October 22, 2018

That junkmail I just got. Oh boy oh boy!

By John Guy LaPlante

Incredible all the stuff Father Boes sent me. Right away I saw what he was up to.

I’ve received tons of junk mail over the years. Haven’t we all? But nothing like this, ever.

I get my mail in a shoebox-size mailbox in a bank of 50 of them.

With its locked door open, it’s 7 high and 5 inches wide. Totally adequate even for magazines.

This time I was startled to see a huge white envelope wedged in there kitty-corner. Humongous.

Charlie, my mail carrier (not his true name), must have had a devil of a time stuffing it in there. Charlie is a gentle guy but I’ll bet that knowing he was alone, he did some real cussing.

What’s that, I wondered when I saw it. Who can that be from?

I had to tug and tug to pry it out. In fact, I’m a gentle guy, too, and I cussed, too, a rare thing.  And know what, I badly ripped one side of the darn thing in wrenching it out.

Big surprise! It came from Father Flanagan’s Boys Town in Boys Town in Omaha, Nevada. Boys Town is famous. Goes way back a hundred years. But why are they sending this to me?!

A strong suspicion popped up in my mind. I’ll wager you have the same suspicion. They want money!

I opened the envelope the minute I got home. It was jammed full with an astonishing variety of stuff. Eighteen different items! No room for a 19th!

All beautiful. All top quality. All themed to Christmas! You’d be amazed to see it all.

–       Two 2019 calendars. But why two?

–       A 2019 daily planner. Nicest I’ve ever seen.

–       Six gorgeous Christmas cards, all different. One with a big, beautiful LaPlante printed on it. Wow!  All with stunning matching envelopes, of course.

–       A large sheet of To / From labels, some bigger, some smaller. Which is nice to have.

–       Then a sheet of 24 beautiful decorative greeting labels.

–       Next two sheets of “FROM” labels, 24 to a sheet. My name and address printed on each one! Too nice to toss out.

–       And most impressive, well, to me, was “A Certification of Appreciation to John LaPlante for his support in helping the boys and girls of Boys Town.” With my name in big, distinguished lettering. Like what you find on a diploma.

Signed by Father Steven E. Boes himself, the national executive director of Boys Town. Notice, “national” executive director. That’s because now there are 12 Boys Towns, all over the country, and all doing the same fine work.  Father Flanagan would be so pleased to hear this.

At a quick glance, the certificate did pass as a diploma. So impressive. It deserved to be framed. You know, for everybody to admire. Who doesn’t want to be admired?

Mind you, I haven’t done anything to deserve this huge envelope with all these goodies. Quite optimistic, that Father Boes.

Then a letter for me to read. Entitled “My Story.”  Nearly a thousand words, rich in details. Told by a boy named Robert. Nice picture of him up at the top. Clean-cut white boy. About 14 or 15. A good-looking kid.

Robert – not Bob, I noticed — tells his story in plain English, which you’d expect of a teen-ager.  I read every word. A talented writer, this young Robert.

A very, very sad story. And in many ways. Robert was in a bad fix. Nobody to turn to.

But Boys Town took him in, lucky kid. They straightened him out. Put him on the right and sure road to success. And graduating, he went out and proved himself as  a good and promising young citizen.

He didn’t believe in miracles, Robert writes. But now sees miracles are possible.

Which is exactly what Father Flanagan sought to do. Transform boys from bad to good. He looked at boys differently. He  once said, “There’s no such thing as a bad boy.”

Father Boes, I can see, was inspired by him and carries on in the same spirit.

Yes, Boys Town does great work,  he says. Yet Boys Town never, never would be able to continue that same great job without the financial support of concerned and caring people. Like me.

We kind folks make a powerful and essential difference, he says. Unfortunately, I haven’t given Boys Town a dime so far.

But it’s obvious Father Boes knows I’m a good guy. That I realize I might have grown up in a bad way like Robert. Sad to say, there are a lot of boys out there, and girls now, too, just like Robert. They desperately need and deserve help but have no idea where to get it.

This is  his Christmas Appeal, and Father Boes appeals directly to me. He starts, “Dear John….” Which is nice.   Tells how Boys Town continues Father Flanagan’s vital work. Which was to rescue children who’ve been abused, abandoned or neglected.  Which was wonderful.

Says Boys Town now has been carrying on in that same noble spirit for more than 100 years.  And last year provided direct care to 79,209 children!

“This Christmas,” he writes, “I hope you are able to help us with the children who God has entrusted into our care. May God bless you and your loved ones.” And signs off by invoking God’s blessings upon me.

Father Boes says all this much more nicely than I ever could.

For my convenience he has supplied a form. And I can make a gift of any size I want. A one-time gift. Or a monthly gift. Or a quarterly. I can send a check. Or I have a choice of four national credit cards.

And again to save me time and inconvenience, he has included two fine ballpoint pens. Beauties, with no advertising message printed on them, which surprised me. But why two?  In case I lose one, I suppose.  Well, very thoughtful.

As I looked at all Father Boes’ goodies, I marveled at how much I’d have to dish out if I went out and bought them all on my own.. And think of all the time I’d have to spend. And doubtful I would find as nice.

Of course, I’m confident thousands of good people like me are receiving this huge envelope right now. Maybe you have, too, or will.

Yet, I’m still puzzled. Why does Father Boes send me this delightful gift of two of this and three of that? Not just one. Could be he doesn’t want me to run short.

Sure, I could use some but maybe not all. I wouldn’t toss it out. That would be wasteful.  So I’d gift it.  I’d feel good doing that. And I’d also feel good spreading the word about Boys Town.

And the more that friends heard of its fine work, the more boys and girls like Robert would get transforming help.

Isn’t that so?

Yes, I’ve known about Boys Town for years.  I remember it from the wonderful movie, “Boys Town” in 1938. Starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney.  Which I got to enjoy much later.

If you haven’t heard of Boys Town’s noble work, let me give you key details.

It was founded in 1917 by Father Flanagan there in Omaha. Born in Ireland, by the way. A man of great charm and-enormous talents.

One day he ran into a boy who was carrying a smaller boy on his shoulders. Quite a burden. But the boy doing the carrying said, “Oh, he isn’t heavy, Father. He’s my little brother.”

Father Flanagan was touched. He glowed. Re-told the story often and it has been passed along and passed along. And made lots of people glow.  It made me glow. Now there’s a little drawing of that boy carrying his little brother in everything Boys Town publishes, it seems.

A few years back Boys Town got another great idea. Like Robert, a lot of girls need help, And Boys Town accepted that challenge enthusiastically. So donations help boys and girls now.

I suppose it would have been awkward to start calling the school Boys and Girls Town. And Kids Town never would have worked. So it’s still Boys Town.

But the way so  many women are now demanding full equality, it seems inevitable some will protest that that name is unfair. Might sue. Wonder if Father Boes loses sleep over that?

Oh, its work has been greatly expanded. It used to serve only kids of middle school and high school age. Now it takes them in much younger as well.

Now it serves all kinds of “at risk” children. The risks can be of many kinds. It provides much more than just schooling now. It also tackles social and psychological problems. Has a much enlarged mission. Now it proudly states, “Serving Children … Healing Families.”

Father Flanagan was marvelously innovative.  He made Boys Town a true town, even with a boy mayor and councilors.

A town with a police department, post office, public services. With its own schools, athletic facilities, library, gym. All the usual sports and clubs. A total package of academic and athletic and social programs.

He didn’t house the boys in dormitories. No, no. He put them up in nice houses, real homes, eight or ten in each. And each has man and wife “parents” who have a full parental role in every way.

They oversee the kids in all their activities. Praise them when they do well and coach them when they need support. This also give the kids an important sense of “family.”

He developed and implemented novel ideas. He spoke in many cities and states and numerous countries, including his native Ireland. Where he found its ideas about educating children deplorable, by the way. He  changed people’s thinking.

He is buried on the grounds of Boys Town. Was so highly regarded as a hard-working and highly motivated priest that the Vatican is moving him along on the long path to sainthood. Truly, Boys Town has become widely recognized for doing a classy job.

I’ve spent a lot of time boning up on all this. The one scandal I’m aware of over its many years is of a former supervisor a few years ago getting convicted of molesting a Boys Town child.

Now back to Father Boes’ Christmas Appeal. The sum of the charitable gifts it takes in every year is enormous. For instance, its 2016 annual report said that Father Flanagan’s Fund for Needy Children provided $44,782,000 of  support. !!! And 86.36 percent of every dollar received was spent on the care of children.

A key tool (there are others) in achieving that is the huge envelope I just received. Every item top quality. Every item useful. All of it personalized. My name on it time and again. Very expensive to produce. Just the Post Office’s bill must be staggering.

Well, I had no intention of making a contribution. It’s a good cause. I’ll make one, and I’m sure Father Boes will be disappointed. But it’s better than zilch.

Thousands of others will also, and I’ll bet Father Boes will be tickled by the final tally.

And know what? All of us will get a personal thank you from Father Boes, even the smallfries like me. And he’ll be so pleased that he’ll send me—and the thousands of other donors–another big envelope next year and the next year. Until he finds out that mine has become undeliverable, if you know what I mean.

Obviously Father Boes and his team are masterful fund-raisers. Everything is carefully calculated.  For one thing, notice his timing.  It’s the first Christmas solicitation I receive this year. Guaranteed I will receive others. Father Boes made sure to get a jump on the competition.

Gosh, how did I make Father Boes’ list? That occurred to me, of course. As I said, I have no connection to Boys Town. So how come?

Well, I know. Father Boes’  knows all about buying lists of names from name-listing services. Such as MailChimp. There are a number of them.

You just tell them what kinds of people you want to mail to. Give them basic criteria of the people  you’re looking for: occupation, education, age, key interests. For example, important data may be their religion, what publications they subscribe to, what stores and companies they deal with, their credit rating, what other charities they may support, maybe even their political leanings.

These list services have an amazing range of customers. Amazing the different outfits that mail to me.

And these list sellers will sell you all the names you want, at so many dollars per thousand. I’m confident Father Boes buys names this way. I made the list he wanted.

Yes, I’ve been calling it junk mail. We all call it junk mail, don’t we? But what is junk mail? It’s mail that we’ve not requested.  Unsolicited mail that wants to sell us something. Or do something, such as vote for so and so.

Some of it indeed is junk. Often I toss it before even opening it. I recognize the sender and have zero interest.But often I do open a new offering just out of curiosity. And know what? I’ve gotten junk mail I’ve found interesting and useful and have signed up for what they’re peddling. As I have for Father Boes’ and Boys Town..

Sometimes I open something from a known vender just because I’ll enjoy reading it and believe I’ll buy nothing.

In my case examples are mailings from Harbor Freight and Haband Clothes and AARP and sundry travel companies.  I enjoy looking them over. And sometimes I say yes. As I will to Father Boes now.

How about you? How do you feel about junk mail?

Unfortunately, I’ll keep little of Father Boes’ goodies in that envelope. Certainly his gold Thank You Certificate to me. The one that looks like a diploma.

But just as a souvenir of this blog post I’ve had fun writing. And I’ll pass along the other stuff. Too nice to just trash.

An interesting thing. At our Senior Center I had quite an experience. There’s a box of freebies there. People put in stuff they don’t need. Others look in for nice freebies.

I looked. And found Boys Town stuff in there from others like me who got Father Boes’ envelope. And  I decided that’s where I’m going to leave my Boys Town stuff.

But that made me think of Charlie, my mail carrier. He must have cussed more than once delivering those envelopes to others on his route. Poor guy!

Anyway, I hope you have a bigger mailbox than I do. Just in case.

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Is it okay to ban books? Or is it not?

 By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — What a hot potato!

This is the dramatic exhibit in our library. Other libraries all over the country are doing the same thing as part of Banned Book Week.

Some good and really well-motivated people believe that it is okay to ban books. Not just nuts do.

Others feel it’s evil and fight it fiercely.

I stand with those who think it’s awful.

Why am I bringing this up today?  Simple. At our public library I spotted a powerful display that featured three books that had been banned.

The three were side by side. All open. And look at the word plastered over them. Who could miss that?!

More than that. The display listed some 300 books right here in our own library network that had been banned.

And on exhibit below that were about a dozen of these books. Powerful indeed!

It was all so fascinating. So provocative. I’ll blog about this, I thought. And took the picture  to show you.

The three featured books from left to right are:

— “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits,” published in 2006, by novelist Ayelet Waldman,

— “An Introduction to French Authors,” 1894, all in French by the way, by Alphonse N. Van Dall, a celebrated professor of literature back then.

— “The Hymnbook” of the Presbyterian Church USA, MCMLV, a collaboration.

Looking around and sure that no librarian was watching, I took the liberty to skim through all three of them. Impossible to be thorough, of course. But all were inoffensive, I decided finally, and put them back.

Still, I scratched my head and wondered, What in God’s name could have been so vile and awful about these books that somebody felt compelled to step up and “challenge” them? And managed to get them banned!

Here’s something interesting.  I just looked up that Ayelet Waldman novel at Amazon.com and know what? It’s easily available. You can buy it as a paper book or even an e-book. The paper edition sells for less than $6. And it boasts more than a hundred reviews, many calling it wonderful, terrific.

So: all those banned books that I cited have outlived their banning. No doubt about it.

This display was a part of the ALA’s annual Banned Books Week. The American Library Association, very powerful indeed, has been fighting banning for years.

Please notice I used the verb “challenge.” In this context it means to officially demand that something be suppressed, in this case books. The person challenging has to give a reason, which makes sense.

Well, I went digging. People get steamed up for so, so many reasons. Here are the top 20. Brace yourself:

Anti-ethnic, cultural sensitivity, racism, sexism, anti-family, nudity, offensive language, drugs / alcohol / smoking / gambling, games,  violence, suicide, sexually explicit, political viewpoint, occult / satanism, inaccurate, technical error, and others….

Wow!

Well, as some of you know, I have published three books. Copies of them are on the shelves in this library.

It’s doubtful yet conceivable that some crackpot might get inflamed by something he / she spotted in one or another of my books. I do express many an opinion in them. And the crackpot would begin yelling, “Ban this awful, awful book by LaPlante! Right now!”

Without a doubt some authors at one time or another do get uptight about such a possibility and keep a bottle of sleeping pills at their bedside just in case. It could imperil their career. I do not keep sleeping pills by my bed, I assure you.

To ban or not to ban has been a hot potato ever since our earliest days, long before we became a republic — before our Founding Fathers. Even going back centuries earlier on the other side of the Atlantic to when Martin Luther in 1517 nailed his theses on the cathedral door —  and made history that shapes our thinking to this very day. He paid a heavy price. But it launched the Reformation.

It’s impossible to talk about banning books without talking about burning books. To ban a book means to say, “Naughty, naughty, naughty!” Burning books — putting a match to them — is far worse. No need to say more.

Who decides to ban a book? Often parents will fight to ban a book used in class in order to protect their kids. A troubled reader. Or a private school that finds something awful.  Or churches. Or political groups. Even a country will.

Fanatics, for sure, but as you see also some very well-intentioned people and groups have clamored to ban books, and often have succeeded.

The most notable anti-banning group for sure has been the ALA. It sees banning as blatant censorship. Working with its thousands of public libraries, it has had an enormous impact.

Other powerful groups have joined the fight. The Association of American Publishers. The American Association of Booksellers. The American Society of Journalists and Authors. And others. Easy to understand why.

What we may not realize is that through our First Amendment and its successive interpretations, the freedom for anyone to publish has been strengthened. And for us to read. How fortunate we are.

Yet keeping pace all the while has been the effort to ban books. Ban! Ban! Ban!

It’s amazing how many hundreds of books have been banned, including many greatly esteemed and written by eminently successful writers.

Here is just a tiny sampling:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

—  Anne Frank, the Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

—  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin.

Another Country by James Baldwin.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

To repeat, this is just a smattering. All these were banned on “social” grounds, mind you. Threatening our society, I guess.

Here is the official stance of the ALA:

“To actively advocate in defense of the rights of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“A publicly supported library provides free and equal access to information for all people of that community.

“We enjoy this basic right in our democratic society. It is a core value of the library profession.”

Amen! The ALA has been fighting the good fight for 23 years. I applaud it.

Here are the four steps that the ALA insists we take if we agree that banning is bad.

  1. Stand up for our rights!
  2. Read a Banned Book!
  3. Defend the First Amendment!
  4. Protest Banning!

And not just now during Banned Book Week!

The ALA’s good news is, and I quote, “due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students, and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.” Bravo!

Yet I confess I have reservations. Sure, I’m against banning as a general policy.

But if I said I opposed it unconditionally, that would mean I would have to be open to and be tolerant of some awful stuff. Pornography. Sadism. Inflammatory rhetoric. Debauchery. Obviously flawed and untruthful garbage. On and on.

Again keep in mind that the First Amendment gives us all the right to read whatever we like.

I know I sound contradictory. Let me explain a bit more.

For general books and all around reading matter in a public library, meaning newspapers and magazines and also CD documentaries and movies, I see no problem.

How come? Well, someone in any public library system decides which books and items to purchase and stock. Every public library has a budget that has to be respected. And any library has only so much shelf space. The only library we have that has the ability and makes it a point to stock everything is our Library of Congress in Washington.

And that professional librarian who specializes in selecting books to buy (probably a committee is involved) selects for a middle ground. Nothing to the extreme left or the extreme right. Everything in a safe and reasonable in-between.

So in effect that person is saying yes or no. And in effect is banning by rejecting.

See my point? Do I make sense?

Thinking about all this, I was startled to remember that I banned a book at one time. In fact it was a kind of “burning.” Yes, me!

I was 14 or 15. Loved book-reading, as I do now. I was a kid in a Catholic prep school. A boarding school. And I came into possession of a book that shocked my adolescent sensibilities. What to do? Well, in a quiet corner, sure that nobody was around, I tore the book apart. Then tore the pages into pieces. Then buried them deep into two different trash cans. All the while thinking, of course, that I was doing the right and proper thing. Felt very good about it.

One other troubling memory. When a student in a Catholic college I — we — became aware of “The Index.”

A teacher  about a certain book would say, “Oh, that book? It’s in The Index! So it’s awful! So, no, no! It would be a sin for you or me to read it!”

Taboo!

And we accepted that. Again the thinking was that this was the intelligent and right thing to do.

You see, for some 400 years, the Vatican had listed some books in “The Index of Prohibited Books.”  Many, many. The kind that the faithful should not be exposed to, the Vatican decided.

The Vatican felt that those books would be “a contamination of the faith” or “the corruption of morals.”

It’s just yesterday in researching all this that I learned that The Index finally was suppressed by Pope Paul the Sixth in 1966. Hallelujah!

To me, all this is a reminder that all of us, well, nearly all of us, are the unconscious victims — maybe “prisoners”  is a better word — of our culture. And we must hope, through study, and reflection, and exposure, that we shall escape it and survive it.

This ain’t a light topic, is it? It hasn’t been easy for me to figure out where I stand myself. And of course I wonder, what do you think of all this? I know you’ll be honest. Is banning okay? Or is it not?

How do you feel about this hot potato?

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Bill Fairbanks’ long, long walk across the USA

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — Five years ago I was still living here six months a year over what I call our winter months and in Connecticut six months over the summer months there.

It was time to go home again. I still had my one-person camper van. If I drove 300 miles on the big Interstates, I’d get home in 11 days. Nice and easy.

Bill and Carole show their route from California to Massachusetts. He walked for a grand total of 4887 days! She was his 4-wheel escort and daily rooter.

But I drove the slow roads on which you see so much more, and so much of it is so interesting. Many a time I stopped here and there for two or three days. You know, to see this wonderful thing and that wonderful thing.

So that’s why  I was on the road for s 101 days and drove 5,300 miles. I’ve taken many long and varied road trips. I’ve loved every one. But this was the best. A real adventure.

Well, I just met Bill Fairbanks. He’s William L. Fairbanks II, a retired Ph.D. anthropology professor residing in nearby little Los Osos.

He crossed the country, too. But he walked it! In his 70’s! And it took him six years to do it. I whistled when I heard that. Plus his wife Carole accompanied him all the way. When I heard that, I whistled double loud.

He’s 81. He’s a big guy, 6 foot 2, hefty and fit and doesn’t give the impression of having held down a desk job during his working years. He is outgoing, likes to talk, enjoys being with people — just what it takes for anyone who is going to be a teacher.

He was born in San Francisco. His dad was a PBX expert for AT&T. And he founded and was first president of a credit union for its employees. Bill was a little kid when his dad resigned and took his family back to the farm Bill’s mother had been reared on.

“Dad loved farming. I grew up on the farm. As a farm boy I walked and walked. Every day my brother and I would walk two miles to school, then back. I enjoyed walking. Always have. Still do.  It’s a natural for me.”

He and Carole met in high school. ”She wowed me. Such a cute girl and very smart. Plus her wonderful sense of adventure!”

They got married while students at what is now San Jose State University, where they earned their bachelor’s and Bill went on for a master’s.

“We planned to be high school teachers and did that. She became a home economics teacher. I taught history and geography.

“I got hired at Cuesta Community College. It was just its second year. It offered a two-year curriculum. Some graduates went on to four-year colleges, some went to work. While teaching at Cuesta I went and got my Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara.”

“I taught sociology and anthropology. Most of my students went on to further study. They learned from me and it’s surprising how much I learned from them. I truly mean that. I put in 41 years at Cuesta and loved it. I also taught occasionally at Cal Poly University here. Enjoyed that, too.”

Bill became active in anthropology circles, and over the years served on committees and boards and became president of both the Southwest Anthropological Association and California Mission Studies Association.

He’s a family man. They have a son and two daughters all living within 11 miles with frequent get-togethers, and three grandchildren. For 40 years he and Carole have been members of the Los Osos Methodist Church.

How did he develop the idea of walking across the country?

“Well, as you know, I love to walk. And as you know, rites of passage in life involve challenges. But retirement provides no traditional challenge. Some of my great-grandparents crossed the nation in the 1840s and 1850s. That inspired me. I decided to give it a try. That became my challenge.”

Yes, he planned to walk all the way to the Atlantic.  Maybe to Washington D.C., maybe to New York, specifically Wall Street.. But as his target destination he settled on the small city of Dedham, Massachusetts. Why?

“The Fairbanks Family House is there. It was built in 1636, mind you. It would be exciting to walk in the very door one of my ancestors walked out of several centuries ago.”

It’s interesting that all Fairbanks in the U.S. can call Dedham their ancestral home.

Just like me, on the way he wanted to enjoy the astounding variety of sights and scenes of our great big USA.

“But in all this I had a special focus,” he told me. “Anthropology is my field, yes. But cultural anthropology has been my specialty.”

I asked him to tell me about that. He said that anthropology is the study of man, which wasn’t news to me.

But cultural anthropology, he explained, studies how we organize ourselves in so many ways to live our lives. In governmental bodies and political parties- and churches and corporations and societies and clubs on and on. Large and small and good and not-so-good. And that has all kinds of consequences, positive and sometimes less so.

So in effect, for him our country as he walked it step by step became a huge and wonderful laboratory, so to speak,  just as he knew it would.

Now why Dedham? Well, a good reason. There’s an old, old house there that all people named Fairbanks in the US can call their ancestral home.

Today the Fairbanks House, as it’s called, is a museum and rightfully so. In fact it is considered the oldest frame house in the country.  Even furnished with period antiques.  It’s operated by the National Fairbanks Family Association of America.

“So it’s easy to see why Dedham would be perfect as my final destination. We became excited about it.”

In fact, it’s from there way back in the 1840s and 1850s that his great-grandfathers on both sides of his family crossed the country to  California to start a good new life.

Well, as you know now, he made it, covering 5,605 miles at an average pace of 11.53 miles a day. Of course, on some days he took far more footsteps than on others. For one thing, weather could be a big factor.

Typically he’d start from February on to May and return home in November.  He had other obligations at home he had to keep in mind.

This is how he and Carole worked it. They would set the destination for the day and the quitting time. He’d start walking. He carried a small backpack. Carole would drive ahead to their motel for the night. She would sightsee, shop, return to the motel to read or quilt. She loves to quilt. She’d always hope to locate a quilt store.

They’d eat in interesting restaurants and coffee shops. And would try to get to as many museums, historic sites, and unique shops as possible. Which was exactly my goal when I drove home to Connecticut.

If he ran into a problem, he’d call her and she’d come pick him up, but that was rare.

They started out on July 2, 2009, and finished on August 20, 2014. He was 72. She was 69. When they finally got to the Fairbanks House, he was 77 and she was 74. That certainly was a record.

Look at their route and you’ll see that it cut across our country’s mid-level right to the East Coast at Virginia. Then it took a 90-degree turn north and went way up to Vermont, then turned down toward Boston and finally Dedham.

The hardest part was making it through California, right at the beginning. It took time to work out the kinks. Calluses on his feet!  After walking 22 miles over the Santa Lucia Mountains he had to take two week off to recover from blisters. But that didn’t daunt him.

The first year they made it to Carson City. The second year from Carson City to Oberlin, Kansas. The third from Oberlin to Cane Ridge, Kentucky. The fourth from Cane Ridge to Richmond, Virginia. The fifth from Richmond to Catskill, New York. And the sixth from there to Boston and finally Dedham. Hallelujah!

“But bad luck. it turned out to be one year more than we planned. In 2012, while at home for the holiday season, I fell through a wood deck. I was bare-footed. Gashed my right foot. It required surgery and I had to stay put for weeks. But I just couldn’t wait to get going again. So it was late, in August, when we got started.

“But one result is that it took us an extra year to finish.”

He  chuckled. “I wore out eight pairs of shoes!  I don’t remember how many dogs barked at me.  It was amazing how many folks would hand me a bottle of water. Lots of good people out there!

“And got to tell you I walked through some rough neighborhoods. But never ran into a bad person. Not anywhere!””

As an anthropologist did he learn something new?

“Indeed I did. I had a lot of time to think. And reflect.

“There’s a lot of fear out there. People are worried. You can see it. Bars on windows of houses. Locked cars. Gated communities. On and on.

“Oh, one more thing. I should tell you I ran into a lot of Afro-American neighborhoods.” He uses that because it conforms to other ethnic groups, such as Italian-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and so on.

He got to talk to some, mostly middle-aged and older. Enjoyed their chats.

“I found Americans very nice people. Invariably they’d tell me to be careful. Would say, ‘Watch out for gang bangers!’ Or ‘Take care!’ Or ‘I’ll pray for you!’ Nice things like that. It impressed me.”

On the road he was cautious. One example. He walked not with the flow of traffic but against it. “I wanted to see what was coming.”

Now talking about myself for a moment, On my long ride across the country in my camping van, I had used the best-selling AAA atlas. Excellent atlas. But Bill used one I never heard of, “The DeLorme Atlas.”  He showed it to me and right away I understood why. It had all the usual good info plus a great big plus – all the geographical elevations and in fine detail! Every up and down just about.

“On the road Carole and I would study it every morning. We would choose the easiest route to walk that day. And there could be terrific differences depending on the time of day.”

Think of this. In Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, his path took him way up to 12,183 feet. That’s more than two miles up. And then down.  Now remember his age.  It made me wonder. Did he ever think of quitting and returning home for keeps?

“No, no. When I walked 12 miles on my very first day, I knew I could do it.”

A real challenge, he said, was getting across some rivers. Many bridges, major ones such as across the Mississippi, or the Missouri, or the Ohio, do not permit pedestrians.

“I crossed the Mississippi on the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. It’s on I-72 at Hannibal, Missouri.’

“A sign said bicyclists could use it, and pedestrians have the same rights, but walking facing the traffic instead of going with traffic. Which was my practice, as you know.”

Hannibal is where Mark Twain grew up. Where he got the ideas for “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.”

In all those miles he didn’t have a single accident, which I found remarkable.

Along the way several times he got checked out by police. “I’d tell them what I was up to and they’d wish me good luck.”

Several times he got written up in local papers. One time he got interviewed by TV Station WVVA in Lewisburg, West Virginia. People told him they had seen it.

I was surprised that time and again he had a walking companion. A high school classmate. Or a former student. Or a cousin. For a day or two or even longer.

His final day after six years was from Boston down to Dedham. Exactly 9.42 miles.

He knew a delegation of Fairbanks members would be waiting for him and Carole at the Fairbanks Museum. Walking with him would be his son Bill from San Luis Obispo, the city next door to his home in  the Morro Bay Area. And Kathy Butterfield, one of his son’s high school classmates living in the Boston Area. And Tom Potter, another of Bill’s classmates, who flew in from Los Angeles.

They had 10 miles to go. Bill expected it would take about five hours.

Bill chuckled. “Wrong. Very slow getting out of Boston. Took seven hours! But the folks at the Fairbanks House were still there, which was wonderful.”

It was a beautiful day. “We were worried about that. Carole got there ahead of him, of course. And she made sure to have everything for a nice party, including a sit-down celebration repast. It turned out a celebration not to be forgotten.”

Remember, he had walked 5,606 miles! How many zillion footsteps would that be? He told me he finished in better health than when he took the first step. How wonderful.

Bill took hundreds of photos. “I wish I had taken more. They keep the memories alive.” They’re still enjoying the glow of it all.

He wrote daily updates and emailed them to people who requested them. The updates became his  daily journal of the adventure.

No wonder he’s being invited to give talks at churches and clubs. He always says yes. In fact, it’s at our Senior Club here in Morro Bay that I became aware of him. It turned out to be a full house and some had to be turned down at the door. How about that?!

And he’s writing a book. An excellent idea, I believe. The tentative title is “Across the USA one step at a time. By a septuagenerian walker.” I’m eager to see it.

And he is still walking, would you believe?

Well, I thought I had an adventure driving across the USA in 101 days. Indeed I did. But Bill’s turned out to be a super-duper adventure.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends, four things to tell you today.

Yes, just four!

And I’ll make this short and sweet. Impossible, some of you are thinking. It’s 180 degrees contrary to my nature.

 Well, I’ll prove to you right now that I can write short and sweet.

 1.Thank you to those of you who let me know that you got my “I’m blogging again” post. Very nice of you.

 2. Some of you asked whether I’m okay. You were worried about my unusual silence. I am! Your concern made me feel good.

 3. If you haven’t gotten a thank you note from me yet, my apologies, please. So busy here! I’ll do my best to catch up.

 4. This is a further test that the app that I use to deliver my posts to you is truly doing its job. If you get this, just send me three words back, please: “John, got it!” And I’ll know I’m back in business.

 Have I been short and sweet? Oh, come on now! (Chuckle, please!)

 Best!  John

 

I’m finally blogging again. Whoopee!

Yes sir, this makes me a most happy fellow!

What happened is that a freak WordPress snafu put me out of business. Just temporarily, I hoped at first. But then for keeps, I feared.

It was a whopping blow. WordPress is the app I’ve used for many a year to compose and then email my posts to you. You may not know it but WordPress is the most popular blogging app of all, I ‘m told. I’m just one of thousands of scribblers who count on it.

Well, when I noticed the breakdown I sent all of you an email! SOS! SOS! ”Please let me know if you get this SOS!” And I explained my humongous problem. The feedback would help diagnose the problem.

But darn, I got only four responses out of the nearly 500 alerts that I sent out. Oh my oh my!

The truth is that blogging on a variety of topics as I do is all-important to me. It’s being who I am and what I am. It may  sound but it’s a fact. Sure, I’m in my 90th year and getting a wee bit old to be doing this, you may think but I love it and quitting — well, quitting would be hard to accept.

So, how to handle this WordPress headache?

I immediately contacted two longtime friends who are very savvy in just about anything and everything digital. They’ve been wonderful. They would help me again, I was sure. But gosh, they were up tied up with challenges of their own.  I could understand that. No problem.

Of course, I mentioned my plight to my daughter Monique and David, her hubby. ”Dont worry,” David told me right away. ”I’ll call Tom!”

Wonderful! Tom is an old buddy of his. I’ve met Tom and his wife Tulsi several times over the years when they’ve visited Monique and David. Tom is a long-time digital consultant.

They live in Southern California near San Diego. Monique and David have been swapping visits wtth them as long as I remember. I knew I’d be in good hands. I relaxed a bit.

Tom diagnosed the problem from way down there and fixed it. His solution was to use a new app, well to me, called Mail Chimp. Very popular. WordPress would piggyback on Mail Chimp. In fact, Nigel, one of my two savvy tech friends, had mentioned Mail Chimp as a solution.

Tom set it up for me and I’ll be using it in sending this to you.  I’m looking forward to sleeping better tonight, believe me.

So this is my first new post. Hey, I’m back in the saddle again!

So, as inspiration hits me, I’ll craft a new post now and then and send it to you.  Hope you’ll enjoy these fresh ruminations of mine.

Do feel free to forward them to others who you think might also enjoy them. Or send me their contact info and I’ll be delighted to put them on my list.

If you don’t enjoy my posts, or if you’re too busy to read them, let me know and I’ll unsubscribe you. An easy matter. Subscribers is what WordPress calls regular recipients.

If you’re a regular reader, I’d enjoy a comment about them now and then. A bit of personal news from you would be nice, too. This chatting with you and other subscribers brightens my day.  Really does.

Snafus do happen, as we know. I’m praying I’ll be spared another for a long while. You’d feel the same way, right?

* * * * *

This is an SOS, sort of

By John Guy LaPlante

Yes, my frantic cry for help—Help! Help! Help!

Oh, don’t panic. I’m not lost at sea or running out of gas in an airplane. But truly I am befuddled, frantic, perplexed, greatly frustrated.

Here’s why.

I’ve been a writer for more than 65 years. Newspaper reports. Magazine articles. Essays. Opinion pieces. Lots and lots of output. And for some years now, a blogger – I write not on paper any more but online as the author of blog posts. “Post” is the digitalized word for what I used to write and publish on paper.

A month ago, the big, nasty problem popped up. I would write my post and yes, it would be published.  Meaning it would land as usual in the archive of my posts on my website, www.johnguylaplante.com. But it wouldn’t get emailed to you and my other subscribers, who are many.

What a headache. How come? I don’t know. Nor do a couple of hi-tech friends who have bailed me out of hi-tech breakdowns in the past.

But this morning I was sitting and brooding about it. I’m an old, old guy, as you know, but I don’t want to quit. I enjoy this work, lucky me, and I want to keep at this writing. It’s good for my spirits and my soul.

And I’m encouraged that some of you enjoy what I put out, sure, some pieces more than others, which is understandable. I enjoy the feedback you give me, well, some of you. In fact, this online back and forth is a good part of my social life.

But as I was brooding about it, I thought, Hey! Maybe this crazy problem has worked itself out somehow. Maybe the publishing app is really working again. Maybe I’ve been assuming all along it’s still broken but maybe it isn’t.

You know, strange, wonderful, miraculous things like that are known to happen,

So I’m putting it to the test. This instant. I’m going to send you this very message. Yes, as a post. I’m going through all the necessary steps. And I’m going to send it on to you and all my other subscribers.

All I’m asking you to do is to tell me you got it. Just email me back saying, “I got it, John!”

If I do hear that from you, I’ll know I’m in business again.  Glory be! Hallelujah!

Hope my SOS works!

I’m pressing the magic button right now. This post  should land in your Inbox in minutes.

I know some of you go online only occasionally. No problem. Just let me know asap. I’ll be keeping count.  Very nervously and apprehensively. The more of you, the better. I know you understand. Thank you!

The new Medicare card. Interested? I am.

By John Guy LaPlante

Very much interested.

To start off, I am blogging about it today for a special reason. I’ll get to that in a minute. Patience, please. First it’s important to review some basic facts about Medicare.
Medicare, as you know, has become a birthright for any American turning 65.
Medicare is so important, so essential at least for us older folks, that any change in it is must reading. Like right now.
Close to 6o million of us are receiving a new card. Why?
Until now we have used our social security number. No more. The new cards give each of us a unique new number. It’s all about assuring better privacy and security, we’re told.
I’ve already gotten mine. Most of you reading this are older folks. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, it’s coming.

Do you know the idea of a national social insurance program goes back more than a hundred years?
Back in 1912 President Teddy Roosevelt pushed to get one enacted. For all Americans, not just older ones. It didn’t happen.
More than 20 years went by. In 1945 President Harry S Truman tried hard to get it passed, again for all Americans. He failed.
President John F. Kennedy tried. Failed.
President Lyndon B. Johnson got it finally enacted back in 1965 as a core part of his Great Society roll-out. But just for Americans 65 and older. That’s the best he could manage.

But finally, finally we had a national social security program! What a godsend to people facing retirement and old age!
President Johnson signed it into law in Independence, Missouri, the home town of President Truman. And he presented the first card to President Truman. Very fitting.
It’s important to mention other countries already had such a program, even more ambitious. And numerous countries do today, again some providing far wider coverage.
Ours has been tweaked many times. For some time now it has been made available to people under 65 who have dire health problems. That helps many.
It’s amazing the list of new changes and features that have been introduced. Obamacare is a dramatic one we’re all familiar with, and is severely threatened right now, as we know.

Finally, friends, here’s my special reason for blogging about it today. It’s the remarkable new language translation service being offered to those of us whose English isn’t up to par.
There are many of us in that fix. We can be assisted in 13 other languages by government translators. And the service is free. I was so struck by this offer that I read it twice. Fantastic, I thought. Wonderful!
Medicare is run by our US Department of Health and Human Services.
Here are the precise words of its offer to us:
“If you, or someone you are helping, has questions about Medicare, you have the right to get help and information in your language at no cost. To talk to an interpreter, call 1 800 MEDICARE (1 – 800 – 633 – 42227).”
Wow!
Then it went on to say that very same thing in each of those 13 languages.
They are listed alphabetically. Here they are:
Armenian, Chinese – Traditional, French, German, Haitian Creole, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Tagalog — that’s one I’m not familiar with. Turns out it’s the language of the Philippines.

So why do I consider this offer fantastic?
First, again we are told it’s our right. I didn’t know that. Did you? I don’t think that’s covered in our Constitution. But I do like the idea.
And second, without saying so explicitly, the agency is telling us that we have enough people entitled to a Medicare card who speak those languages that it’s smart to provide it.
And of course the reason they’re entitled is they came to our shores from a country using one of those languages, or their ancestors did. I applaud that. Imagine the headache of many without this help.
Yet I would find it more interesting to see those languages also listed by their popularity – how many of our people use each of those 13.
Which would be number one? Which number two? Which number three? Well, I’m guessing. But my hunches are so wild I’m not telling. What do you think?
And surely there are many folks using languages beyond those 13. I’d enjoy seeing those, too. How fascinating it would be to see how incredibly and amazingly diverse we are.
And what a wake-up reminder that would be — that each and every one of us, with the sole exception of Native Americans, is an immigrant, or a descendant of immigrants. In this, I truly believe no other country in the world can match us.
And think of the $$$ it’s costing to provide this new service — the many expert translators and whatever else is involved.

And suddenly strangely – well, not so strangely — I thought of the Statue of Liberty. You know, that big, famous, impressive, iconic statue on the tiny Island at the entrance to New York Harbor. A gift of the people of France to us.
The statue everybody on any ship coming in can get to see. Which some air passengers also can if they’re lucky enough to be sitting on the right side of the plane.
But what all those people don’t see are the famous words being proclaimed by the Lady as she holds up the torch of Hope, Freedom, and Liberty as high as she can.
The words are preserved on a small engraving on its base. Unfortunately only tourists who visit the statue get to see them. Many visit the statue as a sort of pilgrimage.  I’ve never made it there.
The words are part of a poem penned by Emma Lazarus at that time.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Fancy language. We’re not used to reading words like that any more. But its meaning is clear. It describes the people being welcomed back then. As we know, many, many seeking to get in today fit that definition.

Well, immigrant ship after immigrant ship over many years has passed right by the statue before unloading the newcomers at Ellis Island — which was the “golden door” for so many thousands of them.
But most of them have arrived through other points all around the country, and still are. On the north and the east and the south and the west. Many by air. Many by train, bus, car. Many by walking in. Many sneaking in, as we know. And more are coming, or trying, every day. At grave risk, even death.
So they never get to see the Statue of Liberty. Many have never even heard of it. Still they come driven by a dream of Freedom, Liberty, and Prosperity. In simple words, for a better life for themselves and their children. Cost what it will.

So no wonder I thought of the Trump White House. How could I not?! How our wild and compulsively tweeting windbag president is campaigning loud and relentlessly to slam shut the golden door. Haranguing to lock out so many that he deems unfit. Even by putting up walls. Even by kicking those who succeed back out.
Well, he grew up in New York City. Of course he is familiar with the Statue of Liberty. For sure he has visited it. I doubt he is familiar with that poem. But certainly he knows what the statue symbolizes.
Now he is feverishly pounding away to blot out, rub out that core belief — the one that has made our country the biggest and most mighty and important and admired democracy in the whole world. No wonder so many want in.

And what exactly has made ours the most mighty and important and admired democracy in the world? It’s by inviting people of diverse races and languages and cultures and religions to take shelter here. And settle here. And pitch in any way they can. And prosper here.
That isn’t malarkey. It’s a fact proclaimed by historian after historian.
How many other countries have offered such a dynamic and successful come-on-in invitation?
Darn few.

Why do you ignore this, Mr. Trump?
You yourself are a descendant of immigrants! Your grandfather was born in Germany! Your Mom was born in Scotland! Your first wife was an immigrant! Your second wife was from immigrants! Your third wife is an immigrant!
Come on! What you’re preaching is un-American!

Excuse me, friends, for getting so excited. Couldn’t help myself.

Please do give all this some thought the next time you use your new Medicare card.
And do think of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson and Barack Obama. They labored and fought hard to give us the national medical health program that is now our right. And our godsend, as limited as it is.

Roosevelt was a Republican, but a Progressive Republican. The three others were straight-out Democrats, of course. Trump is a Republican, but embarrassingly so to many in that party.

Yet, God Bless America!

* * * *

As always, I welcome your comments. Feel free to forward this to anyone who might be interested.

 

 

Curious about our new Medicare card? I am. Very much.

By John Guy LaPlante

To start off, I am blogging about it today for a special reason. I’ll get to that in a minute. Patience, please. First it’s important to review some basic facts about Medicare.
Medicare, as you know, has become a birthright for any American turning 65.
Medicare is so important, so essential at least for us older folks, that any change in it is must reading. Like right now.
Close to 6o million of us are receiving a new card. Why?
Until now we have used our social security number. No more. The new cards give each of us a unique new number. It’s all about assuring better privacy and security, we’re told.
I’ve already gotten mine. Most of you reading this are older folks. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, it’s coming.

Do you know the idea of a national social insurance program goes back more than a hundred years?
Back in 1912 President Teddy Roosevelt pushed to get one enacted. For all Americans, not just older ones. It didn’t happen.
More than 20 years went by. In 1945 President Harry S Truman tried hard to get it passed, again for all Americans. He failed.
President John F. Kennedy tried. Failed.
President Lyndon B. Johnson got it finally enacted back in 1965 as a core part of his Great Society roll-out. But just for Americans 65 and older. That’s the best he could manage.

But finally, finally we had a national social security program! What a godsend to people facing retirement and old age!
President Johnson signed it into law in Independence, Missouri, the home town of President Truman. And he presented the first card to President Truman. Very fitting.
It’s important to mention other countries already had such a program, even more ambitious. And numerous countries do today, again some providing far wider coverage.
Ours has been tweaked many times. For some time now it has been made available to people under 65 who have dire health problems. That helps many.
It’s amazing the list of new changes and features that have been introduced. Obamacare is a dramatic one we’re all familiar with, and is severely threatened right now, as we know.

Finally, friends, here’s my special reason for blogging about it today. It’s the remarkable new language translation service being offered to those of us whose English isn’t up to par.
There are many of us in that fix. We can be assisted in 13 other languages by government translators. And the service is free. I was so struck by this offer that I read it twice. Fantastic, I thought. Wonderful!
Medicare is run by our US Department of Health and Human Services.
Here are the precise words of its offer to us:
“If you, or someone you are helping, has questions about Medicare, you have the right to get help and information in your language at no cost. To talk to an interpreter, call 1 800 MEDICARE (1 – 800 – 633 – 42227).”
Wow!
Then it went on to say that very same thing in each of those 13 languages.
They are listed alphabetically. Here they are:
Armenian, Chinese – Traditional, French, German, Haitian Creole, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Tagalog — that’s one I’m not familiar with. Turns out it’s the language of the Philippines.

So why do I consider this offer fantastic?
First, again we are told it’s our right. I didn’t know that. Did you? I don’t think that’s covered in our Constitution. But I do like the idea.
And second, without saying so explicitly, the agency is telling us that we have enough people entitled to a Medicare card who speak those languages that it’s smart to provide it.
And of course the reason they’re entitled is they came to our shores from a country using one of those languages, or their ancestors did. I applaud that. Imagine the headache of many without this help.
Yet I would find it more interesting to see those languages also listed by their popularity – how many of our people use each of those 13.
Which would be number one? Which number two? Which number three? Well, I’m guessing. But my hunches are so wild I’m not telling. What do you think?
And surely there are many folks using languages beyond those 13. I’d enjoy seeing those, too. How fascinating it would be to see how incredibly and amazingly diverse we are.
And what a wake-up reminder that would be — that each and every one of us, with the sole exception of Native Americans, is an immigrant, or a descendant of immigrants. In this, I truly believe no other country in the world can match us.
And think of the $$$ it’s costing to provide this new service — the many expert translators and whatever else is involved.

And suddenly strangely – well, not so strangely — I thought of the Statue of Liberty. You know, that big, famous, impressive, iconic statue on the tiny Island at the entrance to New York Harbor. A gift of the people of France to us.
The statue everybody on any ship coming in can get to see. Which some air passengers also can if they’re lucky enough to be sitting on the right side of the plane.
But what all those people don’t see are the famous words being proclaimed by the Lady as she holds up the torch of Hope, Freedom, and Liberty as high as she can.
The words are preserved on a small engraving on its base. Unfortunately only tourists who visit the statue get to see them. Many visit the statue as a sort of pilgrimage.  I’ve never made it there.
The words are part of a poem penned by Emma Lazarus at that time.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Fancy language. We’re not used to reading words like that any more. But its meaning is clear. It describes the people being welcomed back then. As we know, many, many seeking to get in today fit that definition.

Well, immigrant ship after immigrant ship over many years has passed right by the statue before unloading the newcomers at Ellis Island — which was the “golden door” for so many thousands of them.
But most of them have arrived through other points all around the country, and still are. On the north and the east and the south and the west. Many by air. Many by train, bus, car. Many by walking in. Many sneaking in, as we know. And more are coming, or trying, every day. At grave risk, even death.
So they never get to see the Statue of Liberty. Many have never even heard of it. Still they come driven by a dream of Freedom, Liberty, and Prosperity. In simple words, for a better life for themselves and their children. Cost what it will.

So no wonder I thought of the Trump White House. How could I not?! How our wild and compulsively tweeting windbag president is campaigning loud and relentlessly to slam shut the golden door. Haranguing to lock out so many that he deems unfit. Even by putting up walls. Even by kicking those who succeed back out.
Well, he grew up in New York City. Of course he is familiar with the Statue of Liberty. For sure he has visited it. I doubt he is familiar with that poem. But certainly he knows what the statue symbolizes.
Now he is feverishly pounding away to blot out, rub out that core belief — the one that has made our country the biggest and most mighty and important and admired democracy in the whole world. No wonder so many want in.

And what exactly has made ours the most mighty and important and admired democracy in the world? It’s by inviting people of diverse races and languages and cultures and religions to take shelter here. And settle here. And pitch in any way they can. And prosper here.
That isn’t malarkey. It’s a fact proclaimed by historian after historian.
How many other countries have offered such a dynamic and successful come-on-in invitation?
Darn few.

Why do you ignore this, Mr. Trump?
You yourself are a descendant of immigrants! Your grandfather was born in Germany! Your Mom was born in Scotland! Your first wife was an immigrant! Your second wife was from immigrants! Your third wife is an immigrant!
Come on! What you’re preaching is un-American!

Excuse me, friends, for getting so excited. Couldn’t help myself.

Please do give all this some thought the next time you use your new Medicare card.
And do think of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson and Barack Obama. They labored and fought hard to give us the national medical health program that is now our right. And our godsend, as limited as it is.

Roosevelt was a Republican, but a Progressive Republican. The three others were straight-out Democrats, of course. Trump is a Republican, but embarrassingly so to many in that party.

Yet, God Bless America!

* * * *

As always, I welcome your comments. Feel free to forward this to anyone who might be interested.

 

 

Oh, for a Fourth like those of yesteryear!

By John Guy Laplante

With 3 photos.

How I remember those terrific Fourths when I was a boy.

They were intended to celebrate our independence from tyrannical England. But in practice, for most people it was just an excuse to have a lot of fun. We called it the Fourth. Just the Fourth.

I’m talking of when I was 8, 10, 12 years old. Pre-World War II. Before 1941 when Congress made it a federal holiday,

My remarkable Aunt Bernie when she was 30. Amazing woman.

meaning a day off for federal employees. What fantastic news that was for them.

Oh, maybe as part of the Fourth the mayor gave a speech in front of City Hall. Maybe there was a parade on Main Street downtown.  I never saw and never heard of that.

I’m recalling what I saw and took an excited part in. That was the Fourth in our Pleasant View neighborhood in the little city of Pawtucket, I was born there and grew up there. Nothing  particularly pleasant about the view

But it turned out that Pawtucket was truly famous in our national history. It’s there where young Englishman Samuel Slater arrived with the idea of building a textile factory on our Blackstone River.

He had worked in such a factory back home. Much bigger. Got the idea of going to America. The English were the leaders in making textiles. Young Slater memorized every part of the machines that he worked on. Found financial support here. Perfectly re-created that machinery. Trained workers. Designed, built, and opened a small mill cleverly powered by the Blackstone. And made history. The first in the U.S.  A big deal. He’s known as The Father of the Industrial Revolution.

I heard of that only years later. His mill on the Blackstone is a must-see museum today.

Back to the Fourth. I’m talking of a time before one state after another outlawed as too dangerous a lot of the firecrackers and such that we took for granted and shot off so enthusiastically and prolifically.

Sure, hands-on fireworks for backyard fun are still sold. Celebrators of my day would have scoffed at them.

Nowadays we mark the Fourth differently. All across the U.S. we take in a community-sponsored 30 or 60-minute evening public show. An exciting spectacle costing thousands of dollars and produced and shot off by professionals whose business that is.

It’s done by cities all over, big and small, free for one and all, wonderfully impressive, vastly popular, and expected and accepted. It is a salute to our Independence, it is said. Well, to some. Then it’s over for another year.

What’s good now is that hospital emergency rooms are no longer filled with people who have blown off a finger. Or worse. And firefighters no longer have to rush off to put out blazes caused by mindless jerks.

I’m talking about the kind of Fourth of July that i saw Fourth after Fourth as a kid. And which my Aunt Bernadette, like

others, made possible and in fact fanned the flames of. She ran a fireworks stand year after year in our neighborhood. In complete innocence. Never with a second thought. To make money

Bernie’s variety store. Very popular with our neighbors. That’s my Grandma subbing for her. Usually my Ma would be the one subbing.

 

Quite a lady, my dear auntie. Unschooled, self-everything. Well-known and esteemed in our littler corner of the world. Amazing in several ways, all good.

Nobody called her Bernadette. She was just Bernie. I called her Bernie. As I think back, Bernadette would have been a better fit.

She was my Maman’s youngest sister. Immigrants from French Canada, come down with their already elderly father and mother — my Memere and Pepere — for the usual dream of a better life in a better land.

We lived all together in a plain and modest house at 48 Amey Street. Much like most of the houses in our neighborhood. Lower middle class, very respectable. Made up of Canucks like us, Irish, Polacks, Syrians, Wops, all humble and hard-working folks. We got along fine. You may find that surprising. But that’s how I remember it.

My father—we called him Pa — was an immigrant like my maman – Ma to us.  He was a self-made businessman. He bought what became our home for solid reasons. One was a special reason. It was located at the corner of Amey and Broadway. Broadway was a big and busy street heading straight downtown. Lots of traffic.

So ours was a strategic corner. And right there stood Mrs.Toone’s Variety Store. A nice little business. She was getting old. She sold Pa the lot with her store and the house 75 feet behind it .The store was on Broadway, the house on Amey.

The house became our home, for all of us, meaning also my grandpa and grandma and Aunt Bernie.

Bernie  was Pa’s special reason. Like so many other immigrant women around us, she was working in a nearby weaving mill 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. Pa felt she could run the little store. She loved the idea and made her new little business a real success. It turned out he was perfectly right.

I’ve included the picture of the store. You see what it was. She handled it 99 percent by yourself. Put in as many hours there as at the factory. But a problem. It didn’t have a bathroom.

So Pa set up a doorbell wire between the store and the house. When Bernie needed the bathroom, she’d tap the button. And Ma would run to the store and sub for her. And Bernie would dash out the back door to the house.

Sometimes Ma would be doing something she couldn’t interrupt. Getting antsy, Bernie would tap the button again. And again. And again. Finally Maman would show up. That sparked hot words more than once.

Her little store thrived. Most of her customers were neighbors. Someone would stop by to buy a little something, but maybe just to get to chat with somebody and Bernie loved to chat.

A couple more memories of her. I have many. Everybody smoked cigarettes back then. They were 14 cents a pack. She had a little tincan with a tight cover. She’d open a pack and tuck the 20 cigarettes in the can. Would sell them for a penny apiece.

A customer would ask for two cigarettes. She’d open the can. He’d park one over his ear and light up the other. So she’d

Her ice cream stand — big success! A former garage. Bernie is in the rear. That big guy is Jake, a neighbor. That little guy is me. Easy to tell I was being paid with ice cream cones.

get six cents more for that pack. She’d re-stock that little can two or three times a day.

Another memory. She always kept a couple of punchboards on the display case by the cash box. Familiar with punchboards? They were a kind of lottery. About a foot square and three quarters of an inch thick.

Every board had a hundred or more drilled holes about the size of a nail. Stuffed in each hole was a little rolled-up paper. Each board came with a nice picture of something or other pasted on it. But you could tell where the holes were.

A customer would buy a chance. A nickel, I think it was. Using a punch that looked a lot like a nail, he’d push out the paper.

Most times he’d get zilch. But maybe win 50 cents. Even a dollar. Sometimes he’d buy two or three or four chances. Often he’d be a regular. Bernie would like it if he won once in a while. That would keep him coming back. Oh, women played the boards, too.

I told you that Bernie was a go-getter. Well, our lot had a two-car garage. Pa used one for his car. Bernie also had a car now. A beautiful brand new black Oldsmobile. It was said she was the first woman in Pawtucket to buy a car in her own name. Imagine that!

But she came up with a better idea for the garage. She talked Pa into letting her convert it into an ice cream stand. Open six months a year from mid-spring to mid- autumn.

So both of them had to park somewhere else now, but that was okay.

It was a beautiful stand. The only one around for a mile or so. She’d buy tubs of plain ice cream mix, then add flavors. She offered a dozen flavors. A lot of work. Busy from morning till night. She did it all with good cheer.

Customers would walk up to the stand, order a cone or a shake or a sundae or banana split.  Hey, a dad might come up with his missus and their two or three kids. Bernie did well. No surprise.

But what I wanted to tell you about was her fireworks stand. That will be more interesting to you now that you know this background stuff about her.

She had three home-made folding tables, each about six feet long. She’d set them up in line along the sidewalk. Load them with a full selection of every Fourth of July fireworks device known to man. Then decorate the whole thing with little American flags and bands of red or white or blue crepe ribbon. She made it look terrific.

Of course somebody had to staff the stand all the time. Not only to serve customers, but to make sure nobody came and pocketed a thing or two. She’d do it. She had helpers. I, a little kid,  pitched in.

At day’s end, everything had to be put away for the night. Then put back in the morning. Not easy.

At the same time she had to keep the variety store going. And the ice cream stand.

As the Fourth approached, business got better, especially in early evening. The final two days would be hectic.

You would start hearing the firecrackers going off and seeing the rockets taking off on the eve of the Fourth. People just couldn’t wait. Especially younger ones.

As I think back, it seems that it was a male thing. For teenagers and young men and older men who went wild for a day. For the women it was mostly a spectator sport. Oh, of course there were tomboys.

As the Fourth dawned, you would begin hearing a few firecrackers. But things would be mostly quiet till late afternoon. Then the tempo would quicken.

Come dark, wow! Firecrackers would be going off near and far and quicker and quicker. More and more flares and rockets would be brightening the night sky.

During all this, Bernie and her gang had to staff the stand. Eager-beavers would be coming back to buy more fun.

Some would get carried away. One example. Trolley tracks ran down Broadway. A guy would come along with a gallon of gasoline and pour it down one of the tracks. Then would drop in a lighted match. Shhhh!!! It would take just 10 seconds for that wild flame to race down to the last drop of gas.

Back then every neighborhood had a cop walking a beat. He’d work overtime over the Fourth. He’d make sure to make his presence seen. Often he’d look the other way. But if some jerk seemed to be getting carried away, he’d step in.

Finally the Fourth would be over. We’d take the stand down. Pack up all the leftovers. Enjoy a nice relief. Bernie stored away fresh ideas for the next Fourth.

She did all this season after season. The variety store, the ice cream stand, the fireworks stand. In rush times she grumbled a bit but who wouldn’t?

Oh, you may be interested. She married old, in her late 30’s. Handsome Irishman John Dana McCarthy had been wooing her for a decade. Eventually she said yes.

They bought and lived in the house next to ours on Amey Street.

John was known as Jack to everybody. Bernie called him Jack.  I always, always called him Jack. We all did. The only time he got called John was in his obituary.

Jack couldn’t even say “bonjour” in French. And her English was, well, I’ll just say it was street English. He was a shoe salesman for 50 years. In World War II saw long and violent action as an infantryman when we invaded France. Then went right back to selling shoes. A good man though he played the horses too much. Who’s perfect?  They got along. He also was wonderfully good to me.

They never had children. We were their children. Me, my younger sisters Lucie and Louise, and my younger brother Michael, Louise and Michael died years ago. I, the oldest by years, am still here. So strange.

One more detail. If I did not like what Ma would be serving for supper, I would just walk next door and stride in and sit down at their table with them. Without even knocking on the door. Always sure I would be welcome.

Another. At age 10, I was sent off to a boarding school. A good school. In our culture it was a desirable thing for parents to do that if they could afford it. I came home for holidays and summer vacation.

It was a 35-minute ride away. Sunday afternoon Pa and Ma would come see me for an hour. Ma would bring me my fresh laundry. Bernie would always send along three comic books and a few candy bars. Every Sunday. But I was told to be sure to read the comics gently. She’d expect on Monday to put the previous week’s  comic books back on the magazine rack in her store.

On some Sundays she and Jack would make the trip to give Ma and Pa a break .Also because they wanted to give me a hug and take me out for an ice cream cone.

She helped me in a thousand ways. Right to the end.

I would do little things for her. At Christmas she had a list of friends she’d want to send cards to. Most were non-French folks. Many lived far off. She’d want to put the cards in the mail with more than just “Merry Christmas, Bernie” on them.

One evening we’d sit at her dinner table, she and I. She’d have a stack of cards and her address list. I’d have my pen in hand. She’d tell me what she wanted to say on each card. And I’d do my best to get it down right, to sound like her. A relief for her. A big pleasure for me.

She laughed a lot, joked a lot, routinely made friends of her customers, died at 96. And had a core of old friends at her funeral. Jack died just a few months short of 100.

For years he smoked one cigar a day. After supper, he’d walk to Gendron’s Drug Store and buy his cigar, always a Philly. Would chat with Mr. Gendron a minute or two. Then light up his cigar for his evening stroll around the neighborhood.

One Father’s Day I gave him a box of 50 Phillies. He didn’t want 50. He wanted to go to Mr. Gendron’s every evening for his one Philly. And his chat.  I hope he enjoys lighting up one Philly every evening in Heaven.

A memory. He always, always kept his World War II Army dress uniform. Right int0 his very old age. He was a patient at the Rhode Island State Veterans Hospital. A good place. He made sure his uniform, perfectly clean and pressed in its plastic bag, was hanging in a corner of his closet in his room. He wanted to be buried in it. When he died, we went looking for it. Gone! Somebody had stolen it.

He and Bernie are buried side by side in Notre Dame Cemetery in Pawtucket. Like him, She prepared for that in her own unique way. After extensive research for a funeral monument, she found the perfect one. A magnificent, polished sphere of ebony granite (I think), bigger than a basketball or volleyball, resting on an interesting cube of gray granite. with their names, dates, and a few carefully considered words. It pains me that I don’t remember them. It’s the only such in the cemetery. Maybe the only one in Rhode Island.

No wonder she comes alive for me again come every Fourth.  Also come Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s and Easter. And at so many odd moments. Lucky me.

So do Maman and Papa, and Jack, and so many other fine people now gone. God bless them all!

Enjoy the Fourth! Wherever you are, take in that big, wonderful fireworks spectacle of amazing rockets bursting open in incredible patterns. Maybe you’ll be watching it on TV. It will be terrific, I’m positive. But to me those fantastic shows always seem to be more about enjoying great, free public entertainment than celebrating how good it is for us to be Americans.

You’ll be missing a lot of what has become part of our quirky folklore. But still you’ll  have a better opportunity than we did to appreciate what the Fourth is supposed to be about. Which we should all be keeping in mind in these strange trying times.

~ ~ ~ ~

I look forward to your comments. I read them all. Love to get a few personal words from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, why don’t they ask me my name?!

By John Guy LaPlante

I’m worried about their not asking.  I’m talking about business dealings. Have reason to be. They’re asking less and less.

In such dealings, I’d like to be called Mr. LaPlante.  Even better, Mr. LaPlante, sir. That isn’t asking much.  That used to be the common custom. Right?

How times are a-changing!

Consider this recent incident I had — “insult” is a better word.

I was in line at a chain drugstore to pick up a prescription. Finally my turn came up.

I was about to tell the clerk my name. But she didn’t give me the chance.

Hardly looking at me, she said right off, “What is your address?”

I told her.

“Yep, it’s here.” And she dashed off, retrieved my prescription, and handed it to me. I paid and left.

She never got around to asking me my name. Hard to believe. It turned out all she needed to identify me was my address.

On my way home I was thinking about that. It rankled.

A few days later I was at a big-box store to pick up an item I had bought online.

The clerk was a young fellow. He had his fingers on his computer keyboard.  He glanced at me.  I was about to tell him my name. But right away he asked, “When were you born?”

I told him the month, date, and year.

Then, “What’s your social?“

I told him.

“I’ll get your package. Back in a minute.”  He dashed off and came back with it.

Two customers were standing in line behind me. He didn’t want to keep them waiting. I quickly paid and left.

“Damn!” I thought as I walked off. I felt really offended. Why in the world didn’t he ask me, “What’s your name?”

Well, he didn’t need to. When I was born and what my social security number is did the trick. Still!

What the heck has happened to good old-fashioned politeness? More  important, weren’t we given names exactly so that we could quickly be known, remembered,  and identified?

But my sad story isn’t over.  I was at the State Department of Motor Vehicles office to get my very first California driver’s license. I told you about that in a recent post. This time I had a different reason. As usual, crowded and busy.  Finally I got to a clerk. A young woman.

She asked my name and I told her. I liked that.  and gave her other basic info she wanted.  She typed all that into her computer. Then she handed me an electronic gizmo. And told me, “Press your thumb on it. Hard!” I pressed my right thumb hard against it. “Good!” she said.

Well, as you may know from that post, I had to go back to the DMV. This time I faced a different clerk.

Right off she asked, “Been here before?” I nodded and right away she handed me one of those gizmos and said, “Press hard!” I pressed hard. She was looking at her computer. “I found you,” she said. All my data, she meant.

So, absolutely no need to ask me what’s my name. Or my address. Or my social.

That thumb print of mine brought up everything she needed to move me along in getting my license.

I marveled at the technology, of course. And what it portends. My thumb print will identify me if ever I have to go back to the DMV. Which I hope will be never. Or maybe even in any office of the State of California for any purpose! Maybe forevermore!

I’ve been fingerprinted. Sure. All 10 fingers. To get a passport. And when I applied to serve in Peace Corps. And maybe my fingerprints made into the FBI’s national fingerprint bank – you know, in case I ever get picked up for something bad and they want to run a background check on me.

But now just a single thumbprint may do it all. Amazing.

So there you have it. The chain drug store knows me by my date of birth. The big-box store knows me by my address and my social. The California DMV by my thumb. Maybe the whole state of California has me down by my thumb print. Maybe the FBI, too. Even the IRS.  Even other government departments. Who knows? It’s not so far-fetched.

But all that said and done, still they could ask, “What’s your name, sir?”  Or, “Ma’m?” How nice that would be. Ten seconds is all it would take. Then their other questions. Maybe even use the thumb gizmo. Easy.  Then get down to business. I’d feel a lot better when my bit of business was done.

Of course, you’re in the same boat in such dealings. I’m sure you’d consider it a nice touch, too.

****

As always, I look forward to your comments. I read them all, and love it when you give me a different take on what I’ve sent you

 

 

This great gadget could save my life.

By John Guy LaPlante

The one that I wear on my chest. As you see in the photo, it’s just a small, silvery steel box hanging on a black cord.

No religious significance. No political significance. Nothing like that. So what the heck can it be? I know people wonder.

I wear it all day long. Hope I never have to push that little button for real.

They are too polite to ask.

 I would love to be asked. My mystery gadget is so important to me, and so potentially important to you, that I would love to explain. In fact, to a lot of people. This is why I’m blogging about it. 

Just recently I was speaking to Brady Lock at our Senior Center. ”Brady, ”I said, ”Possible for me to speak about this thing at our upcoming dinner meeting?”

“Sure, John. Some of our seniors could really use one of those things.”

He’s right.  So what is it?

It’s an emergency medical alert. A Great Call Lively. The Lively is marketed by Great Call, which also markets a popular flip phone called the Jitterbug. Designed for seniors. Easy to use  Inexpensive. Good, but not good enough for me. 

The Lively is a leading medical alert. There are dozens of makes. You’ve probably seen their ads.

From my research I think the Lively is the best. I want to assure you that I have no financial interest in the company. I’m speaking about it objectively.

Now and then, when I see somebody I know who I think can use a Lively, I talk about it. I even give a demonstration, which is always quite dramatic.

First I explain why I have a Lively, and why I wear it every day from the minute I get up to the minute I go to bed.

Of course I have to get up during the night to go to the bathroom. I make sure to take it with me. Just in case.

Why? Well, I am very old. I live alone. My body balance is deteriorating. I walk with a walking stick. I might fall. Might not be able to get up. Might need help desperately.  Maybe during the day. Or at night. 

 What to do? I would press that button in the center of the Lively. And in a few seconds a voice would come on. Might be a man. Might be a woman. Would tell me their name and then ask, “Are you reporting an emergency?”

And I would say, ”No. I am not. I am just showing a friend what the Lively is all about. How it works.”

And he or she would say, ”Fine! Wonderful! We appreciate that. Thank you.”

But if it were a genuine emergency, they would ask what’s wrong and if I could, I would explain, and they would spring into action. Help would be assured. I will explain how they would help in just a minute.

But if I were in a bad fix and could not explain, still they would snap to it. Here’s how.

When I signed up for the Lively, they asked me for a lot of info. My name, address, phone number, email address, age, medical problems, the name of my primary care doctor, other data. And most important, the names and contact information of the people they would need to alert in an emergency.

In my case, my loving daughter Monique and her hubby David, who live just 15 minutes away. Both know they are my emergency contacts. They insisted on being recorded as such.

Great Call calls all that my “profile.” Very important.

If I had a stroke, say, and could not explain what was wrong, then they would contact Monique or David or do whatever else they deemed appropriate.

But maybe it had not happened to me at home. Maybe outside somewhere. Say I was driving my car, was 40 miles from home, felt dizzy, and pulled over and pressed the silver button. The responder would come on and take whatever steps would work best.

If I could not explain where I was, or just mumbled, my Lively has GPS — global positioning technology — which could locate quite accurately where I was, and help would be dispatched.

Of course, the Lively works only where cellular service is available and that is in populated areas. If I were on a dirt road deep in a canyon between mountains in New Mexico, maybe not.

I could use it in many ways. If I messed up my meds. Or wanted to talk to my doctor asap. Misplaced my smart phone and wanted to contact Monique.  You name it. The responder would try to help.

Great Call says it’s waterproof. You could wear it in the shower. I haven’t tried that. I keep it within reach.

Oh, one more important detail. The Lively comes with a small electric charger. I keep it on my bedside table. Charge my Lively every night.

So how much does this service cost? You are dying to know, I’m sure. They have a few plans, one basic one, some with bells and whistles. In my case, less than the senior cup of coffee I buy at McDonald’s every afternoon.

To me, truly Great Call Lively is a smart life insurance plan. It could really save my life. And wonderful for Monique and David also. They worry less.

Sure, I’ve pushed that silver button a number of times but never for an emergency. Just to make sure it’s working properly, or to give a demo.

As I said, there are numerous other brands. They all advertise. You may have seen their ads. I’m sure they all do the job. But as in so many things —  TV’s, washing machines, cell phones, cars, mattresses —  some are better than others.

If you are interested for yourself or somebody else, just contact Great Call at greatcall.com or call +1-866-300-0041.

I like my Lively. Have confidence in the company. Have no intention to switch. Hope that I never have to push that button for real.

I look forward to speaking about all this at the Senior Center. I plan to actually push the button and call Great Call. Yes, folks always find that dramatic.

Maybe that will save the life of one of them someday.

*****

I look forward to your comments. Read them all. Enjoy it even more when you include a bit of news about yourself. Have a great day.

 

 

I read the fine print, strange me

By John Guy LaPlante

It seems a lot of people don’t. Do you? Well, I do. Get a lot of it. Enjoy it.

What do I mean by the fine print? The small, small words printed on so many things that we buy. Prepared foods.

Of course it had fine print and I found it.

Medications. Publications. Products.  Name it and it probably has fine print.

Now you may be wondering, why do they make it so small?

Good question. I’m speculating. Maybe they don’t want us to read it. Maybe a law compels them to print whatever it says. Maybe for our protection and safety. Maybe for their protection. Maybe for whatever reason.

But whatever the fine print says, often, as I said, I learn something. I am so darn curious. It seems strange maybe, but often I do have fun reading it.

Let me give you an example.

I just bought a package of razor blades at Dollar Tree. As you know, everything they sell is $1. Seems so crazy. I don’t know of any other retailer that does that. Do you? Dollar Tree was born doing that some 30 years ago. When they had only one store.

Now there are 14,835 Dollar Trees in the USA and Canada. And 176,000 employees. By selling just $1 stuff, they will rake in more than $22 billion this year. They are a Fortune 150 company. Imagine that!

Well, I found they offered six different kinds of razor blades. Some for men and some for women. Some with two blades per razor, some with four, some with six. Other features also. Of course, some packages contained more razors than others.

I believe Dollar Tree sells good stuff. No junk. It’s a basic policy for them. If you don’t like it, bring it back for a refund.

Our Dollar Tree in Morro Bay is small, as most are, but it does big business.

And they honor that guarantee. No wonder their stores are so popular.

I selected a package that said, “Ten Count / Unites.” Unites is the French word for saying the same thing as “count.” Must mention there was an acute accent on the “e” in Unites, but sorry, on my computer I don’t know how to insert an acute accent.

So yes, 10 razor blades—just 10 cents apiece. I use one once, then chuck it. Hey, sometimes I get to use one twice. Whoopee!

The brand was called Assured. The plastic bag was attractive. There was a “window” in it so you could actually see the working end of a razor. They were made of blue plastic. I noticed the women’s model was pink plastic.

The heading on the package said Twin / Double. Double because in French that means “twin.”

In smaller type, it said “Lubricating Strip.” You know, it makes the razor glide over your skin.

Then “Stainless Steel Blades.”

What’s this with the French? Why French? Simple. Remember, Dollar Tree has stores in Canada. Many French-speaking people up there. In fact, Canada has two official languages, French and English. That’s why Dollar Tree uses French and English on all its packaging. It has to.

Now for the fine print. After all, that’s why I’m writing this. I found 12 lines of it. The print was smaller even than the small print newspapers routinely use.

First, the name of the importer of these razor blades, Greenbrier International Inc. and its offices, one in Chesapeake, Washington, and the other in Barnaby, British Columbia. So truly it’s an international company.

The bottom line: They would be sold in the U.S. and Canada. 

The next fine print was the most interesting of all. Those tiny twin blades were made in South Korea! But the razors were assembled and packaged in Mexico!

From that I jumped to the conclusion that if packaged in Mexico, then the plastic bags are manufactured in Mexico.  But maybe not.  Maybe from the U.S. or China or Timbuktu!

I also wondered, why aren’t these razors also sold in Mexico?  After all, there are millions of Mexicans and they’re right next door to us. Maybe they are sold down there.  Mexico’s only language is Spanish, so I would think all the words on the package would be in Spanish.

Getting back to Greenbrier International, maybe it also imports a lot of other merchandise for Dollar Tree.  After all, Dollar Tree stocks its stores with hundreds of items. Many from China, as we know.  Some from Bangladesh and India and many other countries. I’ve read that Dollar Tree buyers scour the world for items that it can sell for just $1.

Which raises an interesting point. Yes, the company was started some 30 years ago. From its very start, as I’ve mentioned, every item was just $1.  In 30 years there’s been a lot of inflation. How has the company coped?

Several ways. In some cases, they’ve found manufacturers in cheaper countries. In many cases, by selling fewer items—razor blades, let’s say—per package, or ounces per bottle or container.

In some cases, by dropping some items from their inventory. For instance, I’ve noticed they now sell far fewer kinds of tools than years ago. In fact, the tool department is smaller.

Now about Greenbrier International. Maybe it’s an affiliate of Dollar Tree, or a division of it. Or maybe Greenbrier is a company unto itself and also imports stuff for other retailers, maybe even giants like Walmart and Amazon.

Another interesting question to me is, how many packages of razor blades does it sell per year? Is it a million? Could be. That would mean taking in$1,000,000! So how many men and women shave with Dollar Tree razors regularly? I’ll bet Dollar Tree knows.

So, the next question is, how many pennies of profit will Dollar Tree make on each package of razors? Will it be the same amount on my package of 10 as on the package of six? Four? Two? Maybe yes, maybe no.

How much will Greenbrier make? How much will the South Korean manufacturer of the steel blades?  The Mexican company doing the assembling and packaging?  How much will the companies transporting all those raw materials to Mexico and then the finished razors to the U.S. and Mexico? And finally getting them to those thousands of stores?

One other thought. Dollar Tree is very savvy. Very sophisticated. I wouldn’t be surprised if it stocks some items with zero profit. Zilch. Maybe even at a loss — as “loss leaders,” so called. Because Dollar Tree believes the terrific PR of it—convincing us it indeed sells real bargains — is all-important. It’s our believing that which makes its stores so popular.

Here in my little Morro Bay, Calif., I believe that Dollar Tree is the most popular store in town after our three food supermarkets. I have no solid data but I’ll bet I’m right. Maybe even more popular than one or two of our food supermarkets.

Dollar Tree in many ways is remarkable. By the variety of the products it offers, by the huge restocking that it does routinely to maximize sales  for Mothers’ Day, The Fourth of July, the Graduation Season, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s, and so on. Other retailers do that, sure, but not so intensely.

Oh, this may surprise you. Dollar Tree also sells online. Yes, to individuals, groups, anybody who wants to buy in larger quantities. For instance, a school teacher for her classroom.  Maybe you love their nugget pretzels but your store often runs out. Well, stock up online.

As you can see, Dollar Tree’s story is an incredibly interesting one. To me, a fascinating one.

Now the final question. As inflation continues, as it’s expected to, how long can Dollar Tree maintain that crucial $1 strategy? The day will come when Dollar Tree will have to re-brand itself. To Double Dollar Tree or something like that. Or surely it will go out of business. That would be bad news for fans aplenty.

That’s happened to other famous chain stores. Montgomery Ward died. It seems Sears—for a long time famous as Sears Roebuck–is dying now. Same story with A & P supermarkets. And numerous other popular brands.

Now about reading fine print once again. If you, too, read it, great! If not, maybe you’ll give it a closer look now.

To me Dollar Tree’s story is all part of the great saga — the great success — of capitalism and free enterprise. How it serves both sellers and buyers. Both sides. Which is one of the things that make us so fortunate to be living in the good old USA.

And notice, please, I didn’t write that in fine print. I put it in bold. It deserves to be put in bold.

~ ~ ~ ~

As always, I look forward to your comments. I read them all. Enjoy them, whatever you say. Especially when you also tell me a little about yourself.

 

 

 

 

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