November 19, 2017

The Interrobang–that’s for me!

By John Guy LaPlante

And maybe for you!

The interro….. what?

The interrobang! Yes, you read right. What’s the interrobang? You see it at the left, but greatly enlarged. It’s a brand-new punctuation mark. You know, in addition to the period, comma, colon, question mark, exclamation mark, and so on.  Which all go back a long, long time. Well, the interrobang truly would be useful to me as an active writer / blogger.

What is so interesting about it to me is that I have been doing exactly what the interrobang does. How? By using two standard punctuation marks together. I repeat, together. You’ve probably never seen that, have you?

Here’s an example. In my most recent blog about a Seed Library, I wrote “Yes, from our library here, you  can check out seeds, and free, mind you–vegetable seeds,  fruit seeds, berry seeds, seeds of other kinds, would you believe?!”

Notice how I used a question mark and an exclamation mark together? Deliberately. Because I wasn’t only asking a question but telling you I was astonished. And I believe it worked. I’m sure you got it.

I didn’t pick up this trick of two punctuation marks slapped together from somebody else.  The idea came to me because I felt that together they did the job I believed was needed. I’ve never seen anyone else do it.

How did I hear about the interrobang? I happened to pick up a recent issue of the Reader’s Digest–September, this year. At the public library, by the way. The magazine kicked off with a section called “Genius Issue–Words of the Mind.” The issue had a lode of articles about words and writing. Delightful! On Page 82 I discovered the interrobang punctuation mark that I showed you up top. There was one paragraph about it. It said what I’ve just told you.

Right away I looked up interrobang on Wikipedia. It said interrobang is “a non-standard punctuation mark indicating a question in an exclamation manner, as in ‘What are you doing?’!” It said it was invented by advertising man Martin K. Speckter back in 1962. Yes, in 1962. What?!

See, I just used this powerful duo of mine again! Because I’m curious about the date, 1962, which is 55 years ago…yet I am just hearing about it now!  And I’ll bet so are you! Again, a linked  question and exclamation.

Curious me, I looked up interrobang on Merriam-Webster, our leading dictionary publisher. It defined it the same way.

I read that Mr. Speckter as an advertising pro saw a need for it in many ads by the very nature of advertising. Well, I saw a need for my duo in the explanatory writing that is my forte. I am so, so happy now to have the interrobang in my writer’s toolbox, along with all the conventional punctuation marks. The interrobang will come in handy.

You know, at one time punctuation marks did not exist. When we speak, of course, they are unnecessary. The tone of our voice says it all, well, along with the expression on our face. Periods and commas and question marks came into use one by one because thoughtful writers saw their necessity.

All that said, I’ve run into a problem. When I write with pad and pen, it’s easy for me to put in a real interrobang. I just write an exclamation mark right over my question mark. But I do 99 percent of my writing on a keyboard. The interrobang ain’t on the keyboard!

So, I’ll just have to keep getting along with my own little combo, my home-made interrobang. How about that?!

P.S. if you’re intrigued by writing and words, do look up that September issue of the Reader’s Digest. Its piece on the interrobang includes 11 other punctuation marks that are hardly known. Yes, 11!

Another I loved was “Confessions by a Word Nerd (Kay Stamper): Inside the secret, silent work lives of dictionary writers.” Plus a delightful humor piece, “Sleuthing for Cliches: A tongue-in-cheek guide to government-speak run amok.”

And other juicy pieces on this word / writing theme, along with other good stuff. Plus two word delights that have been included in the magazine months after month since its dawn, it seems to me.  The “Word Power” game and “Quotable Quotes” from people in the news.

By the way, I just Googled “Reader’s Digest Confessions of a Word Nerd.” And I found it. I also scored with “Reader’s Digest Little-Known Punctuation Marks We Should be Doing.” Isn’t that something?!

All this said, I do  feel a twinge of guilt about showing you how to enjoy these articles online for free. I should be pushing you to buy the Reader’s Digest to enjoy these delights. It would be pocket money well spent. But the paper September issue is probably unavailable (unless you find it at your public library). And enjoying these pieces through Google may get you to subscribe! Gosh, aren’t I good at rationalizing?!

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Pet Pooch Zyla snatched. Reward $1,000!

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay,  Calif.—Zyla is an 18-month-old boxer. She’s the love of her family. See the photo of the flyer that was distributed far and wide just hours after her abduction. “Zyla is friendly and playful and we love her!” it says. I believe that.

That big reward, mind you, was not for info leading to conviction of the thief. It was just for the safe return of Zyla.
Zyla is the prized pet of Cameron Hamari of Rocklin, Calif., a town up near Sacramento. Cameron had to be out of state for business for more than a week, so he had left Zyla in the care of his mom, Colleen Zorzi.
Ms. Zorzi stopped at our big supermarket in Cypress Plaza. It’s 300 yards up from Quintana Avenue. It dominates the plaza. The store is some 300 yards up from the plaza entrance.
Ms. Zorzi couldn’t take Zyla into the market and didn’t want to leave her in the hot car. So, she tied her leash to the bike rack in front of the store while she went in. When she got back 10 minutes later, Zyla was gone. Impossible for Zyla to break loose by herself.
Ms. Zorzi looked around. Nowhere was Zyla to be seen. The horror sank in. Somebody had snatched Zyla. She was shocked. It happened at approximately 7:20 p.m.
I visit the plaza every day on my trike. Do a bit of shopping in the store. And spend half an hour pedaling up and down the six or seven car lanes that head up through the parking lot to the store. It sounds crazy, I know. But it’s wonderful exercise. And great fun.
Then I stop at the McDonald’s for a coffee. Well, I sat down at a table with my cup. The flyer was on the table. Then I saw one on another table. I spotted at least half a dozen. What a cute dog. I read every word. Kidnapped! $1,000 reward! What a huge loss this was for the dog’s family.
It was all so interesting. The poster was so well done. The layout. The wording. The stark detail. Fascinating. I snapped the picture with my cell phone. Decided to follow this up and write about it for you. I felt you’d be fascinated too.
The minute I got home, I called the first number. I got a recording by a man named Adam. He ran a business. He said to leave a message. Said he would return the call as soon possible. You know, the usual thing.
I gave my name. Said unfortunately I had no info about Zyla. Said I had been a journalist and was an active blogger now and wrote on a wide variety of topics. Considered this a terrific human-interest story. The dog’s family was obviously such a fine one. And there are so many dog lovers out there. They’d be fascinated. For sure there would be much to learn from this story, however it developed.
Told him to Google me or check me out at amazon.com/books or look at my website and so forth. Wanted to put him at ease about me. Asked if we could meet for coffee.
The next morning, I tried again and reached Adam. He was Adam Anthony, and he and Ms. Zorzi owned a real estate loan company in there.           Said he had no time to meet me—he was busy, busy–but could fill me in right now on the phone. Great! I had paper and pencil at hand.
Ms. Zorzi is his business partner and a friend. She had called him right after she found Zyla gone. He had dropped everything to help her.
Ms. Zorzi called the police. This was news to them. They said they’d get right to work on the case. The supermarket has electronic surveillance of the parking lot and the manager of the store promised to provide the police with copies of that day’s recordings.
Ms. Zorzi—I’ll call her Colleen now—immediately began asking people if they had seen Zyla or had any info.
Mr. Anthony—I’ll call him Adam from this point–got to work. He created the flyer and emailed the file to the UPS Store  near  the supermarket.  Colleen went there, had hundreds printed, and began distributing them all around town, to anybody and everybody. That’s how I got to see one.
Adam posted the flyer info in the “Community” section on Craigslist in nearby communities and as far as Santa Maria and even in Santa Barbara in case Zyla had been whisked to parts south. He also got word out on Facebook and other social media.
They began getting calls, but they were all “So Sorry” and “Hope they catch the S.O.B.” calls. Some suggestions, too, but no tips.
The supermarket managed to find the incident on its surveillance video. It showed three young men getting out of a big RV. One guy spotted the dog, untied it, and pulled it up into the RV. Then his two buddies piled in and then the RV drove away. Amazing technology, I think.
Now Colleen was driving around town, one street after another, looking for the RV. One person reported having seen the abduction happen. Yes, three men in an RV. Colleen exchanged numbers with him. Later, Colleen spotted an RV that matched the description. She took a photo and texted it to the witness who reported back “Yes! That’s the one.”
At that point, Colleen remained stationed, watching, waiting, hoping to see Zyla come bounding up, or out of the RV. When the owner/driver of the RV returned and drove away, Colleen followed and called the police. They were very responsive and showed up within minutes to question the man. “No dog”said he, “No, sir, not me.” Sadness and suspicion.
The next day Adam got THE call. From a young man in a nearby small town, let’s call him Tom.  And, wow, he had spotted Zyla on the street. Loose. All alone. He had scooped up the dog and had it. Zyla was okay. He had spotted the ad Adam had placed. Adam rushed over to pick her up. Worry over! Success!
Adam didn’t waste a minute to call Colleen with the fantastic news. He had Zyla in the car at that very minute. You can imagine the whoop she let out.
When Adam told me this part of the story, I had a question of my own to wonder about. Was it possible that Tom had been one of the three? And had come up with the story of finding Zyla on the street and rescuing her just to end a possible police investigation and to cash in as well? Not so far-fetched, I thought.

So, what was the ending to all this?  Let’s go back a bit. Adam’s phone rings. A different young man, let’s call him Dick, is calling. He says, “Did you get the dog back?”
“Yes”
“Did you get her back from a guy named Tom?”
“Yes.”
“Did you pay Tom the reward?”
“Not yet, the lady who owns it has been out of town, attending to family business.”
“Good. Tom is the guy that took the dog. I saw him do it.”
Wow!  Well this guy Dick knew Tom’s last name. He even knew where Zyla was being kept. Adam was sure Dick was not lying.

Colleen and beloved Zyla.

According to Dick, Tom spotted Zyla tied to the bike rack and before he or the third fellow, l will call  him Harry, could say or do anything, Tom had untied the dog  taken it into the RV. Dick and Harry had words with Tom about taking it. They told him to go put it back. Tom said no and kept the dog. Off the three went in the RV.
Eventually Tom backed down and returned Zyla with that fake story of having found her running loose.
Now Adam called Tom and confronted him with the info given him by Dick. Tom said, “No. Not true. No way. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just feel good the dog is back with its owner.”
He made no mention of the reward.
Adam told him that as he wasn’t being honest, he couldn’t promise that the police wouldn’t show up at his door. Stealing is still a crime, Adam said. Even if the merchandise is returned. And he added, no reward money would be paid.
“Okay,” Tom said finally. “No problem. I’m just glad the dog is home.” He had figured out it would be smart to give Zyla back.
So, a happy ending. Zyla is home. Maybe Tom has learned something from all this and will go on and live a clean life.
In the end, all those flyers, Colleen’s persistence, the assistance from the police and  friends like Adam and others really paid off. Notably Adam.
For sure Colleen is delighted the nightmare is all over. And I feel pretty good about that hunch I had.
~ ~ ~

 

 

 

A famous, controversial book. Only $2!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 1 photo

(Warning! This contains dirty words.  Words I’ve never used in print before. Words I’ve never, never used in my speaking.  You may blush. Feel  free to opt out.)

Morro Bay, Calif. –I’m in our Public Library and I spot it on special display. Wow! I go right to it for a good look.

Like all libraries, ours has a section with used books for sale. Most go for $1.But this one is twice that much. Yes, $2. Because it’s such a hefty book, I’ll bet.

It’s the Merriam-Webster Third New International, published in 1961. Merriam-Webster is our biggest and most well-known dictionary publisher to this day.

Head librarian Mary with the great big Merriam-Webster “Third New” and the book about that red-hot edition of the dictionary by David Skinner. The little circle at top right says $2.

I know a lot about this dictionary. It is the granddaddy of edition after edition of dictionaries that Merriam-Webster puts out.  Smaller versions, abridged so-called, like my M-W Collegiate, enormously popular. I keep one by my lounge chair. Another by the computer I do all my writing at.

The Third New, as it has come to be called, was greeted with lot of kudos and acclaims, but also with loud complaints and denunciations. National newspapers, influential magazines, prestigious publishing houses, prominent intellectuals weighed in on it.

I witnessed all that.  After reading much about it, I myself approved the Third New. And know what? I got involved as a journalist, and quite an experience it turned out to be. It’s  still vivid in my memory of the so many stories I got to cover.

Looking down on the big book now, I’m so excited that I ask Mary to come see. She’s our head librarian.  She’s nearby working the check-out desk.

“Know anything about this dictionary, Mary?”

She looks it over. Takes a minute or two. “Well, it’s a biggie. And it’s a Merriam-Webster. That means a lot. But pretty old. I have no idea who donated it to us.”

“This book came out in 1961. Got huge publicity. The reaction to it was sensational,” I tell her, tapping it. “In fact, revolutionary. Because there was a different philosophy behind it.  There had never been a dictionary like this before.”

“Oh?”

“Here, let me show you something.” I flip it open and start searching.

It’s so heavy. Has hundreds and  hundreds of pages.  Very unwieldy. Needs to have its own table to rest on.The typeface used is tiny—8 point, it looks like. The definitions are long. Each page is crammed shoehorn full. Finally I find the word I’m looking for. I point to it for her. The word is “ain’t.”

She stares at it. I can read her mind. She’s thinking, “It’s one of a million words in here. So what’s the big deal?”

“Mary, this is the very first time that little word ‘ain’t’ got into any dictionary. Which is true of many, many other everyday words we all use. For the first time they got put in a dictionary. That was a big reason behind all the arguing.

“What a ruckus it created. Some people loved it. Some people hollered and vowed they’d continue with M-W’s previous biggie. That was the Second New International Dictionary, also huge, published in 1934. The country, Americans, the culture had changed so much in those 25 years.”

She tapped my arm. “Sorry, John, got to go. A lady wants me to check out her books,”

Well, I didn’t buy this Third New, in fine condition though it was.  Had no need for it. Besides, no place for it, so big.

I get by just fine with my M-W Collegiate.  And when I’m typing away on my computer and I wonder about a word, often I just look it up on M-W’s online dictionary. It’s easy.

I went home. But I didn’t stop thinking about the Third New. I went back the next day.  I was worried that somebody might have handed Mary the 2 bucks or it. Not that I had changed my mind. I had a different reason. It was still there.  Good!

I got Mary again. Asked her how much she thought it weighed. She tried to heft it. “Oh, maybe 15 pounds.”  Which is what I thought it weighed, too.  I had brought my step-on bathroom scale along. I set on the counter. Her eyes opened wide. She thought I was crazy, I’m sure. I hefted the book and placed it on the scale. Just 2 ounces short of 6 pounds. But it sure felt like 15 pounds.

Then, with Mary still watching, I checked how many pages. 2,662! There were zillions of words listed, and their definitions were long. Then I looked at a few pages.  They were jammed full, with everything in tiny type, 8 point, I thought. So hard to read. Should have brought my magnifying glass, too.

I said to her, “Here’s why this dictionary became so controversial. The Merriam Second New—the big one before this one—put in all the words that the editor-in-chief felt should be in the book. Only good words, in his opinion. If a word was recognized popular but was slangy or uncouth or uncultured and therefore second-class, well, to him—“ain’t’ for instance—it was kept out. A huge list of words that were a vital part of our language never got in.

“This one, “I said, tapping it, “put in word after word that everybody knew and used all the time. Including some naughty words, even some dirty words.  Words that were on just about everybody’s tongue. For the simple reason they made the job of speaking with people so much easier. Thousands of new words got included.”

Besides my bathroom scale I had brought along a book of my own. I showed it to her. Its title was “The Story of Ain’t.” And its subhead was “America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published.” By David Skinner, a bog-time journalist and author, highly respected.

He laid out the whole incredible, fascinating story of the Third New. And of its its editor-and-chief, who inspired the new thinking. And all the heated words and arguments that rolled out pro and con.

Mary flipped through my book, stopping here and there, then turned back to look at the check-out counter. then said  “Quite a story, John! But….” Another customer was waiting for her.

I wouldn’t be surprised if later she brought all this to the attention of her librarians. Also because of my own little role in all that, which I had told her about. I’ll tell you about it in a minute.

Well, how come the Merriam Third New was so radically different from the Merriam Second New?

Primarily because the new top man was Philip Babcock Gove, Ph.D. He saw the huge changes  that our country and culture, and as a result, our language, were going through. Believed that a dictionary shouldn’t preach. Believed it should just record the words  and define them if lots of people use them. That if was important.

To determine that, the lexicographers studied usage in books, publications of kinds, movies, menus, songs,  advertisements, scientific and technical publications. A file was kept of every word, and the file contained many “citations.” These were white index cards that showed exactly how a word was used, where, and its exact context.  New meanings to it, old meanings falling out of style.

These files got reviewed periodically, and if something new about the word was developing or something old was fading out, that would have to be noted in a modified definition of that word.

He recognized that language is dynamic. Constantly changing. Which is normal. Any user of the Third New would get to see that.

I should tell you that Merriam-Webster had a large staff of lexicographers. Trained and seasoned professionals. It takes a huge effort to produce a dictionary of this magnitude.  A big staff. Dr. Gove had to win them over and get them roused up.

Incredible the discussions that resulted.  So many new words had to be reviewed. “Ain’t” is the one that became famous, or notorious, depending on your point of view.

Most words have several definitions, of course.  The conventional one for “ain’t” is that it is a word used by un-schooled people. But a new one was developing fast. The word was being used to give emphasis and drama, and by sophisticated people. Such as, “Dammit, that just ain’t so!”  I’ve used it in print a few times in that way for that very reason.

There developed a long list of  common words and expressions that got Dr. Gove’s team talking about–Chinaman, faggot, french-fried (potatoes), nigger, prick, cunt, tits, Jap, bum, snot, masturbation (as opposed to Onanism), GI, Jewess, chop suey, pizza, Nazi, shit, tofu, transatlantic flight, high-octane gas, pisspoor and pissed off, on and on. Many were put on a “taboo” list. Others got cleared for publication.

And thousands of words in the  Second New had to be deleted because research had shown they were falling off.

Gove insisted on using some. “Fuck” was one.  “Fuck up” was another.  “Cunt.” “Period,” meaning a woman’s you know what.   Everybody knows them. Millions  use them. But he didn’t get his way on many. Yes, Gove was the editor-in-chief. But Gordon J. Gallan was the publisher of Merriam-Webster.  Sharp executive and businessman. He wanted excellence, but also big sales.  He worried about sales of this Third New. So he sent down a memo, saying about some of those, so to speak,  “No way! Nothing doing!” (Both expressions with specific new meanings, as we have gotten to learn.)

For your information, the first time “fuck,” as a noun and a verb, made it into a general dictionary was in 1964 when the American Heritage Dictionary included it. The AHD has grown into a worthy competitor to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate.

So what was my role?  I was a feature writer on the magazine of the Telegram in Worcester, Mass.  I was always prospecting for a good story. I saw this incredible ruckus.

Merriam-Webster’s headquarters were, and still are, in Springfield, another big city, just 50 miles to the west.  I put in a call, made my pitch, was invited to come,  got a fascinating  tour by a staff editor on how a dictionary is put together, and interviewed the big man himself, Dr. Gove.

I decided my big focus should be on him. What kind of man was this? I came back later with a photographer to double-check my facts and take pictures. This was going to be a big lay-out in the magazine. At the end of the day we followed Dr. Gove to his home. He lived in a little town 15 miles east and he had a farm. He introduced us to Mrs. Gove, Grace, I believe, and his kids.

Incredible! Every night the great scholar would swap his business suit and dressy shoes for bib overalls and mucky boots and stride out back to the barn to milk his cows. My photographer that day, Bob Lilyestrom I believe it was, caught him doing just that and happy at his work.  Who could ever imagine an incredible character like that?

Oh, on my next visit to our public library I checked. The Third New was gone. I asked Mary who had bought it. “No idea, John.”

Gosh, I’d like to meet that person! There’s another great story there, I’m sure. That would be a wonderful interview, too.

Now truth is, I have written about Dr. Gove and his Third New before as a blog. Some of you probably received that piece.

If you feel you’d enjoy it, send me an email at either johnguylaplante @yahoo or gmail. And I’ll send it to you. Lots of interesting stuff in it.

You’re all sophisticated readers, I’m positive.  Who else would read something like this? Let me know if you’ve  gotten around to using “ain’t,” will you?

(Oh, by the way, I’ve just re-read this, checking for typos. These days I always seem to make typos–blame bad typing by my tired old fingers. Didn’t spot any. But was struck by the many words and expressions that I’ve used that I never would have employed in that article of mine for the Telegram back n 1961. I didn’t know them!  There are dozens. See how many you can spot.  Shows how dynamic language is!)

~ ~ ~

The day the Post Office went automatic.

 

 

By John Guy LaPlante

Oct. 20, 1960. Providence, R.I.

The U.S. Postal Service turned on the country’s first totally mechanized mail processing plant. Machines started doing the work from A to Z.  Did  it all. No hands!

It was a big deal. Historic. Dramatic. Badly needed. Long-planned. Hugely publicized. And controversial, it turned out.

And I was there, on assignment for my paper, the Worcester Telegram-Gazette.

Ben Franklin back in Philadelphia in 1763 was the first postmaster, but just for the Pennsylvania colony. Two years later he was appointed postmaster general by the Colonial Congress for all the colonies.  And went on to do it with the zeal and smarts that became his hallmark in everything he undertook.

That was a big deal, too. People could write to one another and keep in touch as never before. And what a giant boost that gave businesses and the national economy.

All made possible by the establishment  the U.S. Postal Service at the birth of our country. Manned by men trained to do the work from as a career job —selling stamps, processing the mail, and delivering it on a reliable schedule. Within a neighborhood, within a geographic area, within  a whole state, then to other states and regions, the list expanding every time a new star got added to our flag.

One improvement followed another.

What a sensation it was when the dashing young riders of the Pony Express made it possible to speed a letter to California in just 8 or 10 days.  True although only a wealthy person or big business could afford it.

Steadily the price of postage dropped.

The railroads were laying more track. Ships began shifting from sail to steam, crossing the Atlantic in 10 days rather than 40.  Steamships with good luck could get the mail from New York to San Francisco around the Horn in a few weeks rather than the three months the great tall ships with their enormous sails took.

On and on.  Progress over the decades became dramatic.

For instance.  When I was a boy in Pawtucket, R.I., our mailman Mr. Sherlock was bringing us our mail twice a day. Imagine that. Morning and afternoon, and Monday through Saturday, would you believe?

He started every Monday for the week with his blue uniform freshly pressed and his shoes shined. And he did the job day in and day out regardless of the season or the weather.

He would start his day by reporting at our big post office on Main Street.  Other workers had already deposited the fresh mail for Pleasant View into the Pleasant View box.  Pleasant View was our neighborhood and it was his assignment.  He would organize its mail by street and number and pack it with practiced efficiency in his big leather bag. He would heft it, walk a block and climb on the trolley to our neighborhood and begin his first circuit.

Truth is, Pleasant View had become less pleasant now built up as it was with three-deckers shoulder to shoulder on every street. A modest neighborhood but respectable and a fine choice for working class people. We lived at 18 Coyle Avenue, which was one block long. We had English, Irish, French, Syrian, Polish families, well, that we knew.

If you don’t remember, three-deckers had three tenements for three families. Those houses  were a a brilliant invention.  There are still plenty around. Still provide good housing.

Mr. Sherlock would start slipping the envelopes through the three slots every three-decker had. Everything in his bag was a social or business letter. If a package had come in for someone, he’d slip through a notice to go pick it up at the post office.  Well, this is what I recall of all that. Junk mail was still far in the future.

At half past 11 or so Mr. Sherlock, his bag empty, would take the trolley back downtown. Eat lunch, restock his bag and come back to do his second circuit. Only a heavy rain or snow storm would daunt him. He hated that and so did we. He because the next day his bag would be extra heavy. And we because we missed getting mail maybe.

Mr. Sherlock was proud to wear his uniform. It was more than a job. It was a career. The Postal Service had become a proud service.  Somebody had even said that in inspired words that caught the importance and significance of it.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

I’m sure Papa and Maman had never heard those words. They wouldn’t have understood them anyway. They were immigrants, like so many neighbors. I hadn’t. I was too young. Maybe Mr. Sherlock hadn’t either.

But it’s men like him who inspired it.

When I happened upon those highfalutin words much later, I totally got it. It made me feel good about the service. I hope that Mr. Sherlock got to hear them before he put his uniform aside for keeps.

It’s important I tell you one thing. How exciting it was for Papa and Maman to get a letter from a friend in nearby Woonsocket, say, and even more so from a brother or cousin perhaps back in Quebec. Wow!

Papa and Maman had come down to Rhode Island from up there.

Maybe it was an invitation to a wedding. Exciting. But maybe the news of the death of a father or sister, God forbid. I don’t recall telephone service being around then. But if it was, we didn’t have it. I do remember  there was anticipation but also apprehension about what Mr. Sherlock might leave off.

Papa and Maman called that service a blessing. It was a wonder. Hi-tech, mind you, to use an expression that hadn’t entered the language yet. They hadn’t known such when they were my age. Hadn’t even thought it possible.

Fact is, it was the count-on-it reliability and broad saturation of that service that steadily pushed back our frontiers and began to meld us as Americans.

But the day had come when the Post Office needed better. Much better. After heavy campaigning it got the okay to build a totally mechanized  regional processing center. I have no idea how Providence got chosen.  Much heavy politicking, I’ll bet.

What a daunting undertaking. Remember the mandate, no hands!  So what machines would be needed to take in the mail, flip every piece right side up, read every address … so many scrawled or barely legible? How to make sure each piece was properly stamped … there were different categories with varying postal prices … how to send the letters and packages on their way to the right place, maybe next close by in Pawtucket, but maybe to Pensacola, Florida, maybe even to Paris, France?

How to organize that flow? Make it smooth and fool-proof efficient?  Move the mail along from machine to machine? How much floor space?  One floor? Two floors? What kind and size of building would it take?  On what side should trucks with the fresh mail arrive? The trucks taking the on-on-going processed mail on its way? How many trucks would be needed?  How much parking space should be available?    And what should be the attributes of an ideal location?

And so important, how many workers would be required, and how should they be trained for these newfangled machines? Shouldn’t they be workers displaced from the city’s big downtown post office, which would be closed, it was assumed.

The goal was not only to assure better service. It was also to save money in getting the work done.

All premised on the necessity to build a plant that would comfortably process a million or more pieces of mail a day!

And of course the new center should become a lab for other such plants across the country.

What the designers faced was a challenge in a thousand ways.

Well, it all got done and the big day, October 20, arrived blue and sunny.  All-out publicity had alerted the nation to what was being hailed as a “turnkey operation.” A PR genius had come up with that. At the dedication a key would be turned, so to speak,  and the plant would rumble into operation. I just checked and I found “turnkey’ in my Merriam-Webster dictionary now.

The new building itself was a wonder. Ultra-modern. Futuristic, which was also a new word.  Nothing else came close to it anywhere, it was said. It was symbolic of the mammoth magical work would take place inside. Everybody took pictures of it.

In fact, the Postal Service for the occasion sold a commemorative stamp showing the incredible building. A 4-cent stamp it was, which was the first-class price back then. It sold thousands and thousands. What a fantastic PR ploy nationwide that turned out to be.

Everything in the building was on one floor. There were only two posts inside, it was said. Miles of conveyor belts snaked back and forth.

I mentioned there was controversy, too. Machines replace workers. Many industries were seeing the beauty of that. Workers were seeing the brutality of that. So did their labor unions. There were mutterings and angry protests.

Well, I told you I was there.  Not on the actual day. At the big Dedication / PR kickoff just before it. In a throng of journalists. Post Office and Washington and Rhode Island bigwigs. The architects and contractors and designers and builders of the system and machines. Gawkers. A big crowd as expected. Rousing speeches. Great applause.

I went back to the T&G and wrote my story and it got a big headline and big display. Rightfully so. This was big news. National news. Good news. Promising news.

But!  What a stunt the Providence Journal-Bulletin pulled. The J-B was the state’s premier paper, as it still is, a national biggie. (But, I must tell you, just a few notches higher than the Telegram-Gazette’s in the list of the country’s top 100 papers.)

By the way, I got the assignment because I knew Providence. As I said, I was a Rhode Islander. And for two years after college in Worcester I had been a graduate student at Brown University right there in Providence.  In fact, back then it was routine for me to walk by that big old downtown post office whose future was now problematic.

Plus though full-time at the T&G I had started free-lancing a few pieces for the Journal-Bulletin.

Now about that stunt by the J-B.  That’s what it deserves to be called, a stunt. A few days before the plant’s opening, the J-B stuck stamps on a pile of letters. It had addressed them to itself at its Fountain Street address.  Not real postage stamps. Fake stamps, every one of them. They looked like regular stamps but they were S & H Green Stamps, if you remember those. Tax stamps from Lucky Strike and Camel cigarette packs.  On liquor bottles. A variety of such stamps. I don’t remember exactly. And dropped them in the mail.

And all those letters got processed by the new plant.  Were all delivered back to the Journal-Bulletin.  Which made a montage of them and printed it under a big headline saying something like, “New Post Office Off to a Great Start.”   Ha! Ha!

Yes, the new plant had done the massive job lickety-split, as hoped for and expected. But its machines couldn’t tell the difference between good stamps and phony. And gradually other troubles developed.

One result was that the PR label “Turnkey Plant” got tweaked a bit. Somebody said, “What a tur­key that plant is!” And that got passed around and got a lot of laughs. “The Tur_key Plant!” But those early mishaps were no surprise to any reasonable person. All this was pioneer work. All the problems got worked out.

The plant’s impact became revolutionary.  Other processing plants got built.  Automatic processing of the mail became efficient, calm, routine. I think it sparked many businesses to mechanize and automate their delivery of stuff the same way.  Especially huge ones. UPS.  FedEx.  Amazon. Walmart. And others.

I mentioned the plant was futuristic. For that matter, inspired by the pizzazz of that building perhaps, Providence has redesigned and rebuilt its downtown so amazingly that it stands out as one of the most beautiful and enjoyable in the Northeast.

The plant is still there doing the job, day in and day out, without glamor or commotion. And it still looks futuristic.

If only Mr. Sherlock could have lived to see all that. Or Benjamin Franklin.

~ ~ ~

 

How much is an Ocean View worth?

Uncle Emile, great guy, great chess player

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A true story!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A  postscript for you

Interested in chess?

The victories will be few and elusive

The defeats many and humbling

It can easily morph into a passion

So be wary of this devilish game

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

An experienced loser

Anon.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncle Emile, good guy, good chess player

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A true story!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A  postscript for you

Interested in chess?

The victories will be few and elusive

The defeats many and humbling

It can easily morph into a passion

So be wary of this devilish game

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

An experienced loser

Anon.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me and my penny game. Challenging and fun!

By John Guy LaPlante

Some twenty years ago I thought up a game to play in my car as I drove a hundred miles — from

Two cans and pennies. That's all I needed to play my game.
Two cans and pennies. That’s all I needed to play my game. Plus strategizing!

Connecticut up to Rhode Island — once a month to visit my Uncle Jack.

I called it my Penny Game.

He was a patient at the state veterans’ hospital up there. He was getting close to 100 and I was the only visitor he ever got now.

My game was simple. I played it all the way up. Great fun. So remarkable the way  it sharpened my driving skills. Every time I tapped my brake pedal would cost me one penny. The idea was to finish my ride with the fewest brake taps—the fewest pennies possible.

The idea was to beat my score every trip up. Patience, practice, concentration, skill—those were my challenge. It has paid off to this day though I no longer play it. I quit when Jack passed.

He was 97 when I started. He died just six months short of the 100 he was shooting for. So I made the ride many times. It was 105 miles from home in Deep River up to the hospital in Bristol. Yes, a state hospital, not federal.

Jack really, really qualified to be a patient—was in the Infantry and was one of those who hit the beaches in France to fight the Germans in World War II. Saw brutal action, so brutal he never talked about it.

My ride took me up through one of the most densely populated and tricky areas we have. It was not just one fast, straight, uninterrupted cruise through empty central Texas or wide-open Arizona, say.

Here’s what it involved. First, an easy nine-mile ride to Old Saybrook, Conn. Then 60 easy miles on I-95 up to tiny Wyoming.

Yes, Wyoming. I never figured how we got a Wyoming in these parts.  I’d turn right on R.I. 138, which was long and slow with several lights. It snaked me up through Kingston, the home of the University of Rhode Island. Easier when the students were gone.

Then a sharp left on U.S. 1, a four-lane highway which has changed little over the years. But just for 3 or 4 miles. Then a right on the next leg of 138. That would speed me down the long, steep slope right to Narragansett Bay. I’d hop on the big and narrow Jamestown Bridge to Conanicut Island, which is famous for the village of Jamestown. Very old. Thick with pricy secluded homes on its ragged shore

The village gives a clear view of Newport over on the eastern shore of the bay.

It was just 15 minutes across the island to the huge, wide, and high Newport Bridge—it was designed to let  enormous aircraft carriers get up to their base at Quonset Point. A toll bridge. So you had to stop. Bad to arrive with several cars ahead. All of us moving forward one car length at a time. So much braking! So many pennies!

 I visited him once a month and I got to know the route cold.  It would have been humdrum without my game.

Why all this detail? To give you an idea of the varied driving conditions I faced.  So many challenges. Hard to imagine more variety.

 But playing a game while driving? That could be distracting … dangerous maybe? No way.

All I needed were two tin cans and lots of pennies. The two cans might be a soup can and a coffee can.  I loaded the pennies into the soup can. It could have been peanuts, buttons, peppermint candies, anything easy to count. Pennies were perfect.

I had no idea how many I’d need, so I picked up four rolls — 200. Heck, I might turn out to be a worse driver than I thought. It turned out to be far too many.

So every time I’d hit the brake pedal, I’d toss a penny into the coffee can on the floor. Being  bigger, it was an easier target than just another soup can.  

 The first time I used 118  pennies—that’s the figure I remember– and that turned out to the most I ever had to use. I got better and better at it.  My best, as I recall, was 27.

That 105 miles had segments wildly different. Starting, I’d take the familiar old Conn. 154 eight miles to Old Saybrook, which borders  Long Island Sound. Then I’d turn north on I-95 and cruise up to tiny Wyoming in Rhode Island. Yes, Wyoming, R.I.—I never understood why we had a town named that. That stretch was about 65 miles, the longest.

Then a right turn on R.I. 138. That was slow and curvy and led me through tiny Kingston. It’s the home of the University of Rhode Island. That could mean lots of stop and go when the students were around.

Then a left on R.I. 1 but only for 3 miles or so. Then a right on the second leg of 138. That would take me down the long, straight and steep slope to beautiful Narragansett Bay and its two famous bridges..

The two bridges were exciting because I’d get brief but magnificent views on both sides—on the left of the island-rich bay leading up to Providence, and on the right, of the open Atlantic in the not far distance.

It also gave great views of the Naval War College atop a bluff on the left, and on the right of downtown Newport. Who hasn’t heard of Newport and its glitzy mansions built by show-off millionaires a century ago? But not visible from the bridge.

Now I’d be on the eastern shore. I’d head north, again on busy and congested 138 for three miles. Then a sharp left on old and narrow 114. This took me quickly to the Mt. Hope Bridge, named for the big and beautiful bay on the right.

The Mt. Hope Bridge is an impressive suspension bridge but narrow. It was an engineering marvel when built close to a century ago. Not much traffic back then. For decades you had to stop and pay a toll. It arches high enough to let large oil tankers make a right turn from Narragansett Bay and go on thefew miles to industrial Fall River to pump out their cargo.

I’d get irritated every time I’d cross that bridge. From its crest high up you’d have the potential for superb views of both bays. But! The engineers gave little thought to tourists. Their massive guardrails totally block the views. What a shame.

Now the ride became pretty. Scenic.  Roger Williams University, named for the minister who founded Rhode Island as a haven for settlers oppressed by the stern religiosity of the Pilgrims, has a beautiful campus. It’s perched on a crest overlooking Mt. Hope Bay.

 Over the bridge, lots of greenery. Lighter traffic. Peaceful. Fine estates on the Narragansett Bay side.  Finally Bristol. In its day Bristol was the capital of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. That, by the way, is the state’s official name. Interesting, don’t you think, that our smallest state has the longest name of all 50?

Bristol has great charm. Fine old buildings of changing architecture, from colonial to modern.  A Main Street lined with nice old homes and restaurants and boutiques of all kinds – art, antiques, furniture, on and on. The long street is striped red, white and blue along its middle for a long way. Bristol hosts an enormous parade down the street every Fourth of July. A Coast Guard station. Lots of pleasure boats.

And, most noteworthy, magnificent Colt State Park right on a prime stretch of manicured lawns along Narragansett Bay. In nice weather, after my visit with Uncle Jack, I’d try to squeeze in a ride through it. My leave-taking would take a toll. I needed this balance.

  Well, a couple of short turns now and I’d enter the fine grounds of the hospital.

 Reaching my uncle’s room finally, I’d give him a hug, ask how he was. He’d always say, “So, so.” He had gone there under protest and I sympathized. But it was a smart decision. Then smiling,  l’d  say, “Hey, only 43 pennies today!” He’d chuckle. I knew he was expecting this report.

 Yes, he was reaching one hundred. How many men achieve that?!  He was a cigar smoker for 80 years, but only a single Philly after supper during his saunter  around the neighborhood. Always Phillies. He was s shoe salesman his whole life. Squatting to fit shoes on customers kept him fit.

He was down to 110 pounds now and he spent most of his time in bed. But he still had all his marbles.  He was my dear Aunt Bernadette’s hubby. She had gone on five years earlier.  They were childless. I was his closest kin.

 An amazing, proud Irishman. He died just six months short of the full century that was his goal. That disappointed him. I know it did. It disappointed me! He had a peaceful and tranquil end. A blessing.

 So quite a ride, as you can see. Here’s what I had to do the whole way — strategize, strategize, strategize.

 If I got caught behind a slowpoke, I had to ease off to slow down a bit. If I spotted a traffic light coming up, should I slow down or speed up to catch it while it was green?

If a traffic light was at the bottom of a hill, a tougher decision. Would I have to brake 2 or 3 times?  Smarter of course to brake only once, but for how long?

If a car passed and swerved back hard to get into my lane, of course I’d have to brake.

Rainy weather …. snowy weather ….made the whole thing trickier.

If I spotted a McDonald’s on the right and noticed five cars in the drive-up lane, no way would I use drive-up.  Too much stopping and going.  Better to park and walk in.

No way would I stop for anything on the left side of the highway.  For sure I’d lose 3 or 4 pennies getting in and out.

I’d always start with a full tank of gas. God forbid that I’d have to stop at a station en route.

Of course at times braking was unavoidable.  To come to a halt at a stop sign at the bottom of a hill. Avoid getting rear-ended when I got caught behind a slowpoke. Or when a nut zoomed by me and then cut back in fast.

At the hospital, better to select a parking spot that I would not have to back out of.  Might have to tap the brake.  

Of course, it was important to play the game all the way. Crazy to give up just 10 or15 miles short of the hospital.

I never played the game coming home.  Getting there was enough. But soon I saw I was driving smarter in my everyday driving.  

Luck was involved. Starting during rush hour would be nuts. A week day seemed better. Rain or snow made a whopping difference. I went alone. I had to concentrate. A companion might get annoyed.

As you see, the game was dropping the fewest pennies in the coffee can. Playing it would slow me down in getting to my uncle’s. But I wasn’t trying to beat the clock. My payoff was getting more skillful as a driver. I took pride in beating myself. And I was having fun.

Why don’t you try it?  It’s a natural if you commute to your job. It can be far less 105 miles of course.  Just 20 or14 miles will do it, or 8 or even less, especially if you’re transiting a congested area. Try it for one week.

Note your score every time and also significant factors. The weather. Season of the year. The day before Thanksgiving, or after. You get the idea. You’ll have fun, too.  May get hooked!

Of course there will come the day when you’ll get the brake pedal taps down to an irreducible minimum and the fun will fizz.

For sure you’ll get upset by some jerk whose driving forced you to toss an extra penny into the coffee can. The game will make you a better driver, too.

Why not get your spouse or kids or a friend on the job started? You’ll enjoy hearing their reports. Just as my Uncle Jack did.

 ~ ~ ~ ~

 

Another wonder to make my life easier!

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~

 

 

My interview with the world’s greatest astronomer

By John Guy LaPlante

Just a few weeks seem to go by before we get to read another news story about life being possible way, way out there in the heavens.

Well, that’s not news to me.  I heard that 66 years ago.

Harlow Shapley (1885 – 1972). Familiar with him? He was our greatest astronomer. The world’s greatest. Was called the greatest since Copernicus (1473 –

 1543). Copernicus was the Polish genius who said the sun was really the center of the universe, not our earth.

Harlow Shapley made big headlines when he said there were “zillions” of planets out there but—and this was astounding — at least 100,000,000 of them that could support life as we know it, with vegetation and animals and people!

[Read more…]

Who’s seen a Greyhound bus lately?

 

By John Guy LaPlante

I haven’t. They seem a disappearing species.Like the dodo.  Sad.

I checked.  Greyhound—now more than a hundred years old—is still in business. A decade ago, it had some 3,500 buses on the road.  Now, it’s down to less than half that. Corporations are like you and me.  There are up’s and down’s. Good things happen. Bad things, too.

Why am I telling you about this? I rode Greyhound a lot. I loved Greyhound.  Many trips, including several clear across the count from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back. Many thousands of miles. “Leave the driving to us!” Greyhound says.  We’ve all heard that slogan of Greyhound’s.

This beaut was the model that I usually rode. One of Greyhound's biggest innovations over the years was a nice, clean onboard toilet.What a differernce that made.
This beaut was the model that I usually rode. One of Greyhound’s biggest innovations over the years was a nice, clean onboard toilet.What a much appreciated difference that made.

Often I did leave the driving to Greyhound.

My first cross-country on it was in 1995, I believe.  Greyhound offered a sensational transcontinental ride for $99. I bought a ticket thinking of the grand adventure it would be.  And I loved the price.

Plus I had a reason that made that bargain irresistible. My son Mark was studying at the University of Washington in Seattle.  I missed him.

I hopped on a big, shiny Greyhound at the New York Port Authority terminal in Manhattan.  And it was three days to Seattle…day and night plus a few  hours more. In a way it was like the old Pony Express  mail service from St. Louis all the way to California. It was the same rider all the way.The rider would change horses after every so many miles. Ad keep going and going.

I said in a way.  On Greyhound, it was the same bus all the way, but with a different driver taking the wheel after every shift.

The hard part was the nights.  Trying to sleep was a nightmare.

Once, I rode Greyhound across most of Canada from Vancouver in British Columbia on through Alberta, then Saskatchewan, then Manitoba and Ontario, right across to Montreal In Quebec.

By the way,  those Canadian Greyhounds towed a beautifully matching trailer loaded with parcels. A trailer with the same paint job and same doggie logo!

Another time  I rode Greyhound deep down into Mexico right to huge Mexico City. Actually it was a Mexican bus line that partnered with Greyhound.  A great ride. I even rode a Greyhound, yes, a Greyhound on a visit to South Africa. Greyhound also operate in Australia, well, it did back then it did.  I never made it to Australia.

On all these trips, passengers kept getting on and off. Just a few would do the whole long distance.  By that time, we recognized each other and felt a special bond. We’d say “Good luck!”  to one another and “Take care!” Even if speaking to somebody who didn’t understand English. They got the gist of it.

Sure, there were bad moments.  Once Greyhound took off and left me behind!  Stranded! We stopped in a small town in Oregon, 20 minutes for a coffee and toilet brake. I had been sitting behind the driver. The seat next to me was empty. I left my jacket and a handbag on it. Across from me were two elderly ladies.   We had chatted a few minutes.

[Read more…]

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

By John Guy LaPlante

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

 Our Way of Keeping Count.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Foolish academic class designations..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worse were those awful, crazy lights.

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

So I say, Uninvent those lights!

ROMANTIC MARRIAGES.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I say: Uninvent Romantic Marriage!

 Dual citizenship.

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

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

Different countries have different rules, I’m sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile I say:  Uninvent dual citizenship!

Cemeteries / Burial .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living till we die.

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

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

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

The wanton profiteering of our airlines nowadays.

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

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

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

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

On a lighter note, popcorn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~

 

 

[JGL1]