November 19, 2017

The Interrobang–that’s for me!

By John Guy LaPlante

And maybe for you!

The interro….. what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Radish seeds from your public library?

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — Yes, you can get radish seeds from our library. And  for  other plants of other kinds, would you believe?

My, how libraries are a-changing!

I discovered this when on our  library’s bulletin board I spotted “Seed LibraryPlant / Save / Share!”

In the long history of libraries, this is a first, I believe. So, wonder what will come next?

What’s this? I thought.  Sounds wacky!  I’m a regular at the library. It has a remarkable variety of wonderful services. I couldn’t imagine another. I saw no need. Especially one as exotic as this.

I headed for Mary, our head librarian. She was checking out movies for a woman. Right afterward, pointing to the sign, I said, “What is THAT?”

“Oh, a new service, John.  You’re not the first to ask. We’ll have it up and running in a few days.”

“What kinds of seeds?”

“Many  kinds.”

“Could you tell me more? It could be something I’d write about?”

“I’d love to. But why not go over to Los Osos? Their Seed Library is already in service. You’d learn a lot more there.”

“Good idea, Mary! Thanks.”

We’re part of the San Luis Obispo County library system headquartered in the  lovely city by that name. It has 15 branch libraries. Mary told me that for now the seeds will be offered in five branches. Then they’d see.

Oh, by the way, our population here is 10,600. Our library has 3,750 members with library cards. Quite impressive. That says a lot.

Los Osos is just 15 minutes away. I drove over the next day. I was introduced to Victoria, one of the librarians. “Hi,” I said

Librarian Victoria with seed packets. Choose the ones you want. Good luck!!.

and  told her how I blog and wanted to write about the Seed Library.  “Sure,” she said. “Follow me!”

She led me to an alcove. There was a wooden file cabinet  there.  The kind libraries had before computers. They must have dragged this sturdy old beauty up from the basement. You remember those, I’m sure, with drawers jammed with 3 x 5 cards.

The cabinet was the heart of a nice display. A sign up on top said SEED LIBRARY. Around it had been set up interesting display of books about seeds and planting and harvesting .

“This is it,” She said, “We opened it in September last year. So, 13 months ago.”

She opened a drawer. I could see lots of  small packets. Each held seeds. I started firing questions and she had the answers. It was clear she thought the seed library was a great idea.

It stocks 160 kinds–vegetable, berry, melon, flower, herbs, shrubs, grains, and trees. Over 200 packets have been checked out, she told me..

What’s interesting is never frost here. There are three growing seasons. Different plants are appropriate for the three seasons.

People can choose the seed packets they want. They are free. Now remember the three steps– Plant / Save / Share.

The gardeners  must intend to plant them. Not waste them.  Enjoy their harvests. And share, meaning bring back seeds for othes to plant.

“Isn’t that difficult, Victoria? Vegetables grow in one season. But fruit trees. They can take years to bear fruit!”

She nodded. “Yes, of course. But we don’t insist on getting seeds back. We do hope they’ll get in the spirit of the program and bring back whatever fresh seeds they can.

“And already we are getting seeds back!   Which is wonderful. Remember, we’ve been supplying seeds for 13 months now.”

Excellent. But for sure I’ll never check out any seeds. I’ve never planted anything. Not even radishes, which I’ve heard are one of the easiest. But gardening IS popular, so I understand the appeal.

I said, “Victoria, I’ll bet the person who dreamed this up is an avid gardener!” She smiled. “Probably. But here, take a look at this.”

She handed me a folder. “Seed Saving Basics.” Published by the San Luis Obispo Seed Exchange. Their goal is to get more people to plant seeds and garden. How to promote that goal? They got the great idea of collaborating with the SLO Libraries, and here we are. Later I found it easy and interesting reading about what is a technical and wide-ranging topic.

So yes indeed, libraries are changing, and in remarkable ways. To my thinking, the library is no longer a library. It’s a true community center. All the traditional library services, but so many more. You must have noticed this at your library.

Truth is, I’ve found some people go to the library just to get out of the house and be with other people

But of course they go mostly to check out books and movies and other items.  Also to use the free computers or connect their laptops to free Wi-Fi. To read books and magazines and newspapers right there. And take advantage of other services.

For instance, every Thursday morning, Diana, a librarian, shows people how to use a newly acquired cell phone or tablet.

Every week someone from outside comes in to give a lecture or demonstration.

For example, one recent Saturday I sat in on a demo by the Shanks String Quartet—four young symphony members, all brothers, which I found remarkable. Each had a different kind of string instrument. They showed us the features of each and then performed together. They played bits of classical pieces,  popular, even African. Fantastic, I thought. Wonderful!

On another Saturday, Dan Krieger, a retired history prof at nearby Cal Poly (the California Polytechnic Institute) gave a superb talks on “Ranchero Days”—the early Mexican farmers who were among the first settlers here.

In fact yours truly will be speaking soon,  on how volunteering in the Peace Corps can be terrific,  whether you’re young, middle-aged, or retired.  As some of you know, I’m a former Volunteer. I served in Ukraine, in  fact turning 80 in Peace Corps and becoming the oldest of some 7,800 Volunteers working in more than 75 countries.

Marveling about all these changes, I thought, “If only Maman could see libraries now!”

My mother loved to read. For sure she’d have a Morro Bay Public Library card in her pocketbook!

She and Papa were immigrants from French Canada.  We lived in Pawtucket, R.I. and I was born there, their first child. We spoke French. I started to learn English when I went out and played with the neighborhood kids.

Pa went into business and slowly picked up English. Maman was at home, like every other housewife with kids back then. She loved to read in her limited spare time. French novels. And the weekly paper that came down from Montreal. And gradually the daily Pawtucket Times that we got. And she got  to read English quite well.

Then she discovered the  Saturday Evening Post. When it came  every week, she’d drop everything and curl up with it for 20 minutes or so. Then force herself back to doing the laundry  or whatever. After Pa and we kids went to bed, she’d stay up late with her wonderful Saturday Evening Post.

When I was about 12, one day she took me downtown on the trolley. It was a weekly thing, you know, to shop. But this time, she took me in hand and we walked to the city’s Slater Memorial Library.

Maman took me up the granite steps and through the big bronze doors. This was all new to me. She showed me around. The stacks with shelves and shelves of books. Then into the periodicals room. Magazines. Newspapers. Even the small section with kids’ books.

Then took me to the main desk and got me a library card. My very first. She even helped me check out a book. Sorry, I don’t remember the title. And  I too became hooked on reading.

That library card became precious to me. And know what? I have never been without a library card. That was more than 75 years ago. Certainly a library card has been one of the most wondrous things I’ve ever owned. Of course I keep my Morro Bay card in my wallet, ever ready.

The fact is I have become a denizen of libraries. A connoisseur, too. I have been in countless libraries. Grand ones such as our magnificent Library of Congress in Washington. Do you know it’s the biggest in the world? And the splendid Royal Library in London. I had to show my passport but  got into only one small section.  And the justly proud Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. But I had to pay an admission fee. And the impressive libraries in Shanghai and Hong Kong, free and wide open like our libraries.

Or the also grand, million-book Korolenko Library in Chernihiv, Ukraine, where I served my hitch as a Volunteer. But what a surprise.  It consisted of 18 small libraries, arranged by genres…novels, history, sciences, philosophy, music, math, and so on.

First, you had to go to the huge master card catalog. It filled a whole room. Poke through  and jot down the info for each book that you wanted on a card. Just one book or three or four. If you wanted books on several genres, you had to go to the appropriate sub-libraries and check out the books individually from each.

You could not enter the stacks. You’d show the right card or cards to the genre librarian. She’d fetch them for you. Could not go in there  to see if other books, maybe better, might be available.  Then you’d have to go on to the next sub-library, maybe on another floor, and so on. It  could take you a couple of hours.

I’ve visited libraries in many of our states, and in some more than one.  And at least a dozen countries. Memorable libraries, such as in Montreal  and Honolulu and Lisbon in Portugal and Guadalajara in Mexico and Cairo in Egypt and Hanoi in Vietnam—the only one, by the way, where I was not allowed in.

I have been in libraries where I have had to pay, as in Paris. I have been in libraries where only certain people were allowed to take out books…and I was not one.

I remember visiting the big library in Nairobi in Kenya. It had great Corinthian columns which made it look like a Roman temple. For sure, folks there were very proud of it. But so many of its books were in terrible condition. Worn. Tattered. Some coming apart.

You know, we have so many discarded books here in the U.S. that we trash them. That’s true. If only we could ship them to libraries in poor countries. They’d be considered a godsend. Sure, they’d be in English, but many people in other countries make it a point to learn English. But the shipping expenses are prohibitive. So I’ve been told.

I remember a tiny library in a tiny town in Alaska. Smaller than a one-car garage. Open only a couple of afternoons and evenings a week.

I remember the library in Mazatlan, Mexico. Also in a proud building but with pitifully scant offerings.

I learned long ago the best libraries in the world are ours. Having a library for the public was an inspiration of the incredible Benjamin Franklin He created the Philadelphia Public Library, which was the first. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting it.

It was the steel magnate turned philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who really got public libraries going. He was born very poor and became one of the wealthiest Americans ever. He gave 90 percent of his millions away. Among other things, he gave the seed money for some 3,000 public libraries, mostly in the U.S. but other countries also. If yours is an old library, chances are that he funded it

All based on principles that he developed and we take for granted and believe prevail around the world. Hah!

To be supported by public Free. Anybody can enter. Nobody will be checked or refused. All circulating libraries—you can check out books to take home. Open stacks! Carnegie insisted on that. Unknown until then. I wish the Korolenko had heard of him.

And of course, reading rooms to sit and read and study and write in a safe and comfortable environment—heated when heat was needed. With trained librarians who would be genuinely helpful, with wide assortments of books and periodicals, and with ridiculously small fines for late returns and reasonable charges for lost books. And with hours of use convenient to patrons with different working hours. Stay all day if you like.

And, oh, with toilets and free hygienic supplies, unheard of before then. And in time free parking, often in off-street parking lots.

Most important of all, the brilliant Dewey Decimal System, making finding any book easy. In many communities, open seven days a week, closing only for holidays, with day and evening hours. All of which we take for granted, but are rare in so many countries.

And I saw the improvements one by one come to libraries.  Amazing the list.

Here they are, as they pop up in my memory. Free search help. Trained children’s librarians. Free use of computers. Computers in the children’s section. Wi-Fi —come in with your own computer, connect, go to it, all free. Self-checkout.

Free inter-library loans. Scanners and photo-copying machines with low-cost copies. Home delivery to the ill and house-bound. Reserving books online. Receiving online alerts of books and items due back.  E-books. CDs. DVDs. And new innovations all the time, such as the seed library.

Long ago, by the way, in my extensive over-the-road travels crisscrossing our country, I figured out a quick and easy way to size up a town or small city. I’d ride up and down its main street and then one or two major ones, turn off onto a side street here and there, and visit its library. That would tell me a whole lot.

One of my most wonderful experiences was in my recent home state, Connecticut. Some 15 years ago I was driving back from a long trip out of state. Back in Connecticut, I stopped in the city of Danbury for a break.  Some 80 miles from my home in tiny Deep River. I strolled into its library, my first time there. Browsing new books, I found one very appealing.  Maybe my small Deep River Public library would have it, but maybe not.

A librarian told me that if I had a Connecticut library card (which I did), I could check it out. But then I’d have to drive back to Danbury to return it. Or mail it back. No! No! I could return it to my Deep River Library and it would return it to Danbury. So how much would that cost? Free! And that was possible in any public library in Connecticut.

Wouldn’t you find that amazing? And that’s how I got to enjoy that book.

Now that I think of it, some 60 years ago I was a trustee of the public library in Auburn, Mass., where we lived then. The first time, the only time, I ever ran for public office. I thought at our monthly meetings we’d talk about books, well, a bit. It never happened. It was all about how to lower our heating bill, extend the janitor’s hours, afford some new furniture. I did not run for a second term.

Here in Morro Bay, I asked Mary, as you know, our head librarian, what services were most popular. Of items checked out, she said DVDs were number 1, Adult Fiction number  2, Juvenile Fiction 3, Adult Non-Fiction 4, CDs no. 5, Books on CD  6, Juvenile non-Fiction 7, Book Club In a Box, 8.  There are other take-outs also, right down to video games and Chrome books.

Those are items checked out.  To my eye the most popular service in the library is the free use of its computers, and second the nice selection of newspapers and magazines in the periodicals room—magazines can also be checked out. by the way..

Popular is its used-book store, sponsored  by its Friends of the Library members. It has a stock of several hundred books on sale, all good quality. Most of them for just $1, and late-issue magazines for just 50 cents.

Four times a year, always on a Saturday, it holds a Book Sale. Thousands of books are offered, all organized by genres and offered at low but different prices during the morning, and in the afternoon, you can rush around and fill a grocery store paper bag for just $3. People stand in line to wait for the opening bell.

Staging those quarterly sales is a huge job, all the work of the Friends. These quarterly sales are a great fund-raiser — thousands of dollars every time.  But many libraries across the country do this but mostly annually. Yours probably does.

For sure despite our incredible, phenomenal digital craze, books ain’t going out of style.

But hey, I may be wrong. I just remembered an article I wrote just four years ago. About the world’s first digital library!

It’s the Bexar County Digital Library in Texas, close to San Antonio. It’s called the BiblioTech. It looks futuristic and was designed and built just for the purpose.

BiblioTech sounds strange, doesn’t it? Well, it’s a marriage of books and technology.

Not a single paper book or magazine in it. It’s filled with digital books—just e-books and DVDs and such.

So instead of bookcases and such, it was stocked with $178,966 worth of tablets, iPads, iMacs and MacBooks,  e-book readers, 10,000 e-book titles, and other goodies bought from Apple of course.

All its services are free to county residents. There are on-going classes on how to get the most out of these digital items. Many can be checked out. Even tablets and computers.

Some were calling it the library of the future. Which suggests the demise of libraries as we know them, doesn’t it?

Hey, I’m not going to lose sleep over that. I’ll never see it but maybe my grandchildren will. But I believe in progress, so I do have to think that this is a good thing and will be the future of public libraries. Who back in Model T Ford days ever thought that just one century later we’d have driverless cars?

For another  bit of perspective: I never dreamed one day I would own a smart phone. Sounded crazy. Now I have one and I can’t get by without it.

So yes, libraries are a-changing. But they always have been, and always will.

You know, the way I see it, if Heaven is really heaven, there’s  a public library up there. I’ll sign up for a card the day I arrive. I doubt they’ll have free seeds, though.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

Pet Pooch Zyla snatched. Reward $1,000!

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

Colleen and beloved Zyla.

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

 

 

 

A famous, controversial book. Only $2!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 1 photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Know anything about this dictionary, Mary?”

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

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

“Oh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~

The day the Post Office went automatic.

 

 

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One improvement followed another.

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

Steadily the price of postage dropped.

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

On and on.  Progress over the decades became dramatic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s men like him who inspired it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~

 

How much is an Ocean View worth?

Uncle Emile, great guy, great chess player

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A true story!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A  postscript for you

Interested in chess?

The victories will be few and elusive

The defeats many and humbling

It can easily morph into a passion

So be wary of this devilish game

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

An experienced loser

Anon.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncle Emile, good guy, good chess player

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A true story!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A  postscript for you

Interested in chess?

The victories will be few and elusive

The defeats many and humbling

It can easily morph into a passion

So be wary of this devilish game

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

An experienced loser

Anon.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not a poet but ….

By John Guy LaPlante

What I am is a wordsmith. Wordsmith is the right word. I cobble and hammer and shape words into sentences and paragraphs and pages to create something worth reading by others. I have indeed been called a wordsmith.

Plainly put, I’m a writer – at one time or another writing as a reporter, columnist, feature writer, essayist, author, or PR practitioner. And for some years now, as a blogger. So I’ve been wordsmithing for 65 years or so.

But of late I’ve been poetizing. Writing poetry, yes, strange as that may sound. I began dabbling at this just two or three years ago. It started as a lark, for fun and as a brain exercise. As a senior senior (yes, I’m getting darn old), I need all the help I can get, body-wise and brain-wise. I’m so glad I took it up

But I really am not a poet. I don’t do it for profit or publication. I’m not gifted enough. Few get to see my scribbles. But I write real poetry, yes, real poetry. But, you’re asking, isn’t all poetry real poetry?

Some say yes, of course it is. But I say no.  I think a lot of today’s poetry is crap. Here’s why. For too many “poets” nowadays, there is zero respect for the very basics of poetry. They just don’t bother. Why? Because that would be too hard for them, too challenging..

These basics are meter, rhythm, and rhyme. They are essential.

What they write is “free verse.” Free, meaning undisciplined verse – quick and easy.  They put down nice-sounding thoughts, set them up in staggered lines … and call it a poem.  It may have a nice rhythm, but no meter, no rhymes. To me it’s a joke.

Robert Frost put it beautifully. Writing that kind of free verse, he said, “is like playing tennis with the net down.”

Amen, say I.

What I find especially offensive is that read a “poem” like that and right off you wonder, what the heck does this mean? You read it again and too often come up with a blank. Because what it means is anybody’s guess. You may think, this poem is too brainy, too intellectual for me. Baloney, I say!

Carl Sandburg, I think it was Sandburg, said, “Modern poetry is a spot about half-way between where you read and where you wonder what it was your read.” I had to read that a couple of times but then I got it.

I have a simpler way of putting it. Real poetry says something. Free verse leaves you scratching your head.

The great Goethe 250 years ago opined, “Modern poets add a lot of water to their ink.” And how!

Again, I’m an amateur poet. But, to show you what I play at, I’ll give you a few examples. Truth is I’ve written dozens. I’ve enjoyed it so much.

I write two genres.  Quatrains and limericks. A quatrain is a four-line poem. All four lines to me must have the same number of syllables.

Two lines must rhyme, and so must the other two, though all four can have the same rhyme.

What about the rhythm? That’s more subjective. It’s up to the reader to decide if it’s good or not so good. You!

It must say something clearly. If I succeed, you won’t have to scratch your head to get it.

Again, I’ve set these rules to give my brain a strong workout.

Here’s a short quatrain of mine.

Today is blue and sunny.

And I am up and about.

Much to do so I’m busy.

So happy I want to shout.

             Have you checked each line’s syllable count?  Yep, seven. Make sense?

Another a bit longer.

Passwords—oh how they make me cry.

I cuss and cuss but hard do try.

They mess me up so very much.

I can’t find such and such!

 Line count?  Eight. Make sense?

And here’s a quatrain I wrote just for this blog.

A poet who plain ignores rhyme and meter     

Is, though he may not know it, just a cheater.

What makes poetry stand out as an art form

Is when to its rigid norms we do conform.

Syllables? It’s 11 in all four lines. And I felt my brain had to do 11 push-ups for each line.

Did it make sense to you? If it did not, I was a failure.

I was pleased with its rhythm. If you disagree, I won’t argue.

Here’s another, more ambitious.

It’s March 13th and time to spring one hour forward. 

How I do like that – in the eve the longer light.

But this morning, I feel very pooped.  My, oh my! 2

Much to do.  I hope I’ll feel better by and by.

The count? Fourteen. Rhymes okay? Make sense?

Here’s one about chess puzzles, which I also enjoy doing.

I ponder the chess board. Where, what’s the solution?  

I look. Ponder this move then that one. Oh, what woe!

Will I fail … have to give up in great frustration?

Then I find the key move and gosh, how I do glow!

  Syllables? Fourteen.  The rhyming okay?  Make sense?

 As you see in all the above, the rhyming can be line 1 with line 2, then 3 with 4 … or line 1 with line 3 and line 2 with 4.   I think the pattern of 1 with 2, then 3 with 4 is more dramatic, more powerful..

I’ve been known to write two quatrains, one after the other as a single poem. Why? It gives me twice as many syllables to say what I want to say.

Here’s a sextet that I wrote because I needed two extra lines. It’s addressed to my daughter Monique.

October 15th! How, how could I overlook a date so blessed?

I little foresaw what a gift you, Monique, would turn out to be!

So yes, I am blushing. No, no excuse can cover my distress.

You deserve great thanks and praise for all you do – this we all do see.

I most of all. I am grateful, my daughter dear, and here express

A wish for your health, success, joy, long life … may all this truly be!

Here is what happened. Her birthday is on the 15th. I forgot it—the first time ever. I realized my awful mistake the next morning and composed and sent her this. She loved it.

Reading it now I wish I had done better. Very long lines, too long, I now see – 16 syllables! It took a lot of heavy lifting on my part. I did enjoy putting it together, challenging though it was. Was so pleased that Monique was tickled.

Here’s one in a very different vein. To repeat, it’s an exercise. So I must think of a topic. Some are very mundane. Some more weighty.

Every morning I wake up to hear more bad news about Trump.

Shocked I was when he won, now every day I feel more in the dump.

I detest the sad, bad things he stands for and deplore how he acts.

So many, many things. Worse of all is how he distorts the facts.

 The count? Sixteen. If you disagree with my opinion of Trump, please do not give me an argument. Write a quatrain of your own.

As you see, not every quatrain or expansion thereof has to have a predetermined count.  It can be whatever will work best.

One  time I wrote a poem made up of four quatrains. All because I had a lot to say. I wrote it to fete my dear sister Lucie’s 80th birthday. I’ll show you just the first part. It gets  too personal later on.

Ma chere petite soeur, at 80 you still amaze me

You still have your famous zip and zest as we all see

And on so many fronts – at home, with friends, everywhere:

J-C, Michael, winning gold (!), and of course Quimper,

       Antiquing, volunteering, modeling…the Tango!

Ebay, stock market, dollhouse, all keep you much on the go!

And your friends!  You keep them so precious, old ones and new.

         In our family, so spread out, you’re loved as true blue.

   Of course faced many a challenge –but don’t we all?

     Yet you’ve survived them, pushed on, truly made life a ball!

The line count is thirteen. Like the rhymes? How about the rhythm?

When I got to see her, she kissed me on both cheeks! Told me I made her day.

We grew up with French as our first language. I’m sure some parts you didn’t get so I’ll explain.

Chere petete soeur means dear little sister. Winning gold because she’s a top competitive bridge player. Quimper: she collects this fine French pottery. The tango because she is still a tango dancer. Dollhouse because for years she’s built up the nicest little dollhouse, totally furnished, you’d ever get to see.

Well, I told you I write two kinds of poems. I started with quatrains. Then added limericks.  Who doesn’t like a good limerick? I consider limericks easier because they have a much looser structure.

Limericks have five lines. And the rhyming is very specific—line 1 rhymes with 2, line 3 with 4, and line 5 with 1 and 2. But the meter varies.  All 5 lines will have different counts. Line 1 is the longest. The second a bit shorter. 3 and 4 even shorter, and 5 about as long as line 1.

So the limerick winds up more natural, easier to read.  Still, there are many push-ups involved.

And a limerick’s topic can be much lighter.  It’s all about getting you to smile.  Even laugh…and laugh. As I’ll bet you know, limericks are often naughty, which can be fun. But often out-and-out obscene.

Here’s one. I also wrote a quatrain on the same subject. That shows you much it bothers me .It’s  clean, by the way.

Trying to recall a password, how often I do sigh

I want to yell and rant and curse

I feel I’m ready for the hearse.

I try this password and that but they defy

Once I felt I might even break down and cry.

 Here’s another limerick for you. Better put, a serious poem in limerick form.

Methinks there are too few poets out there

Who work to compose with classic care   

A thought or two in fancy words suffice   

And the result, sad to say, just ain’t nice   

Try harder and we’ll call you a poet fair and square.

I’m sure this didn’t make you chuckle and in that sense I’ve failed, I suppose. But it let me do my mental calisthenics for the day.

Familiar with the great old Saturday Evening Post? And Norman Rockwell? I grew up with the Post. It came out every week. The most famous magazine of its time. Just about every issue also  gave us a few limericks.  Clean limericks. Delightful limericks. I consider its limericks a wonderful model.

Did you know that the Post has been resurrected? But as a bimonthly. Six issues a year instead of 52. But it has a digital edition that comes out every week. Still worth reading. Take a look at it. Has limericks, of course. Go to www.saturdayeveningpost/limericks. You’ll have a good time.

(By the way, it recently profiled me.  The piece about me appeared in its digital  edition. If you’re curious, go to its website. On its home page look up to the top right corner. You’ll see its search window. It’s a tiny rectangle. Type in “LaPlante.”  The article will pop up. Hope you enjoy it.)

Why don’t you try your hand at one? And send it to me.  I’d love to think I might have inspired you to have fun while giving your noggin a workout.

Got to tell you I have a special tool for this versifying of mine. It’s a rhyming dictionary. I use it all the time. It’s “The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary – over 15,000 words” by Sue Young.  I’d be helpless without it.  There are others.   Shakespeare certainly didn’t have a rhyming dictionary.  Neither did Sandburg or Frost, as far as I know. That’s what made them the great artists they were. I’m not in that league.  Far, far from it.But I’m having fun.  Hope it’s helping me upstairs between my ears.

So free verse? Forget it. Free verse just doesn’t cut it.

Oh, one more delicious quote for you. It’s from true poet William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939:)

An anonymous reader of his says, How are you?

And Yeats replies, Not very well. I can only write prose today.

Yes, I chuckled. But to be honest, I resented it, too. I’d like to say to Mr. Yeats, “Sir, prose is damn tougher than you make it out to be! It has rigorous demands all  its own.”

Now a P.S. for you, my friends. It’s a couplet I just cobbled for you.

On all I write I welcome your praise or even flack

Do know I work hard not to come off as just a hack.

The count? Thirteen. Make sense?  Rhythm okay? I hope so. Now it’s your turn. Try your hand at a quatrain or a limerick. Email it to me—johnguylaplante@gmail.com. I’d be delighted. But no free verse, please.

~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

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!

~ ~ ~

 

 

But, Doctor, fair is fair, right?

By John Guy LaPlante

I’m getting set for my appointment with a new M.D. and planning to make an unusual demand.

One unnheard of.  I’ll bet he’ll think it awful, preposterous, insulting .  So  be it. I’m tired of the way doctors are running  their business. Hear me out and  you’ll feel the same way.

Yes, I’m a new patient. And so his office has told me to bring in my Medicare card plus the card of my secondary insurer if any, plus my list of meds and if possible the actual meds, plus my co-pay. I’m familiar with this. No problem.

I’ll be handed a questionnaire. I will write in my name, address, phone number, email address, date of birth, gender, race, next of kin and contact info, and my complaint(s). No problem.

I’ll be told that if his service is not fully covered, payment  will be expected immediately. Otherwise other arrangements must be made. Also that if my insurer declines payment, I will be responsible.

I’ll be confronted with many questions and I’ll be expected to answer them. Past medical complaints, surgeries, hospitalizations, etc.  Including potentially embarrassing ones – HIV, addictions, psychiatric problems, and for womenfolk, I wouldn’t be surprised, abortions,.

No surprise in this. I will reply fully. I understand all this is important, even essential.

(By the way, I’ve read in the New York Times that some doctors are now asking your sexuality–straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans-gender. News to you?)

Then, my turn! I will submit a questionnaire of my own! This will be my standard operating procedure from now on for Sir or Madame Doctor to fill out. As we know, more and more physicians are women.  My request will be met with surprise. Maybe indignation. Not laughter, I’m sure. Maybe shock. I’ll shrug this off. What I’m asking for is reasonable. And in fact overdue.

Here is my questionnaire..

Attending M.D.’s Professional Profile

Name _____________________   Place of birth __________  Age ___

Years of Practice as M.D. ____  As specialist ____

Medical School _________________  Location __________ Year of graduation  ______

      Internship   _________________________    When _____

      Residency   __________________________  When _____

      Post-doc      __________________________  When _____

Are you licensed to practice in any other state, or have been?  No ___ Yes ___

Hospitals where you have attending privileges:

     ________________________

     ________________________

     ________________________

     Specialty Certifications beyond the M.D.

      ____________________

      ____________________

      _____________________

Are all of these current?   Yes ____     No  ____

If no, why not?  ___________________________

Are you self-employed?   Yes ____    No _____

If no, who is your employer? _______________________

Do you have Malpractice Insurance?  No  ___   Yes __

 Provider(s) of your Malpractice Insurance

       ____________________    Address ________________________

       _____________________   Address ________________________

Has any Insurer ever canceled you?   No ____     Yes __

If yes, why?  ___________________________

                         ___________________________+

Upon request, do you supply a list of your standard fees for your various services, especially for the non-insured?  __________

Do you have different prices for insured and non-insured patients?  _________

Do you sometimes provide charity (free) services?   ________

Do you own in whole or in part any treatment center, laboratory, pharmacy, diagnosis center (for CAT Scans or other), physical therapy center, eye vision center, or other complementary or supportive service?  No ___   Yes ___

If yes, name  ­­­­_______________  Address   ______________________       

            Name _______________  Address _____________________

Have you ever accepted money or a gift in any form, including a trip or stay or vacation, in appreciation for a patient referral?  No ___   Yes ____

Or for prescribing certain medications?   No ____   Yes ___

Has a patient ever filed a complaint to a hospital in which you have  treated him or her?  

No ___    Yes ___ How many times _____

If yes, what was its or their disposition?

     Absolved  Yes   ____

     Warning   Yes ____

      Fine  Yes __

      Suspension Yes   ____

(Note: For the following, if necessary list your replies on a separate sheet)

Have you ever been sued?  No ___    Yes ___    How many times ____

If yes, disposition ____________________________

                               ____________________________

Has a complaint ever been filed to any other entity, such as your State Registry of Physicians and Surgeons?  No ___  Yes __

Where ____________________________

Have your privileges ever been suspended?   No __    Yes ___

If yes, please explain  ______________________________________________

Have you ever been treated for substance abuse or a psychiatric diagnosis? No ___    Yes ___

If yes, institution ______________________________

Any treatment / program currently underway?   No ___   Yes ___

Where __________________________________

In any surgeries or other procedures of any kind in which you are the principal, do you complete them from start to finish or get assistance from another professional, to “start” or “close” or do whatever? 

No ___    Yes ____

Of course, your candor is expected. If falsehood is discovered, be aware you risk a legal suit.

This questionnaire is respectfully submitted to you because my health and even my life may be at stake. A favorable report from you will be re-assuring.

In this way you, through the questionnaire I have filled out, and I, through this questionnaire you will now fill out, will know one another better and will be prepared to move forward confidently.

And Doctor, fair is fair, right?

Take three days to process this if necessary.  You may email it to me at johnguylaplante@yahoo.com.  Or johnguylaplante@gmail.com  

Thank you.Oh, one more question.  Does your waiting room supply magazines beyond WebMed and the AARP magazine? And do you automatically cull the older ones after the three latest issues? ___________________

Do you make the daily newspaper available?  _________________

Your signature __ ______________________  Date ____

~ ~ ~ ~

Dear reader, your suggestions for additional pertinent questions are welcome.

Truth is, I’m nervous about this. I’d feel better if some of you did the same with your doctors.  As we know, there is strength in numbers.

What do you think of starting up a new group to push this — the American Association of Progressive Patients?  The AAPP. Hey, sounds good, don’t you think?

 ~ ~ ~~