April 21, 2018

How lucky we are to speak English!

By John Guy LaPlante

With one photo.

Yes, indeed. Because English is now the world’s most popular language. The one so many people in so many other countries can read as a second language. And which so many others are trying so hard to learn.

At one time French was the big international language. Hah!

Now this gives us a great advantage when we travel abroad —  a better chance of being understood and more ease in getting around. More books and technical and scientific papers originating in other countries getting translated into English and becoming available to us here. All of this giving us reason to be very proud.

It sounds incredible, but our globe supports 6,000 languages. Thank goodness we Americans don’t speak 5,999 of those as our birth tongue. Well, most of us. We’ve had the good fortune of growing up in English.

What a richness of English lies between these covers.

By the way, here I’m not speaking of British English or South African English or Australian English or Indian English or even Canadian English, which have big differences. I’m speaking of our English. Yours and mine.

I just mentioned Indian English—the English of India. Yes, India has English. What?!  A strange story. India is big – a third the size of the U.S but 1.3 billion people. Many sects. Hindi is the major language but 779 others. So how to speak to someone of a different sect? If you got higher schooling, you use English.

How come English? Well, England ruled India for many years and imposed it. Hindi is India’s main language but English is an official language,

spoken by 150 million. I’ve seen that for myself. Thanks to Indian friends, I’ve made two long trips  through through India. Got to most areas, north, south, east, and west.  I often managed to understand and to be understood.

So their English works, sure. But it isn’t our English, believe me. There are so many differences in inflection, vocabulary, pronunciation. And slang! But it is genuine English.

Our English – our American brand – is the world’s second most spoken language. Mandarin, China’s most important language, is the world’s largest. The next are Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German, French.  And people with those as their mother tongue make it a priority to learn ours.

As we know, China has grown into our most important rival economically, and that has great significance in many facets of Chinese life.

Here’s how I see China today. It may sound outlandish but I feel comfortable in saying it. I’ve been to China four times. The fourth just four years ago. I have good friends in China. This happened to me because one of my books—“Around the World at 75, Alone, Dammit”—was published there. In Mandarin. Our English is their most popular foreign language.

These days, millions of Chinese are studying our English. In their schools. And also here in the USA. Do you have any idea how many Chinese are studying in our universities? I checked. 350,755 last year. More would come if they could. And that’s been the trend for years and it’s certain to continue.

Sure, more Americans are studying Mandarin. But by comparison darn few.

So here’s my take on China today.  The last century – the 1900’s –is when we became the biggest and most influential country on the globe and therefore the most formidable. I don’t think anyone will dispute that.

Well, we have 82 years left in this century, right? I believe China will eclipse us. This is China’s century. I feel it would be smart for my  grandchildren and great- grandchildren to study Mandarin. And if you buy stocks, smart for you to buy into a Chinese mutual fund.

All this said about our national  language, I must now say that not all of us in our 50 states speak the same English.  Go to Bangor in Maine, or El Paso in Texas, or Atlanta in Georgia, or Salem in Oregon, or Honolulu in Hawaii, or Anchorage in Alaska, and particularly the smaller towns  in those states, and you’ll be surprised by the different flavors.

I was born in little Rhode Island and spent most of my years in Massachusetts. Well, years ago I attended a professional conference in Phoenix, Arizona. There were attendees from all over the country. After our keynote speaker finished – he was from Michigan, I believe – questions were invited from us. A man got up and asked one, then a woman. I stood and asked one. You should have heard the laughter that erupted!

They were laughing at my accent.  Yes, my accent. “We know where you’re from!” one man laughed. Which was Massachusetts. I was laughing, too, and yelled back, “Hey, you’re the ones who sound funny!” And I meant it. After all, it’s always the other person who has the accent, of course. Never us. Haven’t you experienced that?

But the accent differences were much, much sharper when I was a boy.  It’s radio, and then television, that flattened out our English.  Nowadays the accent that most national radio and TV people on the air aspire to pick up is that of educated southern New Englanders – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. That’s a fact.

Now let me tell you a bit about my language experiences in other lands.

Quite often in China, I’d be approached by two or three teenagers.  A girl would say, “My name is Betty.”  That was an assumed name, of course. And then would ask, “Where are you from?” Very sweet. And I would tell her. Then, a boy would say, “I am Dick. Do you like China?” And I’d say “Yes, yes, yes!”

They suspected I was American and they wanted to practice their English.

As many of you know, I served 27 months in Peace Corps, which is a full hitch. In Ukraine. Went to school six days a week for the first three months. Russian, the history of Ukraine, its culture. Russian because that would be the language where I’d be stationed (though Ukrainian is the main language.) Agonizingly difficult. Felt I’d be sent home. But they kept me.

There I taught English at university level.  In my everyday life, at a store or whatever, whenever I started to say something in Russian, the clerk or somebody else might jump in and start speaking English to me. They wanted to practice. They understood the enormous importance of English.

I saw its importance in country after country in my travels around the world. Hostels were always my first choice. Every hostel invariably had guests from other countries.  Australia (a common occurrence), France, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, wherever.  Mostly young people. And many spoke English, at least a little.  Because they knew its convenience in world travel.

Though English is incredibly difficult. For them probably as difficult as Russian was for me. Let me give you just one little example of the difficulties. How many ways do we pronounce a word with the letters ou?  Now have fun – pronounce ours, then yours, then ouch, then touch, then through, then enough, then rouge, then wound. See! And this is just a starter.

Yet we mastered all these difficult subtleties, slowly, one at a time, because we were born here and grew up in the language. Yes, how lucky we are.

God bless America! God bless our English!

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Again I look forward to comments from you. I read them all. Don’t hesitate. Truly I’m eager to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how much is your peanut butter today?

By John Guy LaPlante

With 4 photos.

I love peanut butter, too. I’m not sure of the price today. It could be up or down. After all, as we know, just about everything at the supermarket goes on sale sooner or later.

But I have a neat system. I call it my “per unit game.”  It’s really a game and I love it.

Familiar with it? No? Well, you should be. You’ll save lots of money. And you’ll have fun playing it, too.

That is, if you like saving your pennies. I do. I insist on buying quality stuff, but at the best price. Pennies can add up to dollars fast.

Not everybody feels my way. I know a lady who pays scant attention to prices. She just snatches whatever she wants and drops it in her cart. If peanut butter, maybe the most expensive. And that’s it.  She enjoys playing bridge and Scrabble. But the per unit game? Nothing doing. Maybe you’re like her.

Let’s use peanut butter as our first example today. Peanut butter is so popular. As usual, there are many choices. Which to buy?

Now relax please. You can learn the per unit game in five minutes or so. The game is ultra-important because peanut butter comes in many brands.  And each brand has several varieties. Creamy, nutty, with honey, and so on. It also comes in several sizes. Most have the standard everyday price. But every week some will go on sale. So if you don’t insist on a certain brand and want to economize, what’s the best buy for you today?

The per unit game is the answer.  Paying it every time you shop is so important that I’m going to repeat it: per unit pricing.

Every supermarket stocks thousands of products.  And at least 95 percent of them are subject to unit pricing.  Here

Peanut butter! As usual, we are given many choices. Which should we buy?

in California, where I live now, unit pricing is a state law. Most states have a similar law. Maybe all 50 now.  Well, they do if they want to make sure their people get a fair deal.

The per unit price tells you how much an item costs per ounce or per pound or per quart or per whatever it is measured.  And it’s supposed to be posted near the item.

BUT—please notice my emphasis—the unit price is the tiniest price on the sticker! Much smaller than the other prices. You may have to squint. Why is it the tiniest? Something in me believes management doesn’t want me and you to pay attention to it.  But maybe I’m wrong.  Ha!

I’ve taken pictures for you. Look at the one of all the shelves of peanut butter. Some 100 different possibilities there. I counted 23 on sale. What’s your pleasure? Well, have fun choosing….

Now look at the second photo. It shows only two jars. Both on sale. Let’s assume you want the best buy. As the big numbers on the sticker show, one is normally $4.49 and is on sale for $3.99.  So 50 cents less.

It contains 18 ounces. It’s a mix of peanut butter and jelly. Now look close. Its normal unit price is 25 cents per ounce. So multiply that by 18, which is the price being advertised.

The other jar is $2.99 marked down to $2.49, so also 50 cents less. But it has 16 ounces. not 18.  And no jelly.The normal unit price is 18.7 and the sale unit price 15.6,  Not sensational. Still it’s a saving.  You decide.

Oh, you want to keep looking? Okay. As you see, there are others on sale, and in different sizes. Checking their unit prices will be the fastest and smartest way to go. Whether you’re checking different brands or sizes or ingredients.  Neat, I think you’ll agree.

To understand the game even better, look at the photo of the two fridge items. One is Open Nature Sorbet and the other Haagan-Dazs. Quite

Now check what I wrote and learn to play the per unit game.

different products.  If you choose the sorbet you’ll get more than if you will ice cream. The sorbet is $3.99 per quart marked down to  $3.50 but you must buy two. Its unit price is $7.98 cents reduced to #3.59. The ice cream’s unit price is $13.03 per quart reduced to $11.42. So the sorbet unit price is much cheaper.

Now one more: Signature Diced Tomatoes. Look at the photo down below.  Signature is the store’s house brand. House brands by and large are considered fine quality. Normal price of $1.49 on sale at 89 cents. Its normal unit price dropped from 10.3 cents per ounce to 6.2. This seems as good a bargain as you’ll find. You may want to take home several cans.

Playing the game may sound trivial. But if you shop once a week and have a family, you can go home with extra dollars. At year’s end you will have saved enough for a bigger and better TV set or a splurge weekend at a luxery hotel.

As you can tell, I enjoy the game. And know what? Now just about everything I buy is on sale.  Yes, indeed. I rarely have to pay the full price. Sure, it’s taken me time to reach this stage. At first, whenever I spotted a good buy in peanut butter, as one example, I’d buy not one but three or four jars. And so on.

And I did that with one item after another. Now I have a closet filled with my bargains and can choose from a wide variety. Which of course translates to more freedom in planning my next meal.

By the way, it’s good to have extra food in storage. You never know when some catastrophe might strike and leave stores closed for days.

The unit prices tell us these Signature diced tomatoes are one of the better buys.

Some items rarely go on sale. At my chain supermarket here, bananas, for instance.  For a long time they were 69 cents a pound (10 cents more for organic). a few weeks ago, the price jumped from 69 to 79. Bananas are a big seller. Many customers buy bananas regularly. I always have bananas on hand.

Sales must have plummeted. I say this because the store in a very short time dropped the price right back down to 69. That was a smart PR move. It takes just a few small things like that to drive good customers to a competing store.

So why am I writing about this? My Reader’s Digest, March issue,  featured on the cover as its most important article “40 Supermarket Secrets You Need to Know—An RD Special Report.”

Of course I read it. And checking unit pricing is not one of those top secrets!  I check unit pricing every time I shop. An awful omission. Incredible. It should have been Secret Number 1! And that’s how I got inspired to write this for you.

Well, the strategy for a chain supermarket’s sales is a very interesting topic but I must save it for another day. Heck, I’ll tell you a thing or two about that right now.

Of course,  as you may be aware, big chain supermarkets are sophisticated. Smart.  Efficient. Know what they’re doing.  That’s why so successful.

Here’s one example. At my supermarket, the sale for all items starts the minute it opens bright and early every Wednesday. And ends on Tuesday

Now this example makes the unit game a wee bit more interesting

night. Then prices jump back up to normal. True for the hundreds of stores in the chain, I believe. Week after week.

And on the next Wednesday, the store will open with a new list of items on sale, again for exactly seven days. And that will be the strategy all through the year.

Staging these sales requires enormous planning and hard work.  Somebody at headquarters decides what will go on sale and at what prices. Much of that decision results from product availability. For produce, different harvest seasons. Produce not only from our country but from Mexico (a lot) and Costa Rica (bananas and other produce) and Hawaii (pineapples and other ) and Canada (many products with maple syrup as a small example) and Portugal (olives and other) and so on.

And at holidays, customers expect big sale items.  Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, and so on.

For sure every store will have to be supplied with additional inventory because more people will buy. The sale prices have to be set. All these sale items with new prices will have to get printed up for newspaper ads and their website and the thousands of flyers they have to have ready for customers to study.

Well, on Tuesday at midnight, with the staff gone home and all customers locked out, an expert crew will come in and get started.  They will have to rip off all the old sale prices–a big job in itself– and post the new ones–another big job. Some aisles are six to eight shelves high. To apply the new prices, the workers will have to reach high and squat low. Hard work. And get it all finished before the store opens in the early a.m.

Not many of us customers realize that. We have little idea how much work all this involves and how costly it is. But the chains do it for good reason, of course. Customers want bargains! The bargains keep us coming back. Many are itching to know what the sale items and their prices will be. And the chain is praying that the volume of sale items scooped up will make up for the reduced prices and all this work.

And here’s something else you may not know. Many manufacturers and distributors of these various products pay the stores for better positioning.  Ever notice what gets placed on the shelves that we face at the beginning and end of every aisle? Well, chances are that the chain is collecting “rent” for those. Even getting paid extra to place items at eye level on those shelves. Why? Because that’s where many customers do most of their picking.

Well, to get back to peanut butter, I wasn’t sure what the best deals would be this week. Now I know. But I’m going to pass. I still have three jars at home.

But there’s one more thing I must do.  I must write to Reader’s Digest and point out their awful goof!  How they didn’t list unit pricing in their top 40 Supermarket Secrets. It should have been Number 1! I hope I get a reply. If I do, I’ll let you know.

~ ~ ~ ~

Again I look forward to your comments, good and not so good. I do enjoy them. By the way, some of you send me comments that are a delight. Thank you. I tip my hat to you.

 

Once a bibliophile, always…

By John Guy LaPlante

Here are the eight I happily took home.. Quite varied as you see. Not a novel among them. And not a big haul after spending an hour and a half at the sale. But what fun I had!

… Yes, always a bibliophile. That’s me. I love books!

Hey, if you enjoy reading blogs like this, that may well be you, too.

So no wonder I went to last week’s book sale at our Morro Bay Public Library. It’s a great sale, staged by the Friends of the Library. In fact, I scribbled in its date on my calendar six weeks ago the minute I heard it was coming up.

This sale pops up three times a year. Yes, every four months, which is unusual.  Public library book sales are common across the country. Wherever I was living I was a regular. But they’re annual sales … semi-annual in a few.

But three a year! Gosh, the sales require such enormous work by the Friends. They’re all volunteers … don’t get a penny … are rewarded only by the flush of feeling good for doing it for the community. And the applaud of the library staffers, of course.

Enormous work to gather the books and CDs and DVDs and audio books. Get the word out.  Stage it….you know, set up

Of course I’m smiling. So happy to pedal home with my finds. Just $8. Yes, 13 pounds of fine reading for $8! We all love a bargain, don’t we?!

dozens of tables, arrange the books according to novels and health and gardening and fine arts and home maintenance and poetry and other genres.

Manage the lines of customers pressing to get in. Collect the money for their purchases. Replenish the tables as the day goes on, then pack up and store the left-overs.  And soon afterward, start to prepare the next one.

Now a strange thing. Think about it. I go to the library every day of the five it is open, which is Tuesday through Saturday. It has thousands of books.  And rarely do I borrow a book to read at home. How come? I go to read its fine selection of daily newspapers plus a dozen magazines I favor.

I said a strange thing. Yes, because I never call it a day without a book in my hands. I pick one up from a shelf by my bed, settle my head on my pillow, and begin reading. Maybe for just 10 minutes. Maybe an hour. Then turn off the light.

But all are books that I’ve bought! Why don’t I just borrow books from the library? So go ahead — psych me.  I welcome your diagnosis.

Well, the sale starts at 9 on the dot. I was in line 10 minutes early. I was the sixth in line. In a minute the seventh arrived. Within five minutes the line went out the door.

Here’s how the sale works. From 9 or 10 it’s for members only. You become a member by paying $10 dues per year. What a bargain. And you get the best choice. From 10 to 11 it’s for the public…meaning those willing to pay the books’ posted prices, which for most is $1 apiece. Then from 1 to closing, it’s the $3 bag sale. Each customer is handed a standard supermarket paper bag. Jam it with as many books as you can—even disks and audio books– and you can take them home for $3!

Isn’t this the modus operandi you’re familiar with at your library?

Speaking of money, I looked up the Friends’ report for their previous sale. It had netted $3,000! That suggests the take for three sales per year would be $9,000 or so. Wow! Now play with the arithmetic. If every book brought $1 that would mean 9,000 got sold. But the real number is much more than that because of the $3 bags chuck full.

For the sale, the Friends need every square foot of floor space they can scrape up. The sale spreads through the library, right into the community room, even into the children’s wing, even into the walled garden out in front off the street.

That’s possible here where decades go by without snow or ice and where we’re blessed with lots of sunshine. But rain now and then of course, which we’re grateful for to keep things nice and green. So the Friends pray for sunshine on sale days. Which we got this time.

I’ve had a lot of practice in getting the max at these sales.  So there are certain categories of books that I totally skip. One is novels. In my old age, I find that non-fiction is more interesting than fiction. That’s strange, too, because when very young I skipped non-fiction in favor of fiction.

Hey, the very first books I read were novels.  When I was a freshman in high school back in Massachusetts, I ran across novels by Joseph C. Lincoln. You never heard of him, I’ll bet. Must have read six or eight.

They were all about Cape Cod and Cape Codders and their life as such. Cape Cod is in Massachusetts in case you don’t know.  Joseph Lincoln wrote delightful, wholesome, funny novels. I delighted in every one I could find. Google him. You’ll enjoy reading about him.

Another author I loved was Horatio Alger.  Remember him? All novels about boys — newspaper boys, farm boys — who seemed destined for a mediocre future. But who by dint of hard work and pluck, and often a kind benefactor, made great successes of themselves.  Inspiring stories for a young teen-ager.

Oh, know what? When a few years later I was a junior in college, I got the notion I’d like to be a writer someday and began writing fictional short stories. Always sending them off to the great, big, wonderful Saturday Evening Post, which my mother loved and I got to love.

Every time I put one in the mail, three or four weeks later –it was a long wait and I watched for the mail every day — I got a letter back from the Post. How exciting! But always a reception slip. Of course. Sob! If somebody more experienced had only told me to start off by mailing to a small, modest magazine, my getting published would have stood a better chance.

I got discouraged and quit—so you see I didn’t turn out to be a Horatio Alger boy.

So at this book sale, as I said, I was very selective.  I didn’t buy a thing from tables which at different times would have been an avid interest ….woodworking and home construction…sailing…photography…buying and selling real estate for profit….running a business….advice on getting ahead….still others.

Those are no longer a prime interest.  I do admit I scanned books in some of those categories out of curiosity…saw some I had actually read.

Just roaming the sale was a great pleasure.  I found a set of books that was marvelous  — some 10 volumes by Mark Twain — for a mere $10. His whole life’s output.  What a talent! What a prodigious worker!

I ran across another set of volumes…“The Story of Civilization,” By Will Durant and his wife and co-worker Ariel. Huge volumes… the 11 of them … their life’s work.  What an incredible and magnificent and prodigious achievement! I would have been hard put to pick up the set.  On sale again for peanuts.

I did wonder who, yes, who, would take home this treasure?  For sure a very interesting person in his / her own right. With lots of reading time!

Also I spotted 15 books or so in the Time-Life Book of the Year series.  One published each year, a fascinating retelling of the good, bad, interesting things that took place. Some years were missing.  But I spotted 1929. I was born in 1929. I glanced through it. Fascinating. But my birth was not mentioned. Shucks!

This is a good moment to tell you that I went many years without ever running into a real, live author.  What a great pleasure that would have been. Because I felt awed that somebody could do this, actually write a book.

In fact, I have a vivid memory of the first I got to meet.  It was Elliot Paul, who had become famous for his “The Last Time I Saw Paris.” I had read the book. He was very old, broke as I remember it, tired and ill and lonely in a nursing home in Providence, R.I. I had grown up in the Providence area and had been a grad student at Brown University there. I was now a feature writer for the magazine of the Worcester (Mass.) Sunday Telegram. Somehow I heard of Elliot Paul going through that.

I drove to Providence and managed to meet Mr. Paul and sit with him and chat. He understood I was going to profile him in an article. He welcomed it. At one point I asked him, “Who is the most important author of your time, sir?” Without blinking, he said, “I am!” How about that?!

Being in our Morro Bay Library with its many books, and at this sale with many more on display, was a dramatic reminder of the legions of men and women who toil at writing books for a living.  There are thousands and thousands.  And I am a modest one. I have three books on the shelves here.

To me it’s also a reminder of how much work goes into writing a significant book.  In my case, I’ve told people. “I’ve built a house. Writing a book is just as much work as building a house!” I’ve never said it but my Peace Corps book was the work of building two houses!

Oh, this was interesting — I came across a professional book buyer at work. Well, that’s what I call these people. I’ve spotted them before. They have a smart phone with an amazing app (?) on it.  They pick up a promising book, snap a picture (?) of it, and methinks get data telling them whether it’s a good buy for eventual resale. If so, they add it to their box. Nothing wrong with that, I’m sure. It’s just another example of American free enterprise. Have you seen buyers like this at work?

Well, I walked out with a mere 8 books.  All looked new. One had an inscription, ”Merry Christmas, Charlie!”  I weighed them. They totaled a wee bit more than 13 pounds. For a mere $8. I estimated their original price had been about $115.  I’ve taken a picture of the eight. I have no problem with your seeing what I chose.

My priorities these days are: interesting topics, of course. On practical subjects.  But all with chapters that stand by themselves, if that makes sense to you. Rarely a book that merits reading from beginning to end. I’m not up to reading a 350-page book anymore.  If I do, I’ll read the juicy parts.

I do admit that I buy books for the mere pleasure of owning them. I want to own them! I want…I must…own them because they mean so much to me.

An example is “The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe, published in 1719!  Imagine the millions who have read it! Yes, a novel. I’ll bet you’re familiar with it. I read it in my late teens. It had a life-changing impact. A sailor marooned on a small island in the tropics…the sole survivor of a shipwreck…all alone for years on this island…who by resourcefulness and hard work makes a satisfying life for himself

Eventually met another man on the island, a black man, Friday, called that because Robinson met him on a Friday. Made Friday his devoted servant, and though he didn’t know a word of English, even managed to teach him to read. Happy ending, too. Rescue!

Easy to explain why that ancient masterpiece affected me so greatly. Robinson could have curled up and starved and died. By sheer determination and talent, he thrived and found fulfillment.

So, as you see, I had great fun at the sale. The next one will be Saturday, May 19. I’ll be there.

I finished the hard part three days ago.  My bookshelves were full. Had to make room for my new ones. Of course each of the old ones excited me when I bought it. So which to discard required lots of thought.

Now another thought. All those people who went home with $3 bags full of books — how will they ever get to read them all?

There’s only one conclusion. They’re bibliophiles, too. As I am. And as you are if you’ve read all 2,063 words I’ve put down here!

~ ~ ~ ~

As always, I welcome your comments. I read them all and appreciate them.  I delight in their variety. Writers write to be read, of course. In my case now, there’s not a penny in this. Your c0mments are my only payback.

 

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.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…]

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