, to be like others. As a young boy I was forced to wear corrective shoes to correct a foot problem I was born with. They were ugly, big, wingtip monstrosities and I hated them not only because I was uncomfortable in them but the other kids made fun of me.
Later in the boys locker room my man breasts were the source of much ridicule. I was not the biggest or strongest kid so I got my share of beatings and other physical abuse. I was reminded constantly by my classmates what a worthless boy I was. Picked last for every team and then pummeled mercilessly by my teammates. All because I was fat and uncoordinated.

Two points here.

I can assure you that what happened to me happens to loads of little boys today.

And it didn’t change me a bit, except to make me stronger. I am still fat and uncoordinated but it bothers me only from a standpoint of health, not self-esteem.

So if little girls can’t take the image the world pushes on them who really is to blame?

And in the final analysis isn’t Dove soaps (a product of Unilever who also markets AXE with ads that glorify the image in the onslaught ad) goal really to sell more of their soap?

It’s ok with me to do an ad campaign to try and raise public awareness about how the media manipulates standards of beauty and behavior. Just don’t be sexist about it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

R.I.P. CD's

In my lifetime I have seen recorded music go through some pretty big changes, not all for the better.
45’s were my introduction to commercial recorded music. I bought them, played them to death on the family Hi-Fi and I thought they were just fine.
I would continue to play 45 RPM records for many years as a radio announcer. The biggest problem with 45’s on the radio was “cue-burn.”
When you ready a record for play on the air you rotate it until you hear the beginning on a “cue speaker” (off the air). Do this a few hundred times and you heard a hiss like sound at the beginning of the record. We used to joke that the reason for jingles was to hide the cue burn.
Lp’s were of course around and when I could afford them were added to the collection.
When I turned 16 and could drive the first thing I bought was an 8 track player. It was a miserable way to hear music. The tapes were bad quality and jammed frequently-there was no fast forward and there was the annoying “track change.” A small foil sensed when it was time to change to the next tracks. 8 tracks referred to the fact that there were 4 “programs” in stereo on a tape. The manufacturers would only put 15 minutes or so of tape on the cartridges so the foil would tell the playback heads to move to pick up the next part of the recording. Usually in the middle of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”
The progression of recorded commercial music can be tracked at flea markets and yard sales. You don’t see many boxes of 8 tracks anymore. For some odd reason you do see LP’s and 45’s. Maybe because they were around for more years

Next came cassettes, a vast improvement over 8 tracks but they still sucked. At least you could fast forward and rewind. But the thin tape easily got fouled up and wore out pretty quickly. The quality sounded ok but the tape speed of 1 7/8 inches per second left a lot to be desired. And they were HISSY. If you spent money on a good system the hiss really became annoying. You see lots of cassettes at flea markets.

CD’s came into their own in the early 80’s. I installed the first CD player in the radio station control room (it’s cost $800 bucks!) and we made a big deal about it. The very first song we played (“Something about you”-Level 42) skipped. But CD’s were a big improvement over any other format. The frequency response seemed to be better and they were not susceptible to “cue burn!” Of course now we know that the early CD’s were really not that great-some even were made by using LP records as the masters. And now there is a “retro” movement back to vinyl with some purists vowing that LP’s sound better.

I write this little elementary examination on recorded music in my lifetime to make a point. The wheel has turned once again and it’s my judgment that soon CD’s will as obsolete as 8 tracks.

Here’s some support data: The Nielsen Soundscan shows that CD sales from January to June 2008 declined 16.3%. It’s still healthy at 172 million but digital is up 35% in the same time frame.

Digital music is worse than cassettes but no one cares. We have now a generation of music listeners who were weaned on I pods and other crappy MP3 type players. The sound is NOT as good as CD's but when you are listening on cheap computer speakers or shitty ear buds you wouldn’t know it.

Aftermarket stereo systems for cars are all but history. The new listener’s plug the I pod into the dash and think the factory system sounds fine. Why pay more?

But here is the real reason I think CD’s are toast.

On vacation last week the new Rick Springfield CD came out. He’s on a major label (Universal) again. The long suffering wife has been a fan since Rick sang “Speak to the sky” so of course we had to get it.

I could have downloaded it for 9.99 on I-tunes but she wanted the artwork.

So we shopped.

We went to Kmart and found the music department but couldn’t find it. Never mind that, we couldn’t find ANY CD’s. Asked a clerk who said “Well they used to be over here.”

Went to Borders. They had one copy (we needed two) for $16.99.

Next door was a Best Buy. They had loads (In an end aisle display yet) for $11.99.
We returned the Borders copy.

My point here is this. If one of the world’s largest retailers, K-Mart, has 86’d CD’s how long before Wal-Mart and the rest follow suit?

And would Mr. Average consumer have stopped at three places for what is after all a luxury digressionary income type purchase? And why the wide swing in stock and price? Rick Springfield is not a huge artist anymore I know but he has a huge and active fan base and is on the daytime soap “General Hospital” so you would think maybe he could sell a few, would you not? And the buyers of CD’s are now almost all my age (and the long suffering wife’s age) and don’t want to download it. We want to buy CD’s! Why is it so hard?

Digital music will be the norm in the coming years. It reminds me of the old saw: “You can have it cheap, good or fast-Pick 2. Fast and good, it won’t be cheap. Cheap and good, it won’t be fast. Cheap and fast it won’t be any good.”

Cheap and fast is what prerecorded music (read: the record companies) has chosen.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Poor old Scranton (that’s Scra-ann to some). It’s always been the butt of jokes and ridicule but now the joke has spread to the funny pages. Back in the days of vaudeville Scranton and Wilkes-Barre both were fairly important stops on the tours. The legend goes that booking agents for New York would try out acts in this area because the audiences were difficult to please. The catch phrase became "If you can make it in Scranton, you can make it anywhere!"
Over the years Scranton has made it to the big and little screens but not always with a positive spin. Witness this exchange from the TV show “"All in the Family"
Archie:"We're going to fly to Florida"
Edith: "Florida? No, I want to go to Scranton."
Archie:"Scranton? What's in Scranton?"
Edith: "My cousin Emily".
Archie:"The only way you'll get me to fly to Scranton is if some screwball hijacks the plane."
In the Movie “Home Alone” Macaulay Culkin’s mother ends up in van with John Candy’s Polka band in Scranton. It’s a very funny scene.
In the “Sopranos” Paulie Walnuts takes a trip to Boston and describes it as “Scranton with Clams.”
Andy Rooney in a 60 minutes segment mentioned the Electric City in a disparaging way commenting on housing prices here (he thought they were too low) and the fact that garbage collection was suspended on Columbus Day.
Then of course there was the wonderful portrayal of Scranton in Jason Millers “That Championship Season.” If you’ve never seen it it’s worth it for the scene with WYOU’s David DeCosmo and the Elephant alone. The Elephant is the one being buried.
But until last week I don’t think we ever made the funny pages.
On Friday August 1st The King Features syndicated cartoon “Blondie” showed tightwad Dagwood trying to buy a birthday gift for his long suffering wife Blondie.
He turns down perfume from “Roberto Lemongello of Naples at $125 an ounce and from “Antonio Scentonelli of Venice” at $65 per ounce. In the last panel we see Dagwood and Blondie on the couch as Dagwood proudly hands her genuine “Ted McGillicutty of Scranton” for $6.50 an ounce.
Blondie is delighted.
Blondie, whose maiden name was Boopadoop and Dagwood appear in 2,300 newspapers all around the world and have been translated into 35 different languages in 55 countries and are read by an estimated 280 million people every day.
I sense a marketing opportunity. If someone could bottle the essence of Scranton (and I am not real sure what that would smell like) and sell it as “Genuine Ted McGillicutty of Scranton” I bet you could get more than $6.50 an ounce. Or then again I could be wrong. See you in the funny papers.

Vroom, Vroom.

The NASCAR races at the Pocono Speedway are a test of men’s endurance. 250 laps, five hundred miles of blistering heat, intense competition and it requires dogged determination to make it all the way through to the checkered flag. It’s also hard on the drivers. Being a NASCAR fan I am predisposed to like the two annual events on the Pocono plateau. But even if you love NASCAR racing you have to prepare yourself for a grueling day.
Take last Sunday as an example. The Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 was set to show the green flag at 2pm. This means that any self respecting race fan has to be in the parking lot, tailgating and consuming mass amounts of frosty cold mature beverages by nine am. Many weeks of 16 ounce curls are a prerequisite to the big day. You have to be on your game! After several hours it’s time to trudge with loaded coolers to the racetrack. Depending on the luck of the draw where you park may be anywhere from half a mile to ten miles from your seat. Mile after mile you stumble in the baking heat carrying enough beverages in your cooler to stock a beer garden. Finally you arrive at the grandstands. Your seat, at the top of the stands is approximately one mile in the air, with a vertical pitch that would frighten a seasoned Mt. Everest sherpa guide. When you reach the top all you can hope is that you packed oxygen in with the beer. Now, if you have timed it right you have several hours to sit in the sun. Remember you are now very close to the sun as you are at the top of the grandstands. More beverages must be consumed. Many more. In fact so many are consumed that now you must wobble your way down the slope and make your way to the ”worlds largest toilet.” That’s what the sign says on the facilities. And it’s a good thing too because you have to take the worlds longest pee. Then it’s back up to where to air is rare. Lather, rinse, repeat. Do this all day long. And is the day ever long! There are some things in life that would be better if they were shorter. The “Dark Knight” film could have been ½ hour shorter and featured more of Keith Ledger. The Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 would be twice as good if it was half as long. Let’s face it, any NASCAR race (and most sporting events) are most interesting in the last ten minutes. 500 laps at Pocono takes long enough to conceive, gestate and give birth. Of course the kids’ first words would be “any more beer?” Or then again I could be wrong.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

This Bud is for Euro.

Full disclosure-I don’t drink Bud. Years ago when I was first learning to enjoy a frosty cold gold beverage I was over served the “King of Beers.” Along with some other symptoms I had an acute gastric disturbance. The sort of thing my Father-in-law would call a “Fizzic.” Only it was much more violent and long lasting. Ever since that day a Bud makes me go number 2 in unacceptable amounts so I just steer clear. It’s no doubt me and not the brew because after all it is consumed in mass quantity and not all those beer drinkers are running to the can all the time, are they?
Any way the big news is that Bud has been bought by the Belgium brewer In-Bev for 52 Billion (with a B) bucks. Or Euros or whatever the Belgium people use for cash. It’s all good because In-Bev owns almost every beer in the world anyway, like Bass Ale, Beck’s, some Italian brew called Stella something and a whole lot more. Budweiser or rather its parent company Anheuser-Busch also owns a bunch of brews including one right here in good old Pennsylvania, Rolling Rock.
I wrote the following when Anheuser-Busch took over Rolling Rock:

The beer world suffered a great disturbance the other day when the doors of the Latrobe brewing company closed for the last time. The much beloved Rolling Rock beer which since 1939 has been pouring out of the glass lined tanks in Old Latrobe will now come from an Anheuser-Busch plant in Newark New Jersey. It just doesn’t sound as good does it? From Glass lined tanks in New Jersey? It sounds like it could be a chemical when you put it that way.
The full text of the label on Rolling Rock reads like poetry.
“Rolling Rock. From the Glass-lined tanks of old Latrobe we tender this premium beer for your enjoyment, as a tribute to your good taste. It comes from the mountain springs to you.”
And so another great brew changes, perhaps for the better or worse but certainly it will be different. Beer is a beverage that is long on tradition. We are lucky here in Northeast Pa to still have one of the oldest brews in the country being made right in town. Yuengling has been around since 1829 but it was only a few years later when the Stegmaier Brewing Company was founded in 1857. The Lion brewery has been brewing the original 1857 recipe for years and even won a gold medal for it in the 1994 Great American Beer Festival. Now I am not an expert beer drinker although I do have some experience in the field. I will however be glad to testify that 1857 is one of the best beers I have ever had the pleasure of drinking and it’s a product that we should be proud of. So why don’t more bars and beer stores carry it? Try asking for an 1857 at a fancy sit-down eating joint in our area and you will either be greeted with a blank stare or worse. Ask if they have 1857 on draft at your local tavern and chances are you will be told no.
So I don’t understand. You find Yuengling everywhere. It’s brewed in some place called Pottsville and it seems like everyone here in Northeast Pa can’t get enough of it. But the local brew? Not a trace. Why is it you can’t get any love in your hometown? By the way if Stegmaier isn’t to your liking the Lion brewery puts out Pocono lagers and ales, six different choices. There was a big deal made out of the fact that beer will be served in Kirby park when the Beach Boy comes to town. I am willing to bet that the beer being served won’t be the brew made less than five miles from the stage. Or then again I could be wrong.

This was published in the Weekender and broadcast on my radio show.

I received an immediate response from some local sales guy working at the time for Falcone Distributors which has also since been sold to someone else.

I don’t have the e-mail anymore but the gist was this:

“Comparing making beer to chemicals just shows how stupid and ignorant you are about beer making. And any way we toured the Latrobe brewery and we couldn’t find any fucking glass lined tanks! Maybe you should join us at a brewery to see how it’s really done.”

I took him up immediately on his offer but he never responded.

Now I have been in many breweries in my life and sampled a fair amount of the various brews of the world, but I don’t claim to be a connoisseur or an expert. I do know that a principal ingredient in all beer, ale or lager or pilsner or lambic or what have you is water. Chemical formula H2O.

Whut ever.

The Belgium In-Bev guys have made a lot of promises. They will still keep all the US Bud breweries open. They won’t change the name. But will it still be
“The great American Lager?” Only time will tell.

Here’s something else to think about while you enjoy your choice of beverage. Will we ever see THIS commercial again?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bye-Bye Bi-Lo

When you have a relationship with someone or something for fifteen years you tend to get attached. Consider a marriage or owning a car, something that is often not too different as it’s difficult to get either one to turn over when it’s cold. (rim-shot please!) After fifteen years of buying groceries in the same store having to change is a pain and a little sad.
The Bi-Lo store in Dallas, the last remaining one of the Penn Traffic stores in the area, turned off its automatic doors for the final time last Friday. As big as Penn Traffic was and at one time it owned 100’s of stores in five states it couldn’t make it work. The good news is that Gerrity’s the local chain with 9 stores in the area will take over and reopen the store with even more employees. “Mom” runs the show there. So there is a good chance that no one who worked at the Bi-lo will go without a job. The bad news is that if they worked there for fifteen years they have more than likely lost vacation time, seniority and other benefits. And the bad news for me is I no longer will have the comfort of knowing exactly where stuff is, making shopping a bigger pain than it is now.
A small thing in the big scheme of life to be sure. But unless you do the grocery shopping for your family on a regular basis (and I do) you can’t understand how much time and money you can save when you know the layout of a store and how they handle coupons and two for one specials and so on.
Plus if you shop at a regular time and day you get to know the workers. Ever have to wait at the deli for something? Not me. I had a standing order for my cold cuts and they were ready for me at the counter by the time I reached the deli. Again a small thing but….well, nice. I like a particular kind of cracker. I could reach my hand out and grab it without breaking stride.
I knew where to find everything and now I will have to learn it all over again.
Down the road there is the Weis Market. They are a pretty big chain with 157 stores in five states and they are making the Dallas store bigger and adding wine to the inventory. But it’s new and different. And the parking lot is way too small. As I left the Bi-lo for the last time Friday I saw that someone had written on the deli special blackboard “Hi Mom!” It seemed sad and hopeful at the same time. But then again I could be wrong.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Memory lane

My boss told me long ago that people in pain make the loudest noise. We were talking about the complaints after we had changed format on a radio station but it really does apply to almost any situation in life. Recently we made several changes on one of the radio stations that I am nominally in charge of. I notice I am less in charge when things are going right and more in charge when people have a problem. Right now it feels like I have a bull’s-eye painted on my back but it’s part of my job description I guess. The part where it says I will be a punching bag. For the purpose of this narrative the changes are not important. The reaction of the people in pain is what I want to focus on. Sitting at my desk I can almost tell by the way the phone rings that it’s another angry listener. I have tired of trying to reason with these folks. In spite of the fact that they say they want to know the reason for the change, they really don’t care. What they want to do is vent their spleen on me and anything I have to say is totally superfluous. So I have taken to listening without making any comment until they run down and ask if I am still there. I answer them with all the politeness I have left and they start in again. I draw the line at personal attacks. First of all although I agree with the change it wasn’t my idea. In fact the order for the upheaval came from the very highest level of management in the company so I had to laugh when one of the callers asked for the CEO’s name and phone number. I wonder how that conversation went? In my career in radio I have made many changes to the radio stations I have been entrusted with. Personalities have been hired and fired, music formats have been changed and all along the way I have had to deal with the vocal minority that doesn’t like the change. It seems that the rally cry is something along the lines of “it’s new and different. We don’t like it”. I love the we. Always the person complaining claims to be speaking for a great multitude of others who are like minded. I am tempted when I hear the we to ask if they have a frog in their pocket but I did that once and the angry caller took offense. So now I just sit and listen and wait until they run out of steam and then put the phone down and wait for the next one. It’s a great job, being the one with target on your back. Or then again I could be wrong.