November 19, 2017

How much is an Ocean View worth?

Uncle Emile, great guy, great chess player

By John Guy LaPlante

Mon oncle Emile is what I called him.  Like my Papa and Maman, my Uncle Emile was an immigrant from Quebec, the heart and soul of French Canada.

My memories of him go back more than 80 years. He was great at many things, especially chess. The game was a passion. This memory was triggered, would you believe, by my discovering and downloading a Scrabble app. I’ve loved Scrabble.

In Pawtucket, R.I., my hometown, he worked as a short-order cook, a house painter, a furniture repair whiz, at this and that. That’s how immigrants got on their feet. He was a  hard worker. Big and strong and clever and genial.

His favorite pastime was chess. A kid at boarding school had taught me the basic moves. My uncle took me under his wing.

He and his wife Rosalie lived in a modest Cape Cod. Upstairs was one big room. That was where the  Chess Club met once a week. Tuesdays, as I remember it.  My uncle was its organizer and self-elected president.

If he happened to meet some fellow who liked to play, he’d sign him up. French, Italian, Irish, no matter, though most of his players were French. Any guy who didn’t have booze on his breath was welcome. No women, of course. Rosalie never came up the stairs. Thank God some things have changed. The big thing was their liking the game.

When I came home from boarding school—I was 15 or so—at his behest, and not wanting to say no, I’d show up. I was the only kid. They were all patient with me, all nice.

The big event came every two or three months, what he called Maestro Night. My uncle would hear of some good player and invite him to come be the maestro.

We’d arrange all the folding card tables in a big U. We’d sit one to a table with our chess board set up, facing the maestro.  We’d chat with one another and catch up. Then the Maestro would arrive and in a minute or two we’d hush up. Notice I capitalized Maestro here. Sometimes he was known from a previous session. Sometimes a  stranger.

My uncle would give him a great big intro and we’d clap and cheer.  He’d smile and say thank you. That applause was his pay, I believe . Maybe the members chipped in for a gratuity for him, I’m not sure.

All of us were playing the white pieces and he the black. In a tradition of unknown origin, a player with white has the advantage of making the first move.

The Maestro would stand throughout. He’d step to the first table, glance at his opponent’s initial move, and make his move. Then he’d step to the next table, and the same thing. Once he had gone all around, he’d start  the circuit again. As things progressed, he would pause longer before making his move.

On and on. Finally some pieces were being given up. Some players were better than others, of course. Finally one player would knock over his king, admitting defeat. Checkmated! End of game  for him. Eventually there would be only two or three  still playing. We all stayed seated at our tables. No kibitzing allowed! We’d crane  to catch the action.

I was playing out of pure charity from these guys. Sure, I was making moves, but puny moves. I was doing my best. Guaranteed I’d be  the first to give up. But it was exciting and I enjoyed learning.

Sometimes one of the fellows would beat the Maestro and then the clapping was loud indeed!  What was nice is that the Maestro would join in applauding the one who beat him.  A good sport. But I never saw that. It was hearsay I picked up. Every time I played, the Maestro, whoever he was, licked everybody.

But at the end of the evening there were always lots of Have a Good Nights and See You Next Week. It was a very nice evening though for sure some fellows went home crushed.

They played every week. I played only when I was home from school.

But what does this have to do with my downloading that Scrabble app?

You’ll see soon. I never found out how, but my Uncle Emile would locate  people that he could play with far away, maybe  50 miles, maybe 500, maybe up in Quebec. Correspondence chess! What’s that? Long-distance chess. The two never got to meet.

My uncle would open the game by making the first move, noting it on a card with the date, write it down  on a penny postcard and mail it to his opponent. In  a few days or maybe a week or two, he’d  get a postcard back with his opponent’s move.

My uncle would decide his next move and send it off. Every time he got a card back was a highlight for him.  I recall that he’d be playing more than one opponent at a time. Every day he’d check  what the mailman had brought.

I never saw  how he recorded the progress of the games, or how often he won.  I was back in school. But he was a strong player. I’m sure he did okay. I’m not sure whether he ever got to know these players as more than just a name and an address.

But in time, the postcards coming back  must have  included  personal words,  it seems to me. Maybe they played re-matches.

Now about my Scrabble app. As you may know, Scrabble is usually a two-person game. With this app, you can line up another player anywhere who also has the app. Or the app will match you with one.  No difference whether it’s somebody nearby or in Chicago or Miami or Anchorage.

Then you start a game, just as my uncle did.But these Scrabble moves  can go back and forth in minutes, in a single session. Not weeks. Sure, you can drag out a game as long as you like, several days or longer. The games can be set up by appointment. Tuesday at 9 p.m., or whatever.

And no penny postcards needed. None of the out of pocket expenses my uncle had.

If you’re interested, the Scrabble app comes free from Google Play. Your only investment is your time to play a game. No stamps needed. If Uncle Emile could see that!

I just checked. It’s also possible to play chess free online.

I’m no champion at Scrabble but I find composing words  easier than plotting chess moves. But I did teach my kids to play THE game, as it’s been called.

I told you Uncle Emile was clever. I saw that more than once. Here’s one instance. One Christmas he stopped by. He was my Maman’s brother, two or three years older. They were very close.

My sister Lucie came along nine years after me. She was four when I got to witness this. She was still using her baby bottle!   Always seemed to have it in hand. Yes, with milk and the rubber nipple. She’d take it to bed with her. Curl up on the sofa with it. Embarrassing.

If Maman tried to take it from her, she’d scream and holler. Sounds crazy, I know. But that was the situation. My uncle got to see this. Was appalled.

We had our Christmas tree up and decorated. He had Lucie on his lap.  Was gabbing with her. And he asked, ”Lucie, is there anything extra nice you would like Santa Claus to bring you this year ? Maman has told me you  have been a very good little girl. Makes me happy! I am proud of you. Now think hard!”

She was all ears of course. He went on, “I know Santa.  Very, very well. I will tell him you deserve a special gift this year. For sure  he’ll  will bring it to you.”

Lucie thought and thought. Finally she said. “Oui, mon oncle! Oui! A nice big baby doll. Like Claire’s.”  Claire was her best friend.

“Very good, Lucie! But first  you have  to do something for Santa.  And you will get that beautiful doll.”

“What?”

“As you know, Lucie,  you are not a baby any more. Give me  your bottle. I will wrap it up and give it to the mailman tomorrow. Santa will get it in two or three days. He will remember me. For sure.

“He loves to hear about wonderful little kids like you. Extra good girls and boys. When you get up Christmas, you will see all the presents he brought. And the doll you asked for!”

We waited through a long, long pause. We saw the tug-of-war going on in her.  Uncle Emile smiled and laughed and bounced her on his knee. She loved him. Just as I did. Maman was smiling, too. And praying, I’m sure.

She had her hand resting on her big brother’s shoulder. She ran her fingers through his thinning hair.

Lucie was still quiet. She had been holding that cherished baby bottle all along. “All right,” she said finally, and so seriously. And handed it to him.

“Very, very good, Lucie! I will do this first thing tomorrow. You will be very happy on Christmas ”

On that wondrous day she was the first up. I’ll bet she kept listening through the night for Santa. She ran to the Christmas tree. She saw all the presents Santa had brought and counted those with her name on them.  But was her doll here?”

Finally it was time and we gathered around the tree. Maman, Papa, my little sister Louise, myself. (Louise was four years younger than Lucie. She had already given up her baby bottle.) But Uncle Emile couldn’t be with us.

Papa had been keyed in. Admired Uncle Emile for coming up with this terrific idea. Felt maybe Maman was spoiling Lucie.

Maman as usual handed out the gifts to us. She saved one for last.  She smiled at Lucie,  held it in her hands. It  was a big one. And said, “This last one is also for you, Lucie.”

Lucie tore the wrapping off. She asked Maman to help her open the box. And inside was the beautiful doll, and it was even nicer than Claire’s, she said later.  Was so happy. She looked it over. Every detail. The eyes, the hair, the little smile, the nice dress. The little booties. She ever mentioned her baby bottle. She played with her little baby all day.

Uncle Emile came a day or two later. Lucie ran up to him with a big hug and kissed him on both cheeks. He was smiling, glowing.  Showed him the beautiful doll Santa had brought. He picked it up and admired it and put it back in her hands. . “I told you Santa would not forget!”

Maman rushed to greet him and gave him a big hug.  “Merci, Emile!” And whispered, “Merci pour ton joli cadeau!” (“Thank you for your lovely gift!”) He beamed. Gave her a hug.

A true story!

Yesterday I called Lucie and told her I was writing up these recollections. When I mentioned how Uncle Emile had finagled to get her to give up her baby bottle, she laughed and laughed.

“But I wasn’t four. I  was five! Actually it was a big Pepsi bottle. With a black nipple. When I needed a new nipple, Maman would give me the money and send me to buy a new one. I’d run to Mr. Gendron’s pharmacy there on the corner.  Remember?

“Yes, I’d go buy my own nipple! I knew I was getting too old for that. But I loved my bottle.  Crazy, I know. One time Mr. Gendron asked if the nipple was for me, and I said no!” And she laughed again.

She told me that Uncle Emile had taught her how to play chess. I wasn’t aware of that. She doesn’t play now. But she’s a competitive bridge player. Gold level!

Yes, a smart man, Uncle Emile. And what a wonderful uncle. He and his wife Rosalie are buried just a few rows over from Papa and Maman.

Well, I think I’ll go to my computer now and play a game of Scrabble. And if I don’t manage to play with a live opponent,  I can even play against the computer!

Hope Uncle Emile isn’t aware I’m not playing chess much any more.

A  postscript for you

Interested in chess?

The victories will be few and elusive

The defeats many and humbling

It can easily morph into a passion

So be wary of this devilish game

But if this is your wish, do ignore these words.

An experienced loser

Anon.

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Another wonder to make my life easier!

By John Guy LaPlante

Today was the summer solstice. Always notable. But I’ve seen many.

Today’s other wonder was a first. And what a first!

I had a check to deposit. Normally I would have driven to my branch at Chase and deposited it. Going  to a counter to fill out a form. Perhaps standing in line to deposit it.

Correction: I would have pedaled there on my trike.That’s a wonder, too.But I’ve already told you about that.

I’ve been a Chase customer for a few years. Also Liberty Bank in Connecticut but for 20 years or so.  And still am.

But I have become a full-timer here in Morro Bay on the California coast and I wanted to maximize the service benefits of my account. I spoke to friendly Nicholas, a banker, and on the way out noticed a placard: “Make deposits with your cell phone!” I went right back to Nicholas. “Sure,” he said, “”What you need is our Chase app.” And he loaded that onto my phone.

You may know about this dramatic service. I’ve found that other people deposit checks this way. Anyhow, back home I opened the app and followed instructions. I endorsed the check and below that wrote “A digital deposit for my Chase checking account.  I typed in the amount. I placed my check flat against a contrasting background–the green tablecloth on my kitchen table. All with my smart phone, which by the way is another wonder beyond words. I snapped a photo. Then I flipped the check over. Snapped another..

I got a message back: “Picture not clear. Start over.” Well, words to that effect.

But this was my first attempt. Sometimes I’m a slow learner. I  did the whole simple thing again. Took just a few minutes.Then, following the instructions, I emailed it. A message told me  that the check might take two days to clear. I would be alerted. And that was that.

I didn’t have to shave or do anything else to look better at the bank. No form to fill out.No need for envelope and stamp and getting that into a mail box. .No need to stand in line. And of course my deposit would be recorded  on my account. And of course I could pay bills with the same simplicity. But that’s something I’ve been doing for years. So many improvements I’ve gotten to see and use routinely all in banking….

Which set me to thinking.  All the wonders I’ve seen over these long years, in field after field after field, some bigger than others, of course, but all true wonders. I’m an octogenarian now–a senior octogenarian–so the list is mighty long.

Just before this I had been perusing a recent Time magazine. About the self-drive car, which will be a reality soon. How Uber is preparing to test Uber Elevate,,straight up and down electric air taxis for congested cities. How  Google’s Larry Page is putting emphasis on Kitty Hawk, an electric plane that will operate over water (not sure why not land also) without the pilot needing a license.   And how a company in Slovakia in just three years will begin shipping flying cars for use on highways as well–Paris – London just one hour. All that in just this  one field. And the same is happening in industry after  industry in so many areas of daily life..

Sure, the daily headlines are so often so scary and disheartening.  Nasty politics. Terrorism. Crime. Addiction. War here and war there. But the overall picture is so bright, so fantastic, so incredible.  I hope at least to get to ride in a self-drive car.  But I delight to think that my children will see and enjoy much of this. And  my five grandkids for sure. If the bad stuff doesn’t intervene!

And still thinking….it’s routine–don’t you agree–to hear, on a weekly basis it  seems, of new apps that can do this miraculous thing or that.

For sure one will pop up that will make ordinary dollars and coins totally unnecessary. For one and all and without carrying around cumbersome plastic cards in your wallet .How wonderful!

Forget the flying car. How I’d like to get that app!

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My oh my, am I in the Christmas spirit. Still!

 

By John Guy LaPlante

With 1 photo

I had finished at Walmart. It was a dark night a week or so ago, cold and wet, and I had come in to stretch my legs. I had bought a thing or two and was walking out. I spotted a wall, yes a whole wall, lined with Popcorn Kettles.

That’s what they were called. Displayed one on top of another, 100 of them, I’d say. About the size of a kitchen bucket with a tight lid. Beautiful shiny cans, imprinted with scenes of Santa and elves and red bows and “Merry Christmas.” Beautiful. Just $5. Quite a bargain.

I went up close. Curious. Were they empty, intended for popcorn? Probably not.  The lids were transparent. I could see in. Inside were small bags of popcorn, stuffed. Cheddar cheese, caramel, butter. I love popcorn, but just the plain kind. I enjoy popping it.

I stood there, marveling. I was struck by the ingenuity. Was this the idea of whoever made the cans? Or the popcorn maker? And how could Walmart make a penny on this deal…considering not only the kettles and the popcorn and the fancy Christmas motifs but the packing and transport here and the  very work of assembling this big display, on and on.

I’m familiar with the idea of a loss leader in retail. But still. This had to be a super loss leader.

I stood there pondering all this for a minute or two, then went out into the cold and rain to my car with my modest purchases. And no, I didn’t buy a popcorn kettle. And was getting in when…

A lady approached. About 50, heavy set. She was smiling, holding a bag with something big in it. Holding it in her two hands, proffering it to me.  “Merry Christmas!”

I protested but she insisted. I was so surprised, in fact astonished, and she saw that.

“I just saw you looking at the kettles. Looking and looking. And I decided to buy one for you. Enjoy it!”

I asked, “What is your name?”

“Ernesta!” Well, I think that’s what she said.

“Thank you so, so much! How sweet of you. Merry Christmas to you, too! And Happy New Year!”

What else could I say? She was brimming with Christmas spirit. She was doing this act of charity for a very old man that she assumed was tempted by the wonderful $5 popcorn bargain but had finally decided not to splurge. Well, that’s how I saw it. For sure declining her gift would have spoiled her marvelous Christmas spirit.

She was glowing. She turned and walked away. Paused for a minute in the rain, turned around, gave me a big wave.

Well, she did far more than give me a nice gift. Sure, I saw Christmas was coming up, just as for her.  But I’ve seen many Christmases come and go.  Some of the fun and excitement and anticipation have slipped away. The law of declining marginal satisfaction, an economist might say. Which is normal. She still possessed it full and vibrant.

Yes, it was indeed a dismal night but I drove home with a special glow in me. This new glow was this remarkable lady’s real Christmas gift to me. This reminder of what Christmas is really about. This great message of love and generosity.

Later I wondered what to do with the  kettle corn. I did not want it for myself.  I got an idea.

I have an unusual friend at Piano Works condos.  Liz. She’s 40 or so. Very smart, very friendly, but with a

Liz and her kettle of popcorn. Beaming! In the spirit of Christmas, she'll be sharing it, too, I'm sure.

Liz and her kettle of popcorn. Beaming! In the spirit of Christmas, she’ll be sharing it, too, I’m sure.

strange handicap. Lives alone in a tiny condo close by. No, not alone, Has a cute little dog….11 years old…hers these many years.

She takes her darling pet with her everywhere. Some days she dresses it in a pink sweater, sometimes a blue one. Yes, she has a loving dad and sister, maybe other relatives, too, but her precious pet is her constant companion.

I see Liz walk by nearly every day. I kept my popcorn kettle handy. She did come by, I invited her in, we had a chat, and I put Ernesta’s gift in her hands.

She lit up. She was delighted. And so was I. I was just passing on the loving spirit that Ernesta had blessed me with.

And I’m still feeling it as I pass this little story on to you.

Merry Christmas, one and all! And Happy New Year 2017!

Oh, I’m in Morro Bay, CA now. Have been here 72 hours. My usual winter away from the cold of Deep River. No snow, of course, but rainy and snappy. You’ll be hearing from me….

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Nine more inventions I’d love to “uninvent”!

By John Guy LaPlante

This is my second list of “uninventions.”  It was inspired by essays called that in The New  Yorker. You “uninvent” when you believe that something we use or do that is popular and taken for granted is now regrettable and we should turn back the clock on it. You could probably come up with a few.  Here are nine fresh ones from me.

 Our Way of Keeping Count.

 Our brought-from-England system of inches and yards, and pints and quarts and miles,  water freezing at 32 degrees and boiling at 212 and so on, is clumsy and crazy. Well, that’s undeniable to anybody who has seen the metric system which is standard to countries big and small all around the world now.  We are the big and stupid stand-out.

Metric was a French invention in the late 1700’s. It has swept the world. The metric system is infinitely better because it is based on 1 and 10 and 100 all the way up into the zillions.

How better? By making it easy for us to weigh bananas and mattresses and anything else not in ounces and pounds and tons, but in grams and kilograms and on up.  To drive not in miles per hour, but in kilometers per hour.   To measure a board or a distance not in inches and feet, but in centimeters and meters and on up.  To recognize that water freezes at 0 Celsius and boils at 100. Applicable to everything countable.

We can see this for ourselves just by crossing one mile, excuse me 1.6 kilometers, into Canada or Mexico. Which said goodbye to our antiquated system and went modern long ago.

We nearly went metric. That was in Jimmy Carter’s presidency. We voted to go metric.  But not whole-heartedly. There was massive and angry political obstructionism by vested interests and we were given a choice. We could use English—isn’t that what our alternate to metric is called– or metric, as we liked. A nasty and foolish compromise.

It is then that our cars began rolling off the assembly lines with every speedometer calibrated in both systems, but with the English markings bigger than the metric. I remember that vividly. Habits die hard. Most Americans chose to use the English markings. Maybe today’s speedometers are still equipped for both systems. I don’t know. Hey, even foreign cars began coming over from metric countries set up for English!

The same choice was permitted in every sphere of our life.  So, many people continued to think in miles rather than kilometers. Metric was doomed. Today it is used only by our scientific and technical folks and manufacturers who also appreciate its superiority. I don’t think they’d go back to using English for a million bucks. Nowadays there is zero talk of our smartening up.

All that said, we’ve had a long interest in metric way back to the 1860s.  Many efforts were launched to make it our national system. All of us use metric in some ways—we are used to liters of beverages and grams in our medications and so on.  The astonishing fact remains: the U.S.A. and Liberia and Myanmar are the world’s only metric hold-outs!

Imagine how our going metric would have facilitated our trade with those two neighbors of ours as well as so many others around the globe.

Why did Jimmy Carter’s big, brave push fail? Because Washington never proclaimed that we would be totally and forever metric as of 1 minute after midnight on January 1 of whatever year got chosen!

So I say. Uninvent that antiquated English system of ours!

 Foolish academic class designations..

In my previous list of uninventions I sent to you, I harped on education.  In that vein have another complaint: how senseless it is to call the high school years the Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years. Ditto the college years.

Maybe those names made sense years back.  Maybe back then they had some relativity to real life, though I can’t imagine it.

Why not get realistic and call them something simple and clear?  How about just First and Second and Third and Fourth?  You would say, “My son is in high school and is starting Second.”

Someone in a community college would say, “I’m starting my Second in September.” And we’d understand that he or she would be approaching graduation there. Or, “We’ll be taking our daughter back to college this weekend. She’ll be in Third.”  And we’d know she has another year to go.

I believe this would be far clearer and more in keeping with our times.

 So I say: Down with foolish class names. Uninvent them!

Those awful, dangerous, crazy flashing lights on police cars at night.

I ran into the flashing strobe lights a few nights ago.  Very dark night. 9:15 p.m. I was driving home on two-lane Highway 154 north-bound here in Connecticut. I went around a curve and was blinded—yes, blinded–by the dazzling red and yellow and white flashing, pulsing lights.  Two police cars were parked, one behind the other, engines running, their lights screaming at us.

A cop had had pulled over a driver and another cop had rushed over as a back-up.  They had parked 10 or 12 feet from the shoulder, one behind the other, but offset. All to protect themselves while standing and checking the offending car. Makes sense. I understand that.  But it made it so difficult, so dangerous for me—and the drivers behind me—to squeeze by.  That was bad enough.

Worse were those awful, crazy lights.

Hey, the lights on our cruisers 15 years ago or so would work just fine. And I’ll bet they’d cost far less, If anybody is thinking about expense.

So I say, Uninvent those lights!

ROMANTIC MARRIAGES.

I know this is going to get me into trouble but here goes.  My marriage was a romantic marriage. You know what I mean.  I fell in love with a great gal, Pauline, and she fell in love with me and we got married. Most likely yours was the same.

That’s what we all do just about here in Western countries.  But many couples in other parts of the world wind up in arranged marriages.  From what I’ve seen, arranged marriages can be smarter … more enduring.

Think of what a dismal marriage is possible for some people in a romantic marriage.  They vow “till death do us part!” Well, they used to. Not sure about that today. But that promise goes down the drain when their relationship is falling apart and the two decide to divorce. And so many couples do split.  As we know, our divorce rate – call it what it really is, our marriage failure rate—is huge.  Divorce has become common. No argument there, I’m sure.

What is soaring are the couples who don’t bother with vows and live together, but that’s a separate matter.

The reason so many marriages founder is simple. Young people do not have the maturity—sufficient life experience–to choose a spouse wisely.  They dive into a relationship blinded by their physical passions and the wonderful romantic notion peddled in novels and movies and TV and that we grow up with.

In arranged marriages, it’s the father and mother who have the big say about the son or daughter’s choice of spouse.  That is a solemn responsibility for them. Not all arranged marriages turn out perfect. Of course not. But their batting average seems to be higher.

I have friends—they happen to be immigrants from India and Bangladesh–who have thrived in arranged marriages. I have seen this. And what they’ve told me about marriages back there has impressed me. Furthermore in my travels through India I have  met a number of couples brought together through the negotiations of their parents and in-laws.

Sometimes arranging a match ain’t easy—let’s face it, some of the young people involved don’t have much to offer. But the parents must do their best to achieve the best match. What about the notion of romance? “Love will come,” they say. Well, not always, I suppose, but I’ve seen that take place.

What I’ve observed is a mighty small statistical sample. I admit that. But the system seems to work better than ours.

So I say: Uninvent Romantic Marriage!

 Dual citizenship.

Which is a crazy idea!  I’ve already written about this, but I must include it in this list.   It’s surprising how many people are citizens of two countries. I know of one young fellow who is a citizen of three.

How come? Most often because the dual citizen is the child of parents who are citizens of different countries.  The young fellow was the child of a parent with dual citizenship.

Different countries have different rules, I’m sure.

I’m not sure how dual citizenship became a viable and accepted concept. I suspect that authorities kowtowed to people clamoring for it. And of course because they craved it for self-serving reasons.

I first heard about it years ago when two couples—immigrants from Greece who had become American citizens—had returned to Greece to retire.  Uncle Sam delivered their Social Security checks over there every month and they lived rich in their villages. And Greece enjoyed that American money pouring in every month—the couples I knew about were just a few of a huge number pulling the same strategy.

I know also of a young man who had American and French citizenships. France has compulsory military service. When he turned of age, he was facing the French draft. That’s when he dropped his French citizenship.

Some people would love to buy dual citizenship. It’s such a great perk. Hey, maybe that’s possible in some countries.

Gosh, I’d love  to be a citizen of six or seven!

I’m sure you remember our Pledge of Allegiance:  “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, and so on.”   To our one and only country. Not to two!

Please tell me, how in the world can a person pledge allegiance to two countries? From an intellectual and patriotic point of view, impossible! This will disappear when the day dawns when we are One World, and we’re equal citizens of it, all of us around the world.

Meanwhile I say:  Uninvent dual citizenship!

Cemeteries / Burial .

 Historically people all over the world found a satisfactory way to dispose of their dead. They would tie them to a tree and let the wild beasts and birds eat them up. Burn them on a pyre. Put them to rest in a cave.  Toss them into the sea or a stream. Found other ways. Some of these practices go on.

For three centuries or so, burial has been our solution.  In the early days maybe behind the house or beside the barn, or under a tree, or in the nearby woods. Cemeteries became the answer, in church yards or some designated corner of the community. Burial is still our most popular practice.

Some cemeteries began running out of room. What to do? Construct a mausoleum—a fancy building with a central corridor and crypts lined up on both sides. The design might have four or five crypts built one on top of another.  And the bodies could be laid to rest there, much like shoes in shoe boxes on the shelves of shoe stores.

Cemeteries have not been the perfect answer. Cemeteries take up room, often the best acreage in town. Burials can be difficult in winter in northern parts—frozen ground. Burial is expensive– embalming, casket, interment, a monument, and so on.  And so is “perpetual care.” Which, by the way, sounds preposterous to me.

Think for a minute of currently used cemeteries near you. They get few visitors. Families go for a year or two and that’s it. Think also of the old, old cemeteries that we have. Many have no room left for new graves. Never a visitor.  Simply because people don’t know anyone close buried there.

When cemeteries began filling up, that’s when a clever idea came up—mausoleums! Think of how many cemeteries now boast a mausoleum. A fancy, ornate building typically with a small chapel and a corridor with crypts on both sides. Single and double crypts, ranged four or five high, much like shoe boxes in a shoe store.  \

Mausoleums seem to be doing well. For the moment. Eventually they’ll fill up, even if expanded. How will our communities look 50 or 100 years from now, with closed mausoleums in this neighborhood and that one.  And hey, how permanent can a mausoleum be?  What happens to the bodies then? Can a mausoleum remain standing for a hundred years, five hundred?

The new answer has been a very old one, but modernized—cremation.  It’s a practice long abhorred in some societies, even considered sinful in others. Now it’s culturally accepted and quite popular.

For many Americans, cremation has become The Answer.  It costs, but it’s cheaper. The ashes—the “cremains”—take little space. Sanitary. No possibility of vandalism.

Cremation has skyrocketed. Look at the figures.  Here in the U.S., in the year 2,000 they were the solution 26% of the time. In 2010, 41%. Just a year ago, 49%.  Given this trend it’s safe to say cremation soon will become the choice of a big majority of us.

In my research, I found the top cremation state is Nevada, 76%!  Number 5 was Maine, 71%.  Number 10 was Vermont, 66%.  I did not get to see the percentages for my Connecticut or Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

It’s interesting to speculate why the numbers vary so much in our states.  I’ll let you do your own speculating.

I expect I’ll be the first in my family to be cremated. It’s my preference for solid reasons. I will be the first in a lineage of ancestors who are all underground. So I will be a pioneer. Gosh!

I have a good friend who just died. He had willed his body to a non-profit for anatomical research and medical education. I saw the good sense of it.  He was useful to the very end. His widow tells me she’s planning to do the same.

So I say, cemeteries and mausoleums no longer make much sense. Uninvent them!

Living till we die.

Still on the subject of life and death, a related topic.  As I’m sure you’re aware, some people aren’t interested in living until they die naturally.  Of old age, so to speak. Some people have true reason to call it quits. I have seen that in several instances.

In fact, we now have three states—maybe it’s four now?– that make that legal. With more states considering it. The idea of a planned death is accepted in an increasing number of countries around the world. The idea makes sense.

So I say, Uninvent the notion that we should all live to our final breath.

The wanton profiteering of our airlines nowadays.

I just ran into it. I’m flying from Hartford to San Luis Obispo, Calif., Dec 19. I found a good deal online on a short flight to Philadelphia, then a long  one to San Francisco, and a short one south to San Luis.

Because I was late, my seat choice was limited—middle seats on all three. I called, explained I’m old, and wanted an aisle seat close to the toilets, especially for the long flight.   Sure, but the price for an aisle seat would be $36. (True also for a window seat…my certain choice in my younger days.) In fact, more than $36. They would charge $50 for the privilege of opting for that! Ouch!

That’s the latest on airlines “modernizing”:  no free flight-changes or cancellations any more, no free meals, not even peanuts, no free baggage, no free speak-to-live reservation clerk, no free on-flight magazines…maybe no free other things.  Oh, for the good old days!

I don’t like that gouging.  Uninvent this rapacious dollar squeezing!

On a lighter note, popcorn.

I mean microwave popcorn, the kind of pre-flavored kernels ready-packed to slip into the magic oven and push Start for a quick snack. No fuss, no bother.

I have been eating popcorn since I was a kid. l fun food.  In fact, also a fantastically nutritious food.  My mother made it once in a while. What a treat to go to a movie and also spring for a bagful. My wife made terrific popcorn. Never did she burn it.  We’d enjoy it while watching TV or with the kids homebound on a snow day. I learned from her.

I’ve been making popcorn for myself for years.  Always with the plain, natural kernels, usually the cheapest popcorn in the market, by the way.

Sometimes for lunch I pop a bowlful and enjoy it with a banana or apple.  No butter. No cheese.  Just salt.

I make terrific popcorn. So simple.  Pauline used solid Crisco. Delicious, but not considered wise nowadays. Peanut oil is best, but not essential. Just one layer of kernels in my pan. My electric burner set just short of  half way on the dial. The pan cover on good and tight. In four minutes or so, pop, pop, pop. What fun. A glass of juice and an apple or some grapes and I’m all set. No doctor will wag his finger at you about a lunch like that.  And what nice memories it brings back.

So I say, uninvent those so-called convenient popcorn kits!

Some of my uninventions may bother you, I’m sure. May sound extreme. They go against popular thinking. Heavy stuff especially now in our merry Santa Claus season. But things have been busy and I’m late in getting this out. I look forward to your feedback, pro or con. Your con comments may force me to re-think. That appeals to me.  I’m not a great sage. But spare me anything nasty, please.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! (You may hear from me before then.)  The French version that I grew up with had a third wish: “Et le Paradis á la fin de vos jours.”  “And Paradise at the end of your days.” What a nice wish.

~ ~ ~

 

 

[JGL1]

My Salvation Army weekend–my candid report

By John Guy LaPlante

With numerous photos

Deep River, Conn.–Badly in need of a time-out, I’m back from a long weekend at the Salvation Army Conference Center in Sharon, Mass.—from 11 a.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Monday. It was terrific, as I expected.

I had been there 25 years earlier.  The weather was perfect that time, and so was the program.

Why the time-out now? It’s been a tough year. After two months-long try-outs in Morro Bay, Calif., near my daughter Monique’s, I felt I should be realistic –at the behest of her and my sons Arthur and Mark—and make a permanent move there. It made sense—I’m in my 88th year.

And that meant returning home, disposing of all possessions (no room in my manufactured home in Morro Bay) and selling my nice townhouse in Piano Works Condominiums here. I’ve lived at Piano Works for some 20 years.

Our leaders from start tp finish and morn till night, Majors Ed and Flo Forster.

Our leaders from start to finish and morn till night, Majors Ed and Flo Forster.

My timetable meant wrapping all this up and returning to California after Thanksgiving, before winter storms in.

So lots of hard work involved, compounded by strongly mixed emotions.

Deep River has been my home in the truest sense. I’ve been a part of the community, have fine friends here, love the area for its beauty and easy access to its full range of everyday businesses and services.

I had a well-thought-out timetable for moving but of course things have popped up that required adjustments. That’s life. But I was steaming along quite well.

I had planned a visit up to Massachusetts for a few days.  The Worcester area was my home for close to 40 years. I wanted a final visit with dear friends. I also planned a respite at the Salvation Army Conference Center to catch my breath, plain and simple.

Then a spoke in my wheels. I live alone, of course. On Saturday morning, after a strange and restless night I got out of bed—and nearly fell.  My body balance was way off. I made it across the room by reaching out and resting my right hand on a chair, my left on a dresser, and so on.

Sure, I had noticed a decline. That goes with getting old.

[Read more…]

Do you say “ain’t” a lot? A little? Never?

By John Guy LaPlante

It used to depend on where you ranked yourself in society. Well, it “ain’t” that way anymore .Times are a-changing. But language, any language anywhere, is always changing, of course, and that’s what this is about today.

I used to abhor that word. And imagine, I just used it.  For the very first time, by the way.

For years “ain’t” was used by the unschooled, the uneducated.  No

This was Philip Gove's bombshell. He expected protests, but not a hornet's nest of them.

This was Philip Gove’s bombshell. He expected protests, but not a hornet’s nest of them.

longer so.  Everybody seems to have adopted it, but sometimes in a restricted sense, as I’ll explain in a minute.

In fact, “ain’t” is now in the dictionary.  Which is where it belongs, though that was a long time in coming.  That was one of the huge cultural events of 1961. And that was accomplished by Philip Gove, a very brave man. I call him brave because he realized that his doing that would send shock waves through society. And boy, was he right! [Read more…]

My $30,000 scam…alarming follow-up!

Sorry, folks–As some of you noticed this went out with the text missing! Shows you how I screw up now and then. Hope this time you won’t be disappointed. So….

By John Guy LaPlante

What a surprise! I have come across a terrific expose of what a huge scamming industry is lurking out there and is eager to pounce. Yes, it is alarming. Scary.

The magnitude and slickness of it is detailed in  “A Crying Shame,” which was the lead

The big scams are all explained here.

The big scams are all explained in this November cover story.

article in Consumer Reports’ November, 2015 issue.

Consider the article’s subhead is:  “Seniors and their families lose $3 billion a year to con artists. What can we do to stop them?” The eight-page spread starts with “Lies, Secrets, and Scams … seniors and their families lose billions of dollars each year to heartless fraudsters….”

$3 Billion a year!!! And when you see the pain and the anxiety and the tragedy inflicted, it certainly is a crying, screaming, horrible shame.

The magazine does a brilliant, detailed, comprehensive job. It tells  of the scheming and conning going on every day by clever and relentless crooks. Smooth and sophisticated villains who are really professionals. Hard to believe.

It  gives fact-rich descriptions of eight popular scams. I was struck by the variety and the ingenuity. Mine is at the top. Explains each scam,  illustrates each with the sad story of a victim, how they got hooked, how much they lost, in some cases how they were talked into wiring a number of payments!  Photos of victims, their names, locations, backgrounds, it’s all there.

Oh, if only I had read this before that phony lawyer Mr. Miller tried to con me out of those thousands of dollars—and nearly succeeded. All based on the phony story that my grandson Ryan was locked up in jail in Mexico City on two charges and needed bail. I would have slammed down the phone!

Seniors like me are the prime target, but for sure many younger people  are vulnerable to some of the schemes and could be attacked.

The first of the eight case studies is about Beth Baker, 87, of National City, Calif. Her story parallels my story. She got a call from a smooth-talker telling her that Will, 24, the eldest of her five grandchildren, was in jail in Peru. Will was a guest at a wedding there. He was driving and hit a kid.  His “lawyer” needed $5,000 right away. She sent it. He called back announcing a bad turn of events and wheedled her out of another cash transfer. Called again, sucked up more money, called again, won more.  Beth sent him $65,000 over five days! The poor lady!

That was the nearly the same scenario pulled on me. The big difference in my case  is that the initial call came not from the lawyer, but from my grandson Ryan in Mexico City. I was convinced it was he–totally convinced. Then con man “Attorney”Miller exploited this. I was spared–saved– only through the determined efforts of Stephen Rednak, manager of the Liberty Bank branch here.

The article is valuable in several ways—telling you what to be vigilant against, how to protect yourself, how to check out these stories, and what to do afterward, which besides reporting the scam doesn’t seem to be much.

These scams are so clever and so smoothly played out on victims that you may face one someday and fall for it–become another sucker. This is my alert to you.

You can read the article on your browser. Just look up: Article  “Crying Shame.” I tested it. It comes up. It’s a fascinating read. A true public service.

 The older I get, the more I believe it’s a jungle out there.

And what is freakish is how I came upon the magazine, published last November, as I said. Would you believe, I found it in the “Take One, Leave One” basket of past-issue magazines at the Acton Public Library in next-door Old Saybrook here!

Now the old question comes up: Was that find accidental? Or providential? We’ll leave that for another day.

 ~ ~ ~ ~

My near $30,000 scam – Alarming Follow-up!

Hey, I’ve found that mysterious statuette artist!

By John Guy LaPlante  

With 3 photos

Remember my post about the incredible statuettes in Morro Bay, CA  where I wintered? With one stone so delicately and dramatically balanced atop another? Some of them four stones high!

No cement, no glue, nothing but gravity to keep them standing up. Amazing!

I wondered who the unknown creator was and asked around. Nobody knew.

Well, I found him! He is 42-year-old John Petitt … a man with a hard, sad past as a druggy who has  finally, finally  found himself.

John Petitt, is making up for lost time by quietly creating stunning things like this. This one rests on a tree stump!

John Petitt is making up for lost time by quietly creating stunning things like this. This one rests on a tree stump!

He’s up front about his past. “I was a drug addict. Big-time. No more! That’s all behind me.  And you know, working with these stones, making something out of nothing, so to speak,  is kinda my meditation.”

Well, the ones I sent you pictures of – as fantastic as they were – are puny compared to the new statuettes I’ve found. So much more challenging, interesting, impressive.

I found these new ones while riding around on my trike. At St. Timothy’s Church, I came to a corner with a dozen of these beauties. I was amazed. Some were bigger. Their construction was more challenging.  Some made of three stones, some four. Even one of five!

Again I wondered, who is creating these things? Who has the talent, the skill, the patience? Who? [Read more…]

When Trump got trumped!

By John Guy LaPlante

As we now know for sure, Trump is going to be the Republican candidate for President.  He has stunned us by the tremendous, frenzied (!) following he has whipped up.  An amazing following.  One for the record books.

His constant bellowing, and superman boasting, and wild insults, and nasty histrionics, so appalling to many of us, have so fascinated and won over so many  that he has clinched the delegates needed to face Hillary or Bernie. This despite nearly zero experience as a politician.

He may be our next president.  God forbid!

Well, one famous headliner saw through Trump long before this campaign. I’ll tell you who he was in a minute, and what he said. I loved it. [Read more…]

Is being a citizen of TWO countries okay?

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA– It’s called dual citizenship. Morley Safer of Sixty Minutes had it–in the U.S. and Canada where he was born. Thousands of Americans are also citizens of another country. Lots of folks don’t know a thing about that fantastic privilege.

It’s wonderful – well, you would think so. You can live in either country, with all the rights and privileges morley-safer-bio-pic[1]thereof, quite numerous. You can move back and forth between them with little fuss.

If there is a big crisis in the country you’re in, you can take off to be safe in your other country. Of course, you can vacation in the other country as often as you like, with much easier treatment getting through airport security.

If you are an international businessman, you can use whichever of your two passports will get you into a third country more easily, whether you’re going to China or Bolivia or Egypt or Singapore, say. And maybe no need to purchase the necessary visas, which is so time-consuming and often so expensive.

Years ago I was friends with a Greek couple, Nicolas and Maria, naturalized Americans both. They ran a pizza restaurant.  When they retired, they flew back to Greece for good. Bought a house in their home town. And became rich people—all possible by the Social Security check that Uncle Sam mailed to them every month. [Read more…]