June 23, 2018

I just finished my toughest test ever!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos

Morro Bay, CA – It was California’s written driving test.  Pass it and I would continue to drive. Fail it and I would be grounded. Imagine! Well, I did pass it but by just a hair.

In fact, this was a retake. I flunked it the first time.  So humiliating! What anxiety that created!

The tutorial. Notice how it’s dog-eared. That says a lot.

Now consider the following. With 20 years of formal education behind me – kindergarten through graduate school – I’ve never, never passed a test with less distinction.

I knew sure some people taking it had just a GED – you know, a general equivalency diploma because they never graduated from high school — and  were passing it on their first try. Yes, embarrassing!

As most of you know, I now live here in California. California says I must now have my Hyundai Sonata with Connecticut plates registered in California. Well, I did that.  I also must have a California driver’s license, this though my Connecticut license was good till 2023. No ifs, and, or buts.

Registering my car here turned out to be a snap.  I had to buy California insurance coverage. That was a must. I got several quotes. An AAA policy turned out to be the best deal.  And through AAA I could also arrange to register my car at their local office instead of  at a CA Department of Motor Vehicles office.  That cut through what I was sure would be much red tape.

Unseasoned drivers here must pass a behind-the-wheel test with a CA DMV examiner aboard. But as a licensed driver, I would be spared that. All I had to do was pass the written test. No problem. Or so I thought.

After all, I have been driving for more than 70 years. I just did a quick calculation and have figured I’ve driven more than a million miles.  Maybe two! Have lost track of my many cars. I have crisscrossed the USA time and again. Have driven through five provinces of Canada. Some 15,000 miles through Mexico. In half a dozen countries in Europe.

I taught my wife-to-be to drive. Also my three children. I’m proud of their skill.

In all those years behind the wheel, I’ve had a few accidents. Of course. Remember, some of that mileage was through snowy and ice-slick winters. A lot on tough roads and in tricky situations. But never an injury to myself or another. And never have I been arrested. Nobody manages that without a lot of good luck. Still, I do have hefty bragging rights.

Not that I took the challenge of the written test lightly. The tutorial for it covers 114 pages. I went through the tutorial page by page. Made notes of tricky items. Plus the DMV offers a number of online practice tests.  I took every one.

Then off I went for my appointment to the local office in San Luis Obispo, the county seat 15 miles south. And brought all the requested paperwork. It included my birth certificate, proof of my residence here, my current driver’s license and a few additional docs just in case. And my credit card in my wallet.

It was my first visit to a CA DMV office. It’s a whole building. The parking lot was full. I have a handicap placard. But all

Every possible situation gets explained. The wording of  some questions is a problem.

the handicap spaces were occupied. The only space I finally found seemed 75 yards away. That’s a challenging walk for me now, even with my walking stick.

I made it inside. It was jammed. More than a hundred customers, I estimated.  Long lines. Nearly every seat in the waiting area was taken. This will take forever!

Not so. I was lucky. Thanks to my obvious old age, I got red-carpet treatment. All senior citizens get it, it seems. Well, decrepit ones. I was directed to a special desk just for us.

A pleasant young woman got me through all the formalities. Took a thumb print of me – not the finger-printing of all 10 fingers that I went through when applying for my Peace Corps service—on an electronic gizmo. Just my right thumb. And in a minute she had my whole file up on her computer. She scrutinized all the documents I had brought. No problem. That was a relief.

She made me take a vision test. I had my glasses on. I passed it. My license would say I must wear glasses

She asked if I wanted to be registered as an organ donor. I said yes. My license would show that also.

What I was applying for was a Class C license. That’s the usual license for most drivers. There’s also a Commercial License and a Motorcycle License and several others.

Now for the test. An assistant ushered me to a computer and showed me how I could warm up on it with a few sample questions.

There would be 36 questions. I had to get 30 right. Every question would have three possible answers. All based on info in the tutorial. No nasty trick questions. Only one of the three would be correct. If I answered one wrong, the computer would announce “Error!”

I was uptight. Definitely, absolutely I wanted to continue driving.  Giving it up was unthinkable. But I felt I was ready for the test. I started it in earnest.

I got questions one, two, three, and four right.  This will be a snap. After my fifth question, “Error!” What?! I thought I had answered it right.

I continued. I was doing fine again.

But after my ninth, ”Error!” What?!

I began reading every question twice, three times. In all my schooling I had graduated from every phase with honors. I wanted to “graduate” from this with honors.

Well, on I went.  Then ”Error!”  And another.  My confidence soured. I wound up with seven! Awful.

The whole test had taken just 15 minutes or so.

But not all was lost. The computer reset again. I found out I could take the test again. Right now.

I started again. Proceeded with the greatest care. I’m embarrassed to tell you so, but I failed this one also. I was shocked. Appalled.

At the desk I was told, no problem.  “Just come back and take it again.” I drove home in a very dark mood.  I decided I’d do the re-take in three weeks.  I had other important things to do.  And I wanted to ace the test the next time.

So of course I went through that tutorial with a fine tooth comb. And the online sample tests also.

But suppose I fail again!  That thought kept coming up. Suppose I fail again!

Even in bed at night. Sppose I fail again!  What will I do then?

I consoled myself. It won’t be the end of the world. Heck, no!

After all, I still had my completely valid Connecticut license.

My daughter Monique and her hubby David at times took me along on their shopping trips. They’d be glad to expand that, I was sure.

I could keep my car and find somebody to drive me, for pay.

Truth its, these days I did all my routine “driving” on my trike. I lived close to downtown. Used my trike every day – pedaling to the library, the post office, the supermarket, the coffee shop, on and on. Pedaling was great exercise. In fact, the only real exercise I got now.  And great fun. Sometimes I’d go a whole week without starting my car!

Some folks saw me so often on it that they knew me just as “that old, old guy with the three-wheel bike.”

And a friend came up with a terrific suggestion. “John, use Uber” I’m sure you’re familiar with that—the taxi service provided by ordinary men and women using their own cars. You summon one with an app on your computer or cell phone.

He said to me, “Think about it, John! You could sell your car and pocket the money you get for it. Cancel your insurance. Give up the registration. No more annual tax. No more gasoline to buy. No more routine maintenance expenses.  No more car washes.  No more worrying about being stopped by a cop. Or having an accident. Hey, think of all the money you’ll save!”

A brilliant idea, I thought.  Kept it in mind. Finally decided I wanted to keep on driving. A driver’s license spells independence. Freedom. And I felt my honor was at stake.  All I have to do is pass that damn test!

I got back to work on that tutorial and the sample tests.

One of the problems, I was convinced,  was that the testing has little relevance to everyday driving.  Many drivers – most, I dare say –go on and drive with little knowledge of and little respect for the fine points made by California DMV.

Examples:

Do we really have to know that anyone over 21 found with an alcohol level of more than 0.08 percent is in big trouble?  And under 21 with a level of more than 0.01 ditto? Of course not. All we have to know is that a suspicious police officer can insist we take a sobriety test. And if we fail it, trouble indeed!

The whole point being that it’s risky to drive and drink, and much smarter not to drink.

Do we really have to know that the only vehicle that must stop at a railroad crossing is a truck carrying hazardous materials?  All others must slow down, look left and right, and never attempt to cross if they see something on the tracks or just beyond it preventing complete passing.

That if we abandon an animal on a highway we can be fined up to $100? Even also be sent to jail for up to one year? No. All we have to know is that doing that is illegal and we will be be fined severely.

Do we really have to know that we must pass a bicyclist in a bicycle lane by at least 36 inches, and not the other margins mentioned as a possible answer. No. Just that we make sure to pass safely.

That the most dangerous time to use our brakes is not during a routine rain, but when a rain just starts? No. What’s important is that we must slow down and use extra caution.

I studied hard. Returned for the re-take. Felt I knew the material cold.

Surprise, the clerk asked me if I wanted to take the paper test or the computer test. I had thought every test was on the computer. “Which is easier?” I asked. “Paper,” she said.  “I’ll do paper,” I told her.

She sat me down at a table and handed me the test.  Same format. A question and then three choices. Check the proper one.  But no “Error!” warning now.  I was confident of my answers except in three  questions. I re-read them.  Still I was unsure. Just because of their working. They were ambiguous. Whoever  composed them never got an A in logic or sentence structure.

Bottom line: I got four wrong, so I passed! But I was disgruntled. I went to a clerk and insisted on seeing my mistakes. Upon examining them I concluded I could make a righteous complaint that three of my answers were valid.

So I did ask to speak to a supervisor about those questions but was told , “Impossible, sir! You have to get in touch with Sacramento.” Sacramento, as you know, is the state capital. She gave me a form to fill out and mail. I took it home.

Maybe I will. I have sound objections. I would like to argue my answers were correct. But maybe I won’t. It probably wouldn’t change a thing.

Finally I asked to take my graded test home.  I already I knew I would blog about this experience.  I could include the exact wording of those troublesome questions and my answers for you to decide for yourself.

“Sorry, not allowed,” she told me.  Of course! Because I could have made a bundle selling them to people worried about passing the test!

And oh, before I was handed my new license, I was asked for my Connecticut license, yes, with still four full years left on it. The clerk punched three holes in it.

Remember how I thought I could continue driving with that license if I had failed the California test? Not so. That would have been illegal. Well, I’m saving it as a souvenir.

Then a nice surprise. I had my credit card out to pay for my retake. “No, no,” she said. “You paid the last time.” I smiled – my only smile during the entire miserable experience.

I was joyous on my ride home.  Joyous – that’s the right word. But my “errors” rankled.

And extremely careful now how I drove. The experience did teach me the importance of safe driving. I’m serious. I drove more carefully now. Strove to drive exactly as specified in the tutorial.

The fact is, I did not have a right to drive. I had a permit to drive! I had forgotten that.

At the same time I was amused by how many drivers on the road with me were routinely and blissfully ignoring the legalities they had to know to get their license.  Scandalous!

DMV officials must go nuts observing this when they are out driving routinely.

Yes, I lost a lot of sleep over that test.  But given my age it is sure I’ll never face another. Ever. A nice thought. Comforting. But not so nice in another way.

……..

As always, I look forward to your comments. Thank you in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Have you had narrow escapes, close calls?” Me?

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA – Yes, I have.  Several. Scary close calls.

This came up when I spotted a poster on a bulletin board.  Glance at the photo.

Interesting, don’t you think?

That outfit called The Reboot was announcing its upcoming meeting. A strange name, The Reboot,  but that wasn’t explained. The Reboot is all about what it calls ““Storytelling Re-Imagined.”

The Reboot has been around for a year but this was the first I heard of it.

Its storytelling theme changes every month. For May it would be “Razor’s Edge. True stories  would be told,  without notes, of narrow escapes, close calls, flirting with disaster, taunting fate, and laughing in the face of danger!”

Anybody wanting to tell a story could send in an email saying so.

Well, definitely I’ve had narrow escapes and close calls. But I never laughed in the face of them. No, sir. Too scared!

I was fascinated. The Reboot is a club, well sort of. The storytellers – all amateurs– stand up and tell stories. Applause is all they get for it. Admission is free.  You can go once or every month.

It meets every third Friday of the month at the Top Dog Coffee Bar on Main Street from7 to 9 p.m. A friend told me they get a full house every time. “John, better get there at quarter of!

Hey, maybe the Top Dog hosts it for the PR value of it and the business it generates.

I read the poster one more time. I can do that!  I decided on the spot. I shot off an email saying to count me in.  But it turned out I was one volunteer too many. They had already filled their slate.  Well, I’ll blog about my close calls!  And here I am.

I thought and thought and settled on two close calls for you. The first I’ll tell you about is “Gwalior.” That’s the city in India where it befell me. The second is “La Carretera del Diablo,” which is deep down in an offbeat corner of Mexico.  That’s Spanish for “The Devil’s Highway.”

Gwallior is little known to us Americans but famous to Indians for its huge and historic and important fort. Lots there to look at and think about and learn from.

This was some 30 years ago. I was on my first trip to India. Two dear Indian friends here in the U.S., Sulekh and Ravi Jain, were going back for a visit. Sulekh was a PhD engineer.  How we became friends is a wonderful story but for another day. I’m pleased to say our friendship is still very much alive.

Anyway, now and then Sulekh would say, “John, one day Ravi and I will l take you to India!”  Ravi is his wife. I thought that was just well-intentioned hot air.

But one day off I flew to India with them. A whole month, as I remember it. We toured far and wide. A spectacular adventure.  At one point Sulekh and Ravi were going to be tied up for a couple of days. Sulekh suggested I take the train to Gwallior. “Fantastic!”  he said.

He arranged to have a young relative accompany me. He’d me my guide and helper. Nice fellow. I don’t recall his name. I’ll call him Suraj.

It was a train ride of four hours or so. Suraj got me to the station in good time.  It was jammed with Indians, men in turbans and women in saris. In that great throng I spotted a lone white man. About 30, tall, in dungarees and sneakers, a huge backpack on the floor by his feet. An American, I’ll bet. I walked right over.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m John. From Massachusetts. Taking the train to Gwallior with my friend here.”

Yes, he was an American. He told me he was taking the same train. Had just finished a full hitch in Peace Corps and was going home the s-l-o-w way. Loved foreign travel. Solo. I marveled at that. I had no idea that one day I too would serve in Peace Corps…and would find out that most Volunteers have a genetic streak to adventure-travel. Just as he was.

The train pulled in.  Many cars.  In one way trains in India are like trains in Europe. A long corridor runs down one side of each car. Not down the center. The cars at the front are first class — they have cabins for four…well, six skinny Indians. The cars at the rear are second class.  Just row after row of wood benches, Suraj told me.

We all got aboard. Suraj and I had a cabin. My new friend headed toward the rear.

Two big toots and we started. There would be several stops. We had the cabin to ourselves. I sat by the window, facing forward. Any others in the cabin would have been traveling backward. Suraj sat by my side. I spent every minute looking out the window. So interesting.

Oh, Ravi, bless her heart, had warned me never to drink faucet water.  Always boiled water, always!  Told me  to buy hot tea from vendors. That way it would be safe. She had given me a bottle full. No longer hot, of course. I took a sip now and then.

About half way, we made a scheduled stop. I spotted a lot of young men outside demonstrating. Wow! They were focusing on our train. Why, I had no idea. Suraj had no idea.  Lots of angry yelling, big scrawled placards, clenched fists. Awful. Scary. We were safe inside.  But some kept coming close. Very close. I saw two approach right below our window. They were trying to crawl under our car. I saw one pull out a wire he had yanked free. The other did the same thing.

Things quieted.  The demonstrators had backed off. Still the train didn’t move. Many minutes went by. Thinking of the ripped out wire, I wondered if other demonstrators had done the same thing. Have they disabled the train? Suraj said he’d go out to the platform to try to find out what this was all about. My bottle was empty now. He would buy me a refill.

I sat alone.  I was worried. How long will we be stuck here?  A long time went by. No Suraj.  Things had quieted a lot. I decided to get off, too. I wanted to check on my Peace Corps friend. Is he okay?  A lot of the demonstrators were still around. They had congregated on the platform side. No yelling now. No chanting. They stared at me, an obvious foreigner. Were muttering.  I was nervous but walked on to the end of the train. No sign of my friend. Saw a big log had been placed across the tracks! Couldn’t spot my friend.

Now 15 or 20 of them appeared and surrounded me. Were yelling something. Angry words. They glowered at me.  The leader, hefty, frowning, came right up. Stuck his face within a foot of my nose. Was yelling something. Shook a fist. His buddies were yelling something. Were making fists. Will one of these guys hit me?  Drive a knife into my side?

Suddenly an older man made his way through them. Waved them back. Spoke angrily to them. They stepped back. He took me by the arm and walked me back to my car. They followed me with their eyes.   I stepped aboard and returned to my cabin. I was so grateful to my Good Samaritan.

But no Suraj! Where the hell is he?!  I sat and waited. It was supposed to be a 10-minute stop. More than an hour had gone by.

Suddenly tumult at the back of the car. It seemed one or two of the demonstrators had gotten aboard.  I didn’t dare look out the door. Were banging on the doors as they came forward. Every door, it seemed. Are they looking for me? The white man? I bolted the door.

They were coming closer. Yelling.  Banging on every door.  They came closer. One banged on mine. I didn’t make a sound. Hate to say so but I was huddled in a corner, my arms coiled around myself. Terrified. He tried my lock. It held. He moved on.  They were still yelling and banging. Then quiet. Seemed they had gotten off. Thank God!

Finally Suraj popped in and handed me my bottle of tea. I yelled at him. “Where have you been?!” He said he had had problems. Was worried about me. Took his seat. I calmed down. Time went by.

Suddenly, with not a toot, the train started. A miracle! I thought of the youth ripping out the wire. I thought others might have been doing the same thing. Thought of the big log across the track. But what about the Peace Corps Volunteer? I never found out.

We had another stop before Gwallior. No demonstrators at this spot. But I was still worried. I told Suraj we were getting off and taking the next train back. He protested. I insisted. We had to wait a long time for a returning train. Got on. No problem. Demonstrators all gone. We made it back safe and sound.

So, I never got to see Gwallior.  A big disappointment. Later Sulekh told me the agitators were demonstrating because state universities were shutting them out. India is made up of rigid social classes. They were in a lower class. Were fed up. This demonstration was state-wide. Never found out if they got any satisfaction.

Well, that was back then. Things have improved. I did go back to India some years later on my around-the-world trip.  No Sulekh and Ravi with me this time. I crossed the whole country from Kolkata (formerly called Calcutta) to Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Nearly all of it by train.

Through Delhi the capital again, of course. Went north all the way to ancient Varanasi on the great and sacred Ganges River. No problem. Not a single close call. A great trip.

Hey, maybe my close call on my first trip would have been too long to tell about at The Reboot.

Close call No. 2 — “La Carretera del Diablo”

The Devil’s Highway. Have you heard of it?  Well, l traveled it. If you drove it, you’d recall it, too. It’s a narrow, scary, dangerous road across craggy mountains from Durango to close to Mazatlan on the Pacific. No wonder it’s known as the Devil’s Highway.

This was some 10 years later. I was on my second big solo tour through Mexico. On this one and the previous one I rolled up 15,000 miles down there during two consecutive winters. Winters are mild down there.

Again I was driving my wonderful VW microbus. Sightseeing. Meeting Mexicans well to do and poor and chatting with them in my pitiful pidgin Espagnol. Snapping pictures. And sending back reports to a paper in Connecticut, which was my home sweet home then.

The VW was my wonderful little home on wheels. I’d make and eat my meals in it. Well, most of them. Write up my day’s doings and details in my journal on the same little fold-down table I ate on. Sleep in it.  Quite comfy. Perfect for me.

I was pushing along on the narrow, cliff-hugging blacktopped highway between those two cities.  Alone on the road much of the time.

Now and then I’d pass through a town. Then the highway would become its  main street. That was blacktop, too. All the side streets seemed to be dirt.

In the evening I’d see the lights go on in the humble houses.  Just plain bare bulbs most of the time. This was not touristy Mexico. Anything but.

I’d strike up a little chat whenever I ran into a likely person and they would be as interested in me and my strange wanderings as I was in them.  My Spanish was awful but nobody complained. I thrived on it.

I came into a bigger town with a Pemex gas station. All gas stations were Pemex stations. The government ran them. No competition.  (Just recently private enterprise has been allowed.)  I checked my gas gauge. Was all set. Pushed on. Left all houses behind and found myself on the same two-lane carretera, going uphill now on the narrow, winding road.

The sun was getting low. By one bad curve I spotted four small white crosses. Four persons had been killed in a vehicle accident here. I was familiar with such crosses. They are common on highways in Catholic countries.

Just beyond the crosses, on the same side, I saw a black slope coming down toward the highway. Black because it was solidified lava from long ago. That’s perfect for tonight. I drove in a hundred feet or so – drove up I should say. Turned off the engine, cooked my supper, scribbled in my diary, and readied my bunk.

Then I walked down to look at those crosses. Two men’s names and two women’s. Same date on all four.  Two vehicles must have collided. How awful!  Returned to my VW. It was dark now. Slipped into my sleeping bag and called it a day.

In 30 or 40 minutes I heard a vehicle pull in! I looked out. Its headlights focused on me. And I saw a bright flashlight walking up toward me. And whoever it was had  a revolver pointed at me.  My God! A bandito?! A hard rap on the driver door. What to do?!  I was in my shorts . I scrambled up and sat in the driver’s seat. I had locked the door, of course. Opened the window, but just a hair. Tried to mask my fear.

“Policia! Abierte la ventana!”   I opened it a bit more.

A big guy. Forty or so. Big black mustache. I saw his uniform. Not a bandit. What’s this all about?!

He asked for my driver’s license. “Uno momento!” I said. I had to go back to my pants and pull out my wallet.  I showed him my driver’s license and registration. He focused his flashlight on them. Asked what I was doing here. Put his gun away. I told him I was heading to Mazatlan. Was spending the night here.

On the floor by my seat I had a three-ring binder. It had copies of travel articles I had published. I showed it to him. Pointed to my byline on several. It was the same as the name on my license and registration. He flipped through it. He understood.

“Muy pelligroso, Senor!” He told me.  I understood that — Very dangerous! He explained. Yes, there were bandits around. Thieves. Hungry, grasping fellows who might see me as easy prey. I had to get out of here. “Immediamente!” Right now!

No, I could not continue west. Curves. Cliffs. Too dangerous at night. I had to go back to the town I had just passed.  “Go to the Pemex station. Stay there for the night. You will be safe.”  He looked at his watch.  “But hurry! They will lock up in 50 minutes.”

I thanked him. Felt like giving him a hug. Rushed and dressed. Pulled out. He had started his cruiser. Was waiting for me to leave. Making sure.

I drove as fast as I could down that twisty road. Got to the Pemex.  I explained to an attendant. The only one. He nodded. Told me where to park. Said he was about to put up and lock the chain for the night. No cars could enter. People, yes, but no cars. I’d be chained in too, of course. Said he would then go home. The chain would be taken down at 6 a.m.

I drove as far back in the station’s lot as I could. Didn’t want to attract anybody! Finally went to sleep. I was still worried. Will some bandito walk in and come check me out? Two banditos?  Sleep overtook me. I woke up at dawn. The chain was still up. The attendant showed up. Same guy.

I didn’t need much gas but I tanked up to show my appreciation. And I put a couple of dollars – real American dollars – in his hand. You should have seen his grin! Heard his ”Gracias, Senor, Gracias!”

I started up the long, twisty highway again. Passed those four tragic crosses. Glanced up at my brief campsite and drove on. Silently thanked that officer who had somehow spotted me and checked me out. Warned me. And told me what to do. A very good guy.

Hey, if he hadn’t done that, maybe I too would have wound up with a white cross of my own down there on La Carretera del Diablo!

Well, I didn’t get the chance to talk about this close call either at The Reboot. Maybe the audience would have enjoyed hearing me. I hope you have.

~ ~ ~ ~

Again I look forward to your comments. Do you have a close call of your own to tell me about? I’d like to hear it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big PS for you about my WP post

By John Guy LaPlante

I’m delighted with your comments about my recent geographic musings of a few days ago. I see that you found them interesting.  What writer wouldn’t be tickled to hear that?

If you recall, I mused that eons ago our continents might have been a single huge land mass. I got this thought as I looked at North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia on my wall map. Mere speculation on my part.

Well, in came an email from Judith Bourke from way up in Ontario. I always marvel that one of my posts might wind up in the inbox of someone in another country. Well, hers was doubly interesting because Judy is a cousin-in-law of mine. We haven’t seen one another in decades. Yet we’ve been in touch. Oh, how wonderful is email!

She told me that as a young woman she read something about “plate tectonics.” And it intrigued her.

Have you heard of plate tectonics? It’s a scientific stab at explaining that as a real happening.  It posits that the earth is made up of plates and slowly but steadily huge forces lever them apart. And our continents are now the result. Interested? Look it up on Wikipedia.

Thank you, Judy.

What I found remarkable is that a young person would become interested in this ultra hi-tech subject to the point of recalling it now, decades later. As I think back, this was not considered a woman’s subject back then, methinks.

Another pertinent comment came in from long-time friend Jon Person in New London, Conn. He writes: “I strongly suggest checking out Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map. It is the only world map with no distortion in the land masses, a little in the ocean views.”

Fuller patented that way back in 1946. And what an amazing, incredible map that was! Check that out, too.

Thank you, Jon.

As always, a  lengthy and fascinating comment came in from Mark Lander, my close friend in Connecticut – well, close emotionally now that I’m in California—saying he was familiar with plate tectonics – said that places back there have geologic evidence that shows a relationship with someplace in Europe.

Mark is so interested in so many things and is such a gifted writer that more than once I’ve urged him to launch a blog of his own. I’d be proud to be his first subscriber.

Hear that, Mark?

If I’ve overlooked one or two of you, I apologize. I do appreciate your input.

Well, two days ago I mentioned all this at dinner with my daughter Monique and her hubby David. He immediately handed me the latest copy of National Geographic. Opened it to Page 30:  headlined Future Earth. “The continents are in constant motion. Tectonic plates crash together and break apart…..” And concludes: “In about 250 million years a new supercontinent, Pangaea Maxima, will form.”

This is not speculation. It’s presented as scientific fact. Wonderful illustrations show how this has happened and will continue to happen. Also amazing is that National Geographic had this in its latest issue and that David had the article fresh in mind. You agree?

Thank you, David.

Anyway, I’m also writing this because of more things that I’ve observed in looking at a more detailed world map than the one on my wall. Here they are, in the order that I thought of them and jotted them down.

So many of them are so interesting and lead to so much wondering and speculating.

  • Again, so, so much water! I hope a comment will come in from one of you explaining why so much, and what has created all this H2O.
  • And so much of the land is above the Equator.
  • And how so much of South America is in North America.
  • Most of the islands of the world are in Asia.
  • Islands are usually the outcroppings of hills and mountains.
  • Our Hawaii is so far from Asia.
  • The rotation of the earth is always easterly. Why?
  • People at the top of the world – in the Arctic – and people at the bottom – in the Antarctic – are not really at the top and bottom.
  • How much closer we, even in California, are to Europe than to Asia.
  • In fact, so surprising that California is as close to Paris as to Tokyo.
  • A quick look at our country shows that our states get bigger as we look from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The big exception is big Maine.
  • We have 37 states in our eastern half and 11 in the western half. How come such a disparity?
  • California has a bigger economy than most of the countries in the world.
  • The biggest states in the eastern half are Maine and Georgia.
  • The other five states in New England would fit into one two other states.
  • Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico are as big as all of Mexico. And remember, these used to be part of Mexico, as were Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Mexico also gave up claims to Texas in that treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848. That’s when the Rio Grande became our mutual border.
  • By comparison to our states, most of the provinces of Canada are humongous.
  • The province of Quebec seems as big as half of the United States. And it dwarfs the other provinces. No wonder many folks in Quebec a few decades ago hoped and cheered it should become a country by itself. That along with its history of being French and Catholic.
  • Geographers have divided the earth into sectors. They said there are 360 degrees around. Their starting point – 0 degree – is in Greenwich, near London. And exactly half way away — 180 degrees – is what they called the International Date Line
  • They also divided the world into time zones. If all were one hour apart, there would be 24. But strangely there are more. If interested, check it out.

The IDL has a striking importance. That’s where in crossing it we instantly change from one day of the week to another, depending on whether we’re going west or east. It runs from top to bottom, a bit jagged, down the Pacific, approximately half way between us and Asia.

  • I was aware of that the first time I was flying to Asia. In fact, to Japan. As we got close to the IDL, I asked a stewardess at what time. “I’ll ask the captain,” she said. She returned and said, “In 42 minutes.” And mentioned the exact time.

When we did cross, all I could see were clouds far below. I thought it was a big deal and jotted it down in my diary.

I believe that was the first time she ever got asked that question. I thought then, and still do, that routinely it should be announced to all the passengers.

Well, that’s it for today, friends. More than enough, you may be thinking.

II you have interesting observations of your own, please share them with me. Who knows … they may have the makings of another postscript.

As you know, “PS” is the way I headlined this up top. A PS is supposed to be short, right?  Hah! I just couldn’t help myself.

~ ~ ~ ~

Again, I welcome your comments, read all of them, appreciate whatever way you happen to be leaning. And am even happier when you send me a little personal update.

 

How good is your WQ? Yes, your WQ?

I had fun checking my map of the world … discovered so many interesting things!

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — Not your IQ. No, no. You may think I made a typo. I did not. If you read stuff like this, for sure your IQ is above average.

By WQ I mean your knowledge about Our World. Our Earth. Is it pretty good?

My WQ is far better than I ever thought it would be when I graduated from college, say. In fact, though some people have traveled far more, I’ve amazed myself. Here’s a quick outline.

In the USA, to all 50 states, so that includes Hawaii and Alaska. In Canada from British Columbia and the Yukon all the way east to Nova Scotia.  In Mexico all the way from our border right down to nearly Guatemala and from Mazatlan on the Pacific through Mexico City to Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico.  

In South America to eight countries, from the biggest, Brazil, to perhaps the smallest, Uruguay.

In western Europe to every country except Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. In eastern Europe to Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Farther east, to Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon and even the island of Cyprus.

In Africa, to Morocco and Egypt and south to Kenya and all the way down to South Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans touch.

 In Asia to ten countries from Japan, and the biggest, China, right down to Cambodia and tiny Singapore.

In India from top to bottom and east to west.

 I’ve crossed the Equator, of course. That’s interesting because the seasons are the opposite to ours. If it’s summer for us, it’s winter down there, and vice versa.

I’ve been to some parts more than once. To Canada more times than I can count. To France 10 times. To numerous countries more than half a dozen times. To China four times. To India twice. Ditto many other countries. To many of these places, I traveled solo.

I’ve had wonderful adventures. Have seen great natural wonders. Have met people in a fascinating array of cultures. And I’ve had some close calls. Which is to be expected.

As I say, I’ve impressed myself. But some people have traveled much more widely. I see this every time I pick up an international travel magazine. In fact, I’ve missed more countries than I’ve been to.

And I’ve written about all these wanderings. So yes, I know a bit about our world. But I’m no expert. Far from it. There are many more places I’d like to visit but that has become the impossible dream.

So it’s not surprising that I have a map of the world on a wall in my office. That’s a picture of it you saw at the top. I made it as big as possible to give you a decent look at it—I’m going to talk about interesting facts about our world.  You may know them. But I didn’t. I’ll get to that in a minute or two so stick with me.

 I put up that map when I moved in nearly four years ago. It’s big  but I rarely look at it. You know how it is. Yesterday I did take a look.  I wanted to  look at Chile. I just got an email from a friend down there in South America and I wanted to check the parts of that amazing country that I had been to.

Then I kept looking.  I fixated on the map. It’s surprising the surprising and interesting things I discovered. Never noticed them before. It was an eye-opening experience for me.

This is why I’m writing about it. In fact, I took a picture of the map for you. And I’ve made it as big as possible on this page. I suspect you’ll be interested, and I want you to be able to double-check as I write about this discovery of mine or that one. I can improve my WQ and so can you.

As a starter it’s astounding how much of the earth is covered by water.  Salt water, in fact—close to 75 percent of it! And I’ll bet 75 percent or more of us on Earth have never gotten a glimpse of it.

Also astounding is how close we are to Russia.  Take a look at our Alaska, high up in the northwestern corner of the map. Notice that it’s just a hop and a skip from its western tip to eastern Russia.  So close to Alaska that the Russians got there before we did. In fact, in Alaska I have visited an ancient Orthodox Russian church in Eklutna, Alaska.

Oddly more commercial flights from North America and Europe are transpolar flights – across the North Pole. They save time and expense. I say oddly because it seems so unthinkable. In a plane, unless you have a window seat, which wouldn’t help much, you’d never know the difference.

Nowadays it’s feasible to fly around the world – and at its widest diameter – by commercial airline in a week or so! That fact does deserve that exclamation mark. But only someone with a platinum credit card who would delight in boasting about that would attempt it, for sure.

Just imagine what Christopher Columbus or Marco Polo or Ferdinand Magellan or the other ancient adventurers would ever think of that!

To make this topic of mine today more interesting for you, I’m going to proceed in the form of a quiz. I’m going to ask you a question and will ask you to come up with the answer. Then I’ll provide the answer. You may have fun keeping score.

How many oceans do we have? What are their names, and how big are they in descending order? Pause now, my friends, and think……

Answers: 5 oceans. In descending order, the Pacific by a huge margin, then the Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, and Southern. Plus some big seas.

Question. How many continents – big land masses – are there? Name them in descending order. Pause now and think……

Answers: 7. Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Africa, Antarctica, and Oceania (Australia being the biggest chunk of that by far).

Now look at the six biggest countries. Which is the biggest? What are they in descending order? Now pause and think……

Answers: Russia, Canada, USA, Brazil, Australia, with India seventh.

Speaking of our country, look at our southern neighbor, Mexico, which looms so much in our news nowadays.  Yet Mexico is just a little squiggle – it seems we could squeeze four countries like it between our two ocean shores.

On each continent, what is the largest city? Pause now and think……

Answers: In Asia: Tokyo / In North America: Mexico City / In South America: Sao Paulo in Brazil / In Europe: Paris / In Africa: Lagos in Nigeria / In Antarctica: McMurdo Station (just some 1,300 people; one of three scientific stations we have down there) / In Oceania: Melbourne, Australia.

What is startling to me is Europe, and how small it is in comparison to other sections of our earth. Especially given that arguably it has been the most important in the development of civilization, well, as we know it. What is its biggest city?  And how many countries does it have? Pause now and think……

Answers: Not London or Moscow. It’s Paris. 24 countries.

What’s amazing is that it seems all those European counties could be tucked into our United States.

Looking closely at the map, do you see one country that from the point of geography seems an absolute freak?   Pause and look……

Well, to me it’s Chile, which I spoke about a minute ago. Look at it. It’s just a very, very  long sliver squeezed in between giant Brazil and the Pacific. Don’t you agree that in that way it can be called a freak?

Now let’s have fun assembling a geographic jigsaw puzzle, so to speak. First, take a look at the Western Hemisphere, from Canada at the top down through the USA and right down to the bottom of South America.

Now look at the Eastern Hemisphere, from Europe down to the bottom of Africa.  Now imagine placing your left hand on one hemisphere and your right hand on the other. And imagine sliding them across the Atlantic Ocean toward one another and tucking one into the other. No, they would not be a perfect fit, but definitely a pretty good one, don’t you think?

Now take a good look at the Indian Ocean. Notice Africa on the left side, India at the top, and the islands of Indonesia at the right. Next look at big Australia down below at the right. Now imagine sliding Australia up through the Indian Ocean and fitting it in between those three large land masses.  A pretty good fit, right?

I wish I had a geologist / geographer / oceanographer at hand. I’d ask him a question that just popped into my mind.  Is it conceivable that at one time eons ago this is what these sections of the earth were like — one huge, solid hunk of real estate? And some mysterious and enormous force spread those chunks of land apart?

 If you know the answer, please do let me know.

My map is maybe 10 years old. But it’s surprising the changes that have taken place or are.

The Crimea in Ukraine is now part of Russia.

Great Britain wants out of Western Europe.

Scotland keeps talking of saying goodbye to Great Britain. Ditto Catalonia from Spain.

All this said, most of us Americans never get to travel more than a couple of hundred miles from where we were born. Nothing wrong with that. But ….

And keeping in mind that the greater part of our earth is covered with water, it’s remarkable that most of us never get a glimpse of it, whether the Atlantic or Pacific or Gulf of Mexico. Or even our Great Lakes. Nothing wrong with that either. But ….

Well, still looking at that map on my wall, I’ll venture a bold prognostication. I predict that in a century – okay, make that two centuries – Canada, the United States, and Mexico will be a single country. And I’m tempted to say the same about the even more numerous countries of South America. You may think I’m nuts. But that’s okay.

Given the enormous strides in communication and ease of travel and expansion of international commerce, such geographic consolidation makes sense. Don’t you believe geography can trump politics?

Now finally check your WQ. How did you do? I found it fun. If you’ve read down this far, I’ll bet you would, too. I’ll also bet that your IQ is way above average.

~ ~ ~ ~

I look forward to your comments. I read them and love it when you tell me something I didn’t appreciate or realize. Which happens. And I enjoy it even more when you add a few words about yourself.

 

Do your duty, all of you. Vote …

By John Guy LaPlante

But maybe better, don’t vote. I’m serious.

I’m no longer a Connecticut citizen. I’ve moved to California, as many of you know. I’m registering my car here and applying for a California license and want to vote as a Californian.

Hey, I’ve been voting since I turned of age. Of course I want to continue.

After all, it’s essential to vote. That’s preached to us at every election. It can make a whopping difference. We’ve all seen how a key election can switch fast and decisively. Somebody wins by one or two votes. Somebody loses by one or two. The majority always wins!

That’s our core belief as citizens of our democracy. We the people have the final say. So, let’s make sure and vote!

But know what, I’ve come to realize that may be bad advice. I know that makes me sound awful. But  hear me out.

Democracy as a way of running a country isn’t even 300 years old. How come it’s such a late comer? Well, it was long thought that giving the people the right to vote defied common sense. What?!

Sure. What has made sense since the dawn of man, mind you, is the belief that the strongest and smartest should make the decisions. Joe Average and Betty Ordinary and their likes just weren’t up to the responsibility.

These smartest and strongest began to be called kings or dictators or czars or bishops or archdukes or even the sons of God. And they ruled from the top down. Those below them kowtowed. Or else.

And these at the top were so smart and strong that they believed their successors as leaders should be their sons.

After all, they inherited the same smart and strong genes.  And on it went.

Then some radicals began saying the people should decide. The people should choose their leaders, and for a fixed turn. That was called democracy. What a wild idea. Every person was worthy. Every adult would have one vote. All should speak their piece. And anybody who felt he could be a leader should have the right to run for the job. If most people decided he was good enough, he’d get it.

So now it could be from the bottom up. Crazy?!  This defied centuries of thinking. Such an unnatural idea it was. But it took root. The French Revolution turned the world upside down believing that unnatural idea. Our founders built our USA on that unnatural idea. And our country made history as the first in the world to start out practicing that.

But still some protested. Hey, they said, take a look at all the natural differences among people. Men were different from women with different capacities and different roles. Some were older. More intelligent and savvy. Some were younger. Some not very smart. Some less experienced. Some barely able to run their own life.

Some were brilliant and some were morons. Some hard-working, some lazy. Some were kind and considerate and broad-minded. Others were narrow-minded and vicious, even criminal. On and on.

So exceptions began to be made. Whole classes of people were excluded. Women. People just off the boat from a different country. People who looked different. Blacks. Hispanics. For a while, Japanese, even Japanese born here. People with different religious beliefs.  People under a certain page.  The feeble-minded. People who could not read. Men who refused to take up arms when called upon.  On and on.

And different countries, even different states, set up different rules. After all, that was the smart thing to do.

Even today that  kind of thinking  seems to make sense. How can an 18-year-old have the wisdom of a 48-year-old?  How can a woman spending her days at home taking care of the kids and doing the laundry and cooking the meals make big decisions with the smarts of the man of the house. After all he was the one leaving every morning to compete with other men and earn enough to support his family and make a good future for them?

How can a person who knows only a few words of English be allowed to vote? How can a drop-out from the sixth grade be as savvy as a university graduate and have an equal vote? How can a simple Joe Blow toe the mark with someone who can start a business, run a factory, manage a bank, practice medicine or law, publish a newspaper,  fly an airliner, become an officer in our armed services, teach economics or computer science, author books, invent important things?

How could the votes of all these people of varying ability have the same value?  One person, one vote.  So crazy!

This bothered many.  What to do?  Well, one thing was to educate everybody.  A great idea!  And so we built schools and made going to school compulsory.  At first, just grade school. Well, then to the age of 14, or maybe 16. Then through high school. And we even taught them civics—how to be a good citizen, how to do the right thing.

And we built public colleges and universities. And we gave those who completed this schooling a piece of paper certifying they had completed it—a diploma, a degree. And this way, gradually and steadily, we’d develop more good citizens capable of making smart decisions affecting all of us.

Of course, people who ran for elections wanted to do their best to get elected. Did so honorably. But some did bad things. Falsified – stole – votes.  Paid others to cast their votes for them. Browbeat people to make them vote the right way.  Not nice. Often illegal. But the important thing was to get everybody to vote.

Somehow we felt all this would work out. The end results would be satisfactory. It would be the will of the people. Overall our country would be blessed with progress. We’d elect good leaders and we’d pass good laws.

Nonsense. Some voters cast their ballot with only the faintest idea whether to vote for or against. They will vote for someone or something on a mere hunch. On the basis of a few soundbites or headlines or billboards.  Suggestions from neighbors. They may decide on how a candidate has voted on one or two issues but ignore his performance on dozens of other issues.

May decide on the basis of how the candidate speaks or looks.  Or on the 140-character tweets he sends out helter skelter. Maybe because he did them a favor or gave their baby a peck on the cheek or sent them a New Year’s calendar or a computer-generated birthday card.

Remember here “he” also means “she.”  But aren’t these things that I’ve described part of the way democracy works?

Yet somehow our country lurches along. Being an enlightened and responsible voter is a formidable challenge. It sounds impossible. Certainly it is difficult. But it’s what each of us should attempt.

Now look at me. I am going to be a citizen of California with all the rights and privileges and responsibilities thereof. I want to be a good citizen. Cast wise votes.

But know what? There is so much about California that I do not know.  California is so huge.  Should be three or four different states — there are such humongous differences between various sections. Has an economy bigger than 90 percent of all the countries in the world. Has to deal with an ongoing cornucopia of problems. Faces enormous challenges on many fronts.

Yet my vote as an octogenarian will be worth just as much as that of an octogenarian who was born here and lived here all his life!

And what do I know about all these California problems and challenges? Enough to cast a sensible vote? Well, maybe for whoever is going to run for governor.  And U.S. Senator. That’s about it. It would be foolish to believe or act otherwise.

How about here in Morro Bay, my new home town? There is so much that I do not know. I barely know the names of the mayor and the city manager and the police chief. The fire chief? Sorry. Those in the City Council? They are mere names in the newspapers.

How about our big issues?  I know what they are.  Well, I think I do. Broaden our economy beyond tourism and beyond attracting retirees to move here. Developing a better public water supply. More affordable housing. Providing better inducements to keep young people living here. Deciding what to do about the homeless among us —  this is a nice place to be homeless so we have quite a few.

Oh, I read about these problems.  Hear about them. But they are complicated.  Controversial. Involve lots of $$$. Will have an impact for years to come.  On our people and taxes and progress.

Yes, I am going to have the right to vote. But should I vote?  On some of these issues, definitely not. I would be hard put to stand up and explain in plain English how I’d justify my vote.

What I hope is that all who do vote have studied these issues in depth. And know more about the candidates than I do. And if they’re running as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. And are voting with solid conviction. I said Independents. Hey, do we have any nowadays?

So as you see, I’m at a loss. What to do?  Well, what my conscience tells me to do is, sit it out, John. Don’t vote on some of these issues. Or some of these candidates. Voting for them would be just as smart as flipping a coin for heads or tail. Not smart. Dumb.

Yet somebody could point a finger at me. Lecture me. “Hey, John, you’re not doing your duty!”

Oh, well….

But that’s what it might be my duty to do. Not vote. And that’s my decision.

P.S.  Here are a couple of quotes that I found interesting.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have already been tried.” – Unknown

“Democracy is rife with imperfections. It works only because most of the time the imperfections cancel themselves out. Though far too often they don’t.” – Unknown

What do you think?!

~ ~ ~ ~

As always I look forward to your comments. I read them all. Good or not so good. I do so because you’re writing them out of conviction, of course. These days. hearing from you is the one and only reward I get for scribbling these posts.

 

 

Fun facts about my new home state of CA

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, California – Folks I get to meet here often get very curious about where I hail from. For sure I’m not a born and bred native. A minute listening to me tells them that. My “accent” tips them off, would you believe?!

I put “accent” in quotes because I’m positive I don’t have one. They’re the ones who have an accent! In all my travels over the years, I’ve noticed that wherever I find myself, the locals have an accent. Never, never  me! I’ll bet that if you travel, you’ve experienced the same darn thing.

When they ask, I give them my standard spiel. “Well, I’m from the lower half of New England. Born in Rhode Island. My working years in Massachusetts. And my Social Security years largely in Connecticut.”

Lots of them know zilch about those three fine states. So I add a zinger. “But know what? If you shifted those three states here to California, they’d be just a couple of counties. Yes, for sure!”

Their eyes really open wide when they hear that.

That happened again just last evening. It made me wonder, am I right about that? But in 10 minutes today Google gave me all the data I needed to check it out. In fact, Google gave me the square miles of each state. But also its population, well, as of 2016. Very interesting compared to California … especially after finding out California has 58 counties.

For your information, Morro Bay is in San Luis Obispo County. Now do take a look at Google’s numbers.

STATE                  SQUARE MILES         POPULATION

California                     163,696                  39,250,000

SLO County, CA            3,616                       281,401

————————————————————————————–

Rhode Island                 1,212                    1,056,000

Massachusetts             10,565                   6,812,000

Connecticut                    5,432                    3,576,000

TOTALS                          17,209                  11,444,000

Yes, California has 58 counties. Of course, some are bigger than others. But their average size is roughly 2,700 square miles.  Some have so many people they’re elbow to elbow. Others are practically empty.

So my guestimate that my three states back east would be just a couple of counties here, well, a couple of the bigger counties, is correct.  In fact, Little Rhody, my birth state, could tuck into San Luis Obispo County here with the extra two thirds of the county totally empty. Yet, if that happened, the county would have nearly four times as many people.  Amazing!

All of which made me look a sharp look at a map of our 48 states between the Atlantic and Pacific.  It’s striking how as you move west, the states get bigger and bigger, and in many cases, smaller in population. With California the dramatic exception!

Which made me think of that famous old saying, “Go west, young man!” And to be gender polite now,  I insist on saying, “You, too, young woman!” I’ll bet you’d like it here.  I do though I still get homesick a bit. But I’m far from being young anymore. And, of course, homesickness is like seasickness. You get over it.

But don’t too many of you pack up and come. That would skew my statistics!

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two old men sound off about old, old age


By John Guy LaPlante

I’m one of them, and I just sent an op-ed to the New York Times about my thinking on getting very, very old.

My doing that was precipitated by an article in the New York Times that was written by Robert W. Goldfarb, a

A small corner of the Times op-ed page. It also includes think pieces by its regular columnists.

retired management consultant. Its title was “Going on 18, but not naïve.” It ran January 1. But I had a dramatically different opinion than Mr. Goldfarb about what’s it’s like to get very old. And I ain’t naïve, either.

First, I drafted a letter (not the op-ed yet) to the Times about it. The Times recommends that a letter run from 150 to 200 words. I had much more to say than that! My letter stretched to 980 words. And mind you, I had made it as lean as I could.

Submitting it was pure futility on my part. I realized that. Every day the Times is brimful with news and opinion articles that cry for discussion. Some readers nod in approval, others shake their heads.

So I decided to send it to the op-ed editor. Op-eds run longer. Op-eds are opinion articles.  Not mere letters. Additionally, the Times pays a fee. That would be nice.

Op-ed, a strange name!  Well, as you may know, the Times always publishes its editorials on a left-hand page. Op-eds are called op-eds because they run on the right-hand page across from the editorial page.  That’s what it’s called, the op-ed page. The Times started the practice. In fact, that’s the way big papers across the country do it.

I said I knew I was wasting my time. Here’s why. Typically the Times publishes only two or three op-eds a day for one-shot writers.  They need room on the page for its regular columnists. And every day dozens of readers submit an op-ed. So dozens of writers get disappointed.

The op-ed editor acknowledges every submission with a standard  email. In part the email says—and I translate it bluntly for you—if you don’t get an approval from us in three days, consider it dead. Three days passed. Well, I was so disappointed I broke down sobbing. (Just kidding.)

Yes, I disagreed with Mr. Goldfarb. And I’m about to tell you why. I mentioned his article up top and I bold-faced it for you. You may want to get his view on it. Just look it up via Google or Bing. That would be a good starting point for you. But not essential.

Here’s what I said in my op-ed to the Times:

Mr. Goldfarb wrote because he’s 88. Well, I’m 88, too. I enjoyed Mr. Goldfarb’s take on that and his good humor.

But I’ve had a different experience and a different life strategy. I offer it in the hope it may inspire thoughtful readers who see old age looming and want to make their old age as good as possible.

Here are smart moves that I rejoice I made for a good old age, which I’m now enjoying. .

FIRST: I retired, well, in the sense that I started collecting Social Security. But never retired in the sense of quitting work. No, no. I started as a journalist, went on to other things as well, but have always been a writer. Articles, news releases, essays, non-fiction books. I’m still a writer.

But these days as a blogger, giving my take on a variety of topics, never sure what I’ll focus on next. But it will be on a topic that interests me personally. This blog post is an example.

Curious about the topics, by the way? See www.johnguylaplante.com/blog. You’ll see the surprising variety.

So, it’s a big mistake to quit working! Get into a line of work that you hope you’ll be passionate about till you can’t do it anymore!

TWO: Like Mr. Goldfarb, I seek adventure. He’s content with a smidgeon. My word, not his.  I’ve wanted more than a smidgeon. Read on and you’ll see I’ve had one adventure after another.

What’s an adventure? Here’s how I define it.  It’s an undertaking new and challenging that runs a think-about-it-twice risk of failure, but is worth the  risk. Most people are averse to that. They go into something that’s sure and safe and do it till they hit 65. Work in the Post Office. Or in a bank. Or teach school. Most careers are like that. Which is okay. No criticism from me. But that’s not been what I’ve sought.

For one thing, I changed my career path several times and ventured far afield from newspaper reporter and editor on a metro paper. I spread my wings:  college teacher… college administrator… hospital marketing director… businessman.

Yes, I started a couple of businesses cold. One in public relations and print media. The other in residential real estate. Made them successful. At one time I managed both simultaneously.

I’ve experienced failure. Of course. In business. And marriage. Made that a stepping stone.

Was wed for 26 years. Live alone now, contentedly. Divorce is painful. Yet now my ex and I are friends, which I think is unusual.  (By the way, our three children have doctorates. And they’re nice people.)

As a senior newly retired, I spread my wings farther. Soon became the director of one of the largest Elderhostel programs in the Northeast. Spent more than a decade at that.

And I began sating my travel yearnings big-time.

With a partner who had worked as a travel agent, I escorted groups of seniors on eight European tours across a dozen countries and one to Mexico. The romantic cities like Guadalajara and Mazatlan. Not mega-touristy Cancun or Acapulco.

Mostly solo, I’ve toured all 50 states, several numerous times, most often on slow roads. Much of that in a VW Westfalia—the fabled little camper. Have cruised alone across Canada from Vancouver to New Brunswick. Up to Quebec time and again. Soloed in my Westfalia thousands of miles through Mexico. Did it twice, more than 12,000 miles.

Have toured all European countries except the four at the very top. Some several times. Have been to France 10 times–did a house swap there.

At 75, traveled around the world alone for my 75th birthday.  That led to a book. Followed that with a tour of eight countries in Asia, the second half of it alone. My sister Lucie was with me on the first half. That led to a book. At 78, I joined Peace Corps and completed a full hitch (Ukraine, university-level teacher)–was notified by Peace Corps / Washington that at 80 I was the oldest Volunteer in the world. That led to a book.

These travels were all big adventures.

By the way, for years I’ve been writing articles beyond number about these travels.

Talk about change! Southern New England—Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut–was home for me right into my 80’s.  I’ve now relocated close to my loving daughter in Morro Bay, a small town on California’s central  coast. For keeps. Sure, a nice bonus is no snow, no ice here, no torrid temps, palm trees, the Pacific just a mile away.

This has been an ongoing adventure. There’s been a price. I  get moments of homesickness.  And I miss friends.

I’ve continued to challenge myself in new ways here in Morro Bay. Did two seasons as a talk-show host on our local FM station, Did a stint on the board of directors of our senior center, have taught mini courses and given talks, have a talk coming up at our public library on why not volunteer in Peace Corps?

So yes, I do have a powerful adventure gene.  Starting businesses as a married man with kids is an adventure. Joining Peace Corps when you know 20 percent of the Volunteers quit and come home early is an adventure. Self-publishing books is an adventure. Investing in the stock market for years as I’ve done is an an adventure. Along with years and years of smaller adventures.

A core belief of mine is: If you’re not making your life an adventure, you’re short-changing yourself. Adventure is a terrific tonic.

THREE: I’ve watched my dollars and cents but without suffering unduly. My motto has not been I want the best. It’s been I want what will be good enough. I consider thrift (not parsimony!) an index of IQ. Having savings lets anybody sleep better. Indebtedness is an awful headache. Shake off indebtedness as soon as you can!

FOUR: I’ve become more vigilant about my health. I grew up a fatty, finally got that under control. Slowly but steadily became a vegetarian. That’s smart health-wise and most satisfying ethics-wise.

I’ve been doing morning limbering exercises for years. Used to walk, walk, walk. Always active in many ways. For 10 years I lived on a fourth floor. Never used the elevator. Always took the stairs.

As a little kid I loved the trike my mom and dad gave me one Christmas. Grew up to a bike and was an active bike rider into my 70’s. A spill ended that.

Now I pedal a trike again. It’s such good exercise. And so much fun.  So practical to get around and do errands and shop—it has two cargo baskets, front and rear. I ride it every day. I’ve been kidded I’m regressing! (Chuckle!)

I still drive, hope to continue driving but I don’t feel it as essential as it was for so long.

Sure, I’m failing. Walk with a walking stick. Like a nap every afternoon. Now stone deaf in my right ear, use a hearing aid in the other. Take 7 pills every morning, but only one is a prescription. I live, cook, keep house alone. Have just had four teeth pulled.  I’ve had a succession of ills. I got dizzy once and fell. Nothing broken. Now I wear an electronic gizmo to summon help.  Just getting over a urinary tract infection.

Yet my primary care doctor told me on my latest visit he sees no need to see me till April. Which is when I hit 89 and enter my 90th. Some oldsters run in to see him every two weeks. Yes, I’ve been lucky about this. However, some of that luck is the result of my own efforts.

Yes indeed, doing whatever it takes to remain healthy is a smart priority.

Bottom line: I feel good. I still cope every day. I’m optimistic. I’m enjoying life.

But yes sir, nobody is more aware than I am that my demise isn’t far off.

That said, I have no ambition to reach my 100th if I’m in bad shape. It’s possible to live too long. The end can be so awful. And so hard on loved ones. I’ve seen that. God forbid!  At a certain point, an instantaneous and decisive heart attack would be wonderful.

The above is what I sent to the op-ed editor at the Times though I’ve given considerably more detail here. And I added a final thought in my op-ed. “Sorry there’s none of Mr. Goldfarb’s good humor in this op-ed of mine. But my intent is to give your younger readers intent on a fine old age something worth chewing on. My strategy has worked.”

Though I may sound that way, please do not think I am boasting. I am not.

My motive is the same in sending this to you: perhaps this will help you and yours.

~ ~ ~

Remember, dear readers, I warmly welcome your letters. I read them all. If you disagree with something I write, no cussing please. Write while it’s fresh in your mind. Just email to johnguylaplante@gmail.com. Write now.

 

 

 

My Weirdest New Year’s Day Ever

o   Property Transfers in Old Lyme 2017Property Transfers in Lyme 2013

Yes, Durban is huge. And the beaches so long and beautiful. No idea which is the one I went to. But such a throng heading to it! And how I stood out among them! — Photo from Google.

 By John Guy LaPlante

Scary, in fact. I lived through that New Year’s 13 years ago. And I’ve never experienced anything like it since. It was a unique experience.

By the way, this account was published back then. I am posting it now because I think you’ll find it interesting and may learn something about prejudice from it.

All my life, like you probably, I have celebrated New Year’s Day in winter—most often in a cold, icy, snowy winter. Not in a short-sleeves Florida or Arizona or southern California winter.

Winter arrives on Dec. 21, of course, and New Year’s Day 11 days later, on January 1. My saying this seems silly, but I say it for a reason.

Yes, seeing  the New Year arrive has often meant stepping outside into freezing cold and then suffering in my frigid car tlil the engine begins blowing in hot air.

For many decades this was too often the way I experienced New Year’s Day.

With just one big exception.That was when I traveled around the world alone for five months.  Four and a half months of it by myself—147 days, 20 countries, 36,750 miles by plane, train, and short legs by bus. And for only $83 per day, with everything included, right down to every snack and phone call and all the visas required. Visas can be expensive. That trip was my present to myself for my imminent 75th birthday.

It was a grand adventure. More than that, an odyssey. It led to my book, “Around the World at 75. Alone, Dammit!” It’s a book still selling, and in fact, one that got to be published also in China in Chinese—well, Mandarin, which is the principal language.

I crossed the Equator, a big deal for me. When you do that, the seasons are just the opposite from ours. If we’re in spring, down there it’s autumn, and if summer, winter. Then I crossed it again to return north, and same experience.

Well, as New Year’s Day approached, I arrived in Durban, South Africa. That’s nearly as far south in Africa as you can go, and I had come a long way, all the way from Cairo in Egypt on the  Mediterranean.

I arrived in Durban on Dec. 28, just seven days after the start of winter and three days before the new year dawned. But it was summer there, with long daylight, short nights, shirtsleeve temperatures, even bathing suit temperatures. How remarkable. How wonderful.

Durban is a big city. An impressive city. And I was there to enjoy it. I was staying in a nice hostel right downtown, the Banana Backpackers. I repeat. Not hotel. Hostel. I was using hostels because they were cheaper (hotels for five months can get expensive) and I got an experience more true to my purpose.

Don’t ask me why that name, Banana Backpackers. I never found out. And I was making friends. And I was making the most of the city, taking in everything I could—its bustling downtown, its historic and tourist attractions, its museums. It’s all in my book.

New Year’s Day was a great celebration there, too. It’s a big day all over the world. I read everything I could in the big Durban daily about activities coming up. English is the official language. There would be all the usual merry-making. I was looking forward to it. Planned to enjoy it as much as I could.

New Year’s Day rose, bright and sunny and warm and beautiful. But none of my senses told me that this was New Year’s Day. This was so dramatically different. But my brain did.

Durban is right on the Indian Ocean, just north of where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans merge below Cape town. Durban has great beaches. I had not glimpsed them yet, but I knew they were gorgeous. I intended to get to them today. They were not far, at the end of a broad avenue that nosed right into them. A cinch. I could get to them in just a few blocks.

But imagine my surprise. My stupefaction. Thousands of people were planning to do the same thing. I noticed that the minute I stepped out of Banana Backpackers. People jammed the boulevard, walking in from various directions.

So many. Amazing. The boulevard was closed to vehicles for the day. People were heading south on it in a broad torrent. They crowded the whole width of the street. All going the same way, toward the salt water. Some on bikes but most hoofing it. Carrying all the usual stuff—towels, picnic baskets, folding chairs, parasols, toys. Many with children in hand.

Instantly I saw they were all black! Durban is a typical South African city. It has the usual mix of blacks and whites, but the blacks were there first and predominate. In fact, apartheid had been the law of the land until quite recently. Apartheid mandated the enforced separation of the races, the same as in many places in our U.S.A. when I was young, but even more severely in South Africa, I had read.

I could not see any whites! Of course, white people like nice, warm, sunny beaches, too. Why this river of people was all black, no idea. I speculated. Sure, apartheid had finally been outlawed. But habits die hard. Black people traditionally went to the beach this way. White people took another routet o a different beach. That’s the way it was and the tradition lived on.

No way could I walk with these blacks! I should drop out. That was my first thought. I gulped hard. I was so disappointed. But then I braced up. A main reason for this big and crazy adventure of mine–I knew some people thought it was crazy–was to visit other countries, and the more different the better. I wanted to see what they were really like. I was deliberately staying clear of the heavy tourist areas. I wanted to see the real people in their real everyday life.

So how could I chicken out now?

Uptight I was, but I stepped forward and slipped in among the blacks.  Back home in Connecticut, blacks were quite few. I saw dark eyes studying me but I looked straight ahead and walked on. I was uncomfortable. Nervous. Apprehensive. I admit it and am embarrassed to say so. Though what I was doing was no longer illegal.

I was tempted to drop out and head back to Banana Backpackers. What I was experiencing, of course, was plain, classic culture shock. I never considered myself prejudiced and was proud of that, but I was reacting prejudiced.

My head was battling with my emotions. My head was telling me that 99 percent of these people were good, fine, no-problem people. I knew that this was true of people all over the world. Yellow, brown, red, black, white, mixed. In every country the bad ones—the malicious ones—are a tiny minority. True, too, in our U.S.A.

The only thing these folks had in mind was getting to the beach for a fine New Year’s outing.

My heart made me fearful, insecure, borderline panicky. But I walked on. I was feeling this way because they were so many and they were all black and I wasn’t used to this and there was no other white person around. But on I went.

I wasn’t going to the beach to sun myself or swim. I did like these things back home. I was going because I wanted to see the Indian Ocean and smell the sea air and be part of the fun and observe everything going on and get some exercise and see what a New Year’s Day was like in this country and how folks enjoyed it.

We got to the beach. A great big, broad stretch of sand. The Indian Ocean stretched out ahead, clear to the horizon, with not even a tiny island in sight. A few pleasure boats, yes.

But know what? The Indian Ocean didn’t look a bit different than many other expanses of salt water I have gotten to see. The only reason I knew that this was the Indian Ocean was because my map told me it was, period.

What I noticed was the great numbers of people. Right away I thought of Coney Island. Who isn’t familiar with Coney Island? I’ve never been to Coney Island. But I’ve seen the photos of the packed crowds on the Fourth of July.

For sure this huge turn-out would rival Coney Island in the Guinness Book of World Records. And of course all these people were black. But they were behaving just like white people would.

I became more relaxed. I began walking around. I roamed the beach. I made my way between all these people. Families in tight clusters. Kids frolicking and romping and tossing balls. Couples making out. People reading, snacking, applying suntan lotion, snoozing.

I attracted a lot of looks. Plenty of stares. But not a single person took a step toward me. Maybe my age was a factor. I was an old man, so considered harmless perhaps. Anyway, I relaxed a bit.

Not easy to walk in that loose sand. I made my way down close to the beach and walked along the shore on the packed sand, moist from the outgoing tide. Some people were in the water, swimming, splashing, floating, but quite few. Which is typical at any beach anywhere.

I walked a long way to the left, then a long way back and to the right. All along, people looked me over. Many followed me with their eyes. Most people were too busy.

I had my camera and I began sneaking pictures. I learned long ago it was not smart at times to face whoever I wanted to photograph and snap a picture.

I had developed a different way. I would spot someone I wanted to focus on. Then I would turn 90 degrees and face in this new direction. While looking in this direction, slowly I would turn my camera back 90 degrees. Very stealthily. Yes, all while gazing straight ahead. And click the shutter. Sometimes I missed the shot. But often I got the good candid shot I hoped for. Rarely did anybody catch on.

Now I got bolder. I even walked up to some people. Made sure I smiled. And asked if I could take their picture. Nobody said no.

It was all pleasant. I was happy to be part of this. But this was a film camera. And of course my roll of film got used up.

In all this, I did not come upon another white person. With apartheid dead, I was surprised some whites had not begin coming to this beach.  Then I thought, would there be blacks at the white beach now? I didn’t get to find out.

I quit long before the others did. I was happy I had not caved in to my apprehensions and had had what turned out to be a pleasant experience, in fact memorable.

Back at the hostel, I found practically nobody around. That evening I ran into a couple of people and mentioned my visit down to the black beach and what I experienced there. Well, a wee bit of it. . But they were foreign tourists, too. Whites like me. They were interested. But they had few comments to make.

Later I had another thought. It was about black people in the U.S.A.  Black men and women of all ages born there and grown up there. Like me. Just as much an American citizen as I. And I thought of the many times when for sure they must find themselves alone among whites. Must feel as awkward and isolated and apprehensive as I felt on this New Year’s Day. Probably a common experience for them in my neck of Connecticut, where blacks are still a small minority, although the situation is changing a bit. I suppose they get used to it, adapt to it, and develop a certain comfort. Just as I did in South Africa.

I felt these disturbing emotions just for a few hours on just one day. Some of our blacks back home must feel it frequently, in fact day in and day out, all their lives.  How awful.

That New Year’s Day in Durban made me more understanding. More sympathetic. I learned a powerful lesson. And the lesson has stuck. We’re all much alike. Little reason to be nervous among strangers. 

I haven’t had a weird one since then. Hope I never will.

I’d like to include some of the photos I took that day but they’re not at hand. Sorry.

Happy New Year to you, one and all, wherever you are!

~ ~ ~

Please leave a comment. Your comments are my only payback. I read them all, good and not so good. Just email it to me at  johnguylaplante@gmail.com. I’d appreciate that! 

                      

What, you do use your middle name?

By John Guy LaPlante

Hey, don’t you know that’s un-American?! Taboo! You’re supposed to use just a middle initial.

Oh, sure, you were given, yes, given a middle name. That’s normal and expected. But I’ll bet you’ve never used it. Timothy or Susan or Andrew or whatever. You made do with just a middle initial. Thought that was just fine. And that’s the proper American thing to do. Our culture insists on that. Will not tolerate a full, spelled out middle name.

How many folks do you know who use their middle name day in and day out?

Well, I have a middle name. It’s Guy. You saw it up top in my byline. And I’d feel naked without it. But boy, what a price I’ve paid!

The reason we all get a middle name is simple.  John Charles Smith sets you apart from John Richard Smith or John Theodore Smith. That’s the obvious reason. But maybe you were given the middle name of Charles or Richard or Theodore by your Mom to honor her dad, who had that name. Or by your Dad, reasoning the same way.

But from their earliest days—at the latest when they got signed up for kindergarten—John Charles Smith became John C. Smith and John Richard Smith became John R. Smith and John Theodore Smith became John T. Smith. Wonderful! Bravo! That was the thing to do.  Same is true of our sisters and female friends..

And they never looked back. That’s the name they’ve used—and for everything! — ever since. When they hit 30 or 40, they may have to think for a couple of minutes — might not even remember what their middle name was! I’ve seen that happen.

Can you imagine the teasing and bullying and finger-wagging they would have suffered as kids if  they had insisted on using their middle name?!

Well, I’ve gone through it.  My checks are imprinted up top with John Guy LaPlante. If I pay a bill with a check, for sure any receipt or thank you will get mailed back to me as John G. LaPlante. That’s how I’m known by IRS and Medicare, by City Hall and the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Utility Company. By everybody and anybody.  I’ve even gotten mail from relatives as John G. LaPlante. Hey, come on!

My books say John Guy LaPlante on the cover. As you know, that’s the byline on anything I write.  But guess how I’ll be addressed in a letter from a reader?  You are correct! With Guy reduced to  a mere G.!  Sure, that used to irritate me. But now I shrug it off. Well, sort of.

If you want to go through life with just a middle initial, no flack from me! But just think why you’ve been doing that and why you think it’s okay.

How did this cultural must come to pass? Well, let me speculate.  Maybe somebody had a long name, say Archibald Alexander Worthington. He was a lawyer and signed lots of documents. One day to speed things up he signed as Archibald A. Worthington. Others noticed and thought, Good idea! And that fed a fad that became the must which we live with today.

I’ve spent serious time in other countries.  In France, for instance, and Mexico and Ukraine. Having a middle name seems universal.  I can’t recall anyone among friends speaking French or Spanish or Ukrainian or Russian (which lots of Ukrainians use as their first language) using a middle initial. That’s why I call it an American phenomenon.

By now I’m sure you’re thinking, What the heck is wrong with this LaPlante? Is he wacko? Well, surprise, I did it for good reason.

Some of you know I’m French by way of Quebec. My parents came down from there and became Americans. I was born here. Their first child. I was baptized Jean-Guy. Up there, using a hyphenated name like mine is a popular way of naming sons. Also daughters.

Maman and Papa never spoke to me or about me as just Jean or Guy. Always Jean-Guy.

When I started newspapering and earned a byline for a good story, it became Jean G.  Then when I landed a job at the big Worcester Telegram & Gazette, my byline continued to be Jean G. LaPlante. I put up with it. But several times I got letters from readers addressed to Miss Jean LaPlante. I didn’t like that. Then the paper started using John G. Yes, better but it still didn’t sound right to me.

One day in a huff, I decided, enough! I went to a lawyer. He filled out a form, I signed it, he took it to court and I became John Guy LaPlante. It was done in a day. The cost? Just $25.

(If I had asked for a change in my surname, which did not interest me, I would have had to explain why in detail and the process would have had to be advertised so people could have protested. With legitimate reason.)

But oh, the folly of youth! I was no longer living close to my dear father and mother, and I made that enormous change without ever talking it over or explaining to them. Awful! Deep down I still feel it a betrayal of my heritage.

Know what? If I could turn the clock back, I would not change my name. I would have insisted my name is Jean-Guy and certainly my friends and associates would have accepted that. Might even have liked the French uniqueness of it. I think if I had explained to my editor, he would have made my byline Jean-Guy. Oh, well…..

By the way, at the T & G I had a colleague with a French name, meaning from France.  Sanche de Gramont. He didn’t like it. Know what? He got his surname changed to Ted Morgan. Notice that “de Gramont” has nine characters and so does Ted Morgan, and they’re the same nine letters re-arranged. How about that?!  But we continued to call him Sanche and he seemed to consider that totally natural.

(What’s remarkable is that Sanche de Gramont / Ted Morgan went on to the New York Herald Tribune and won a Pulitzer Prize for on-deadline local reporting. Then morphed into a prolific author of distinguished biographies and histories.  Google / Bing him.)

By now I realize that having merely a middle initial has become so ingrained as an Americanism that it will always be so. I can protest it, but it won’t change a thing. So be it.

I’m been getting along in years, as some of you know, and I’ve given thought to some big thoughts, such as what would I like chiseled on my gravestone.  And I’ve decided, sort of, that it would be Jean-Guy LaPlante aka (for also known as) John Guy LaPlante. But I’m not sure I want a gravestone, so not a big problem. But yes, I’d like it in my obituary.

Sure, Jean-Guy / John Guy would be a fifty-fifty compromise. But a compromise is often a sign of wisdom. And wisdom is just common sense put into practice. You agree? Or you don’t?

 ~ ~ ~ ~

Thanksgiving Day? Or really Turkey Day?

By John Guy LaPlante

It is both. Thanksgiving Day is what President Lincoln intended when he made it a national holiday to be observed on the fourth Thursday in November.

And Turkey Day it also is, though no president ever got that passed. The facts say so. We’ll sit down to some 42 million turkeys this Thursday.That’s close to one third of all turkeys we’ll buy this year. [Read more…]

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?!

~ ~ ~ ~

 

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.

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