June 23, 2018

Tragedy struck, and that led Alma to God

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos.

Morro Bay, Calif. – At first I thought she was a kook or nut or something.

I have a big habit. In late afternoon I pedal my trike to our McDonald’s for a coffee. I bring a magazine or two. Coffee in hand, I plunk myself at one of its small tables, open my Time or Family Handyman or Smithsonian—borrowed from our public library— sip my coffee and read. It’s a highlight of my day. For variety, I do the same across the street at our Burger King now and then.

Well, one day I spotted her, also alone at a small table. A lady in her mid-40s, matronly and dark-skinned but lightly. No food. No beverage. Totally engrossed. She had a huge book open – volume is a better word — with a big notebook open next to it. She had pen in hand. She was scrutinizing the book and taking notes.

The pages of the big book were plastered with stickers. Blue, red, yellow, pink stickers. Notes scribbled on them. Line after line of the volume were

Alma and daughter Zeann at work at McDonald’s.

underlined in black or blue. Whole paragraphs high-lighted with a yellow marker. Oh, well. None of my business.I went back to my Family Handyman.

Two or three days later, same thing. There she was. Again engrossed.  I had a hunch. Now I was sure. That big book was a Bible.  Was she studying for a divinity degree or something?  Oh, well.

The next time, same thing. But now a pretty teenager was sitting at the next table, but had moved closer to her mom, well, so I assumed. Also with a big book open, but smaller. A Bible, I thought. It, too, had stickers in various colors. She also was reading and taking notes.

It was busy today. But the table this side of the woman was vacant. Good. I  was so curious. I squeezed behind it so I’d be right next to her. She paid no attention. What the heck was she up to?

I leaned toward her and caught her attention.  “My, oh my!’ I said with a smile. “You are working hard! That’s the Bible, isn’t it?”

She looked at me.  Still held her hand.

“Are you a minister?”

“No, no. Yes, the Bible. I study it every day. I love God!” She tapped it with her hand. “And I’m struggling to get to know Him better!” Now she tapped her chest several times.  “Knowing God is so, so important to me.”

“Please tell me more. I’ve seen you working like this several times now. I’ve noticed how terribly important it is to you. I‘m fascinated.”

And she told me her story. Needed little nudging. Was bubbling with enthusiasm.

Well, her name is Alma.  She is a teacher here. Spanish. Lives here with her husband and their three children. Excuse me. Two now, so sad to say.

Her story turned out to be a long one.  Grew up in Mexico in a small town, like ours here, but poorer. Was raised on a ranch. Her dad was a cowboy.

Alma and her hubby Bayrn promised three things.

He moved the family north, to New Mexico, for more money. A better life. It’s a story familiar to us.

She was 11.  She liked school and dreamed of becoming a teacher. Got into the University of New Mexico. She met a guy she liked. Studying chemistry. He was from Morro Bay.  As a senior at our high school here had heard nice things about that university. Love! Marriage!

Eventually Bayrn – yes, unusual name — moved her and their kids back here. He no longer does chemistry. She teaches half time in our Del Mar Elementary School.  She and Bayrn have started what they call their Spanish In Action program, They run the program in three schools after the regular school hours. The parents pay. It’s a small business. Alma and Bayrn are ambitious about it.

A remarkable story. I enjoyed it. Now I put a hand on her Bible. “Please tell me more what this is all about.”

‘”Sure.” She shifted to see me straight on. “Understanding God is my passion now.  Yes, passion! It’s the most important thing in my life. Well, you know, after my family.  I study here at McDonald’s because no husband, no kids, no TV, no dog. Usually I come alone.”

She smiled. “McDonald’s is just perfect! But, I do the same thing across the street sometimes.”  She pointed that way. She meant Burger King.

I told her that I blog. Enjoy writing about interesting people and topics. And this looked interesting to me. “Would you mind?”

“You think this would really interest people?”

“Yes, very much. ”  She smiled. And nodded. And I got right to it. “Have you always had this great big passion?”

“No.  Oh, I believed in God.  But that wasn’t knowing God! There’s a big difference.  It happened when my little boy died.  His name was Kaeden.  Our only boy.  A wonderful, wonderful little boy. Kaeden had asthma, which is not that rare, of course. We took him to a doctor and he gave us medicine and we treated him. Well, people live years and years with asthma. But Kaeden became very, very sick. And died. It was very fast. So fast. He was only five!”

I thought I had misheard his name. Asked her to repeat it. “Kaeden. Yes, an unusual name.”

She looked me straight in the eyes. Her voice rose. “I was crushed! I felt a big knife had been driven into my heart. Nothing this bad had ever happened before. It made me sick. I couldn’t work. I cried.

“Of course I thought about God. Felt I should know Him better. And that intensified my interest in the New Testament.”

I put my hand on hers. “Thank you so much for telling me about Kaeden.  Yes, so tragic.  I can see how badly you hurt. I feel so, so sorry for you.”

She was quiet a minute. ”I had an aunt who used to say a few words from this book often.” She tapped it. You know, when things weren’t so good. She’d say, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,’ which is very tiny, ‘you can battle anything. Anything!’ I have never forgotten that.  But I wondered, was it really, really true?”

She paused, “I’ll show you the exact words. Just one little minute!”

She ruffled though some pages. “Here it is.” She lifted off a blue sticker that covered those lines.

“It’s a bit longer. It’s from Matthew 17:20.” And read the passage to me. “He (Jesus) replied: Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this the mountain, ‘move here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you.”

Alma looked at me again. We were on a first-name basis now. “I felt I had no relationship with God. God my Creator! I wanted a relationship with Him.  I needed it. He told me it was possible! I bought a Bible and here I am.”

That was a few years ago. Well, she wore out that Bible.  She bought this beautiful leather-bound one.   She says she has read it 18 times. By the way, the Old Testament part in the first half has 34 books and runs from page 1 to page 1039. It’s the part that is the basis of the Jewish faith. The New Testament, about Jesus’ ministry and teachings, has 27 books and runs from pages 1043 to 1353. She’s done a lot of reading!

Meanwhile, watching us and listening had been her daughter, Zeann, Alma reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. “Zeann is our precious, wonderful daughter,” she told me. “She is a sophomore at the high school and on the honor roll. Look at this book she’s studying! European History! And it’s a college-level book!”

Zeann smiled. Blushed. Very sweet.

Their oldest, she told me, is Syler, 19.  He was the valedictorian at his high school graduation two years ago.  Received a grant and is a sophomore at the University of California Santa Cruz and is doing fine.

By now Alma knew I was serious about writing this up. She saw all the notes I was jotting down.

“Alma, such unusual names. Your husband is Bayrn. Your first son Syler. Your poor little boy Kaeden.  And she is Zeann. Are these names from the Bible?

“No. No. We made them up. Bayrn and I. We did it together, one at a time. We feel every person is distinctive. We wanted them to have distinctive names.”

Reminiscing more, she told me that a very good year was 2011   ”I became an American citizen! And was baptized at the Nazarene Church in Los Osos.”  Which is a town next door.

To do a good job, I felt I should chat with her husband.  She smiled and nodded. “No problem. Bayrn is such a wonderful husband!  You’ll like him.”

She then confided something in me. “It didn’t take long for us — him and me — to feel we were right for one another. But we had discussions.  We agreed on three essentials.” She smiled.  I would cook. But he would do the dishes and the laundry. And no screaming, ever! And now, that we love God together!”

We met two days later again at McDonald’s. The three of us.  Bayrn is a giant of a man. Has a quick and warm smile. Likes to let her do the talking. I could see his affection for her. How she was truly very dear to him.

I said to Alma again, and to him now, that it’s easy in my line of work to make mistakes, and I work hard not to, and I wanted to double-check many of the details. And we did that. It went well. She was happy. And so was I.

Pedaling home, I thought about all this.  Tried to summarize it. And these words came to me. “Alma suffered this great, incredible, life-changing tragedy. And that’s how she found God.”

That doesn’t happen to many of us.

~ ~ ~ ~

Remember, I welcome your comments. Read them all. They add greatly to my pleasure in scribbling this way.

No Airstream for me all these years but!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos.

Morro Bay, CA – Well, yesterday at Albertsons supermarket I spotted a super-duper RV. And what marvelous memories it sparked. RVs are common in this scenic tourist mecca. I see them every day. But gosh, this baby was fabulous!

Why so? Most RV’s look like, well, ordinary RVs. As usual I was getting my exercise on my tricycle and I spotted this

Look how sleek and beautiful!

beauty. It was parked. Whoever’s RV this was was shopping in Albertsons. I made an abrupt halt.

It had an aerodynamic look. Just missing the wings, that’s all.  A beautiful sculptured body, sheathed in gleaming aluminum. Not a scratch anywhere. Sculptured is the right word. Look at my photos. The long window on each side made it look longer and sleeker. I walked all around it. It looked brand new right out of the dealer’s showroom.

By the time  I got to the rear of it, I had a hunch. Could this be?  I spotted its make. Yep, this was an Airstream. My hunch was right.  And it had a California plate, which looked brand new, too.

Back at the front, glancing up at the windshield hoping to peek at the  inside, I saw a handicap placard hanging. Well, I have a handicap card, too.  Lucky me. He too must be an old guy. But his wallet was certainly a lot fatter than mine.

Strange though. Every Airstream I’ve ever seen has been a trailer, and I’ve seen many. They are special to me, as you’ll see.  This was not a trailer. It was an RV. A Mercedes RV!

That make, Airstream, invoked Wally Byam. He was the creator of the Airstream. That was way back before World War II.

Mercedes Airstream Interstate!

Wally Byam designed and built and sold them. Many makers were building trailers back then. More and better highways. Gas was cheap. More people could afford one. But he made the Airstream the best. It was THE trailer to aspire to.

Wally Byam  was also a marketing whiz. He got the brilliant idea of organizing owners into his Airstream Club. And he would lead them on caravans. His big  car and Airstream were at the very front. Long caravans, lasting weeks, with two or three dozen rigs, even more. Across the United States. Through Europe. Once even thousands of miles through undeveloped Africa. Those Wally Byam caravans were played up in magazines and newsreels. What a buzz they created.

My memories raced back to the 1960’s. And right then and there I decided to take pictures of this beauty and did that. And blog about it. Because way back in the 1960’s I dreamed of owning an Airstream.  I felt you’d be interested.

I waited. The owner didn’t come out. I hoped to chat with him and his missus. He wouldn’t be traveling alone.   So I continued pedaling up and around.   Somehow I missed them. When I circled back, I saw the Airstream driving off. Darn!

Yes, way back then I was hot for an Airstream.

I was 33. I was a journalist at the Worcester Telegram-Gazette in Massachusetts. A staff writer on that metro paper’s Sunday magazine.

One day after work I stopped at Charlie Glowick’s gas station to tank up. He was pumping, of course. That’s how it was back then.  I spotted something I had never seen at the far side of his lot. It was a tent set up on what looked like a utility trailer. The trailer had an extension flaring out about 20 inches on each side.

“Charlie, what the heck is that?”

“It’s a tent trailer,  John. It can sleep four. Folds down nice and neat. They’re new, you know. You can go off to a state park and camp. Or private campgrounds around. There are more and more of them. You can go for a weekend or a month. It’s great fun. And it doesn’t cost that much. Great as a family thing.”

“How much is it?”

“No, no, John. Right now I’m renting them, that’s all.  Got three of them. Just $60 a week.”  I was earning $97 a week, so quite a sum. Still…

He didn’t say all that in one breath. I’m summarizing. I paid him and hurried home. Pauline had supper nearly ready.  “Hurry, hurry, dear,” I said. “I just saw something terrific. I want you to see it!’

But we had little Arthur and Monique. “You get them ready. I want you to see this before Charlie Glowick closes! I’ll clear the table.” She had no idea what I was talking about.

He was still open.  He showed  us everything. How the drawer on each side was really a double bed. How the drawers slid and locked into place.  How there was storage space under the beds. How the whole thing folded down.

“Of course, you need a trailer hitch,” he said. “But considering, that ain’t a big deal. I can put one on for you if you like.”

We had a four-door sedan. He said that would work out fine.

I was eager to say yes. I looked at Pauline. I saw her thinking.  And thinking.  We knew peanuts about camping. Had no equipment.  And little Arthur and little Monique—she was barely out of diapers!  I waited. Pauline still didn’t speak. Finally! “Okay, John. We’re just renting. Not buying. Right?” I nodded.

I had a week of vacation coming up in two weeks. “I’ll put you down for that,” Charlie said. “You’ll have a great time. Make sure and take pictures!” I gave him a deposit.

Forthose  two weeks we talked over where to go. Made lists of what to take. We were on a budget. Didn’t want to go out and buy stuff. We did have a camp stove and ice cooler. We’d just borrow stuff from home. I did go to Sears and bought an 8 mm. movie camera for $24.95, I think it was. Expensive. All new to me.

And we set off for Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, 400 miles away or so. In the Blue Ridge Mountains. About a third of the way there, we pitched camp in Squantz Pond State Park in Connecticut $3 for the night, I believe. It was getting dark out.

It had trailer spots, each with a plank picnic table and stone fireplace. A busy place with people camping at just about every spot. A water spigot nearby. A washroom with toilets 500 feet away. Quite clean.

Set up the trailer, Simple supper. Took a while to ready Arthur and Monique for bed. We were tired.  Well, I slept with Arthur at my side and Pauline  with Monique. Yes, it took some adjusting.

Up early, I went out  to get breakfast going. I had my office leather shoes on. The grass was wet. I had never experienced dew. My poor shoes. We had a lot to learn….

Ready to go, we took a ride around to look at the park. Beautiful. Well maintained. The pond itself was beautiful. Ponds are small. This was big! For a minute I thought we should stay right here. (Do Google Squantz Pond State Park. Or Bing it.)  We could have a great week right here.  Didn’t bring it up. On we went.

We made Shenandoah National Park by the next night. Our very first national park to visit. So beautiful. So interesting. What a good choice.

Fine weather. Much to see, including picturesque little towns.  The kids were sweet. No problems. Lots of  fun. Lots of togetherness. Pauline got into it as much as I did. My little movie turned out to be a good idea. It did capture lots of nice memories. A fine week. By the time we got home, we knew we’d like to do more camping, and with a tent trailer. Charlie  Glowick had steered me right.

But we’d have to wait. A tent trailer of our own was out of reach.

Well, it so happened we did acquire one.  We had a Sears Roebuck Catalog. Remember its famous catalogs? They came out every year. Plus smaller seasonal ones? We were Sears catalog customers.

Well, they had a tent trailer for sale. Obviously a Nimrod but with their own name on it. It was meticulous described. All the dimensions, quality of the tent, how it folded, on and on. Very tempting. But too expensive.

With all those precise dimensions from the catalog right at hand, I decided to build one. I was a journalist. My tool skills were laughable. But I was so eager.

I remembered Fred Walsh nearby. A retired school shop teacher. (Do we still have shop teachers?) Mr. Walsh was very handy and had lots of tools. I showed him the picture from the catalog and explained what I wanted to do. Finally he agreed to help me.

I went to an auto junkyard and told the owner what I was looking for. He showed the rear end axle of a  junk car. He said he could take that and weld a simple frame on it out of angle iron. To the exact Sears dimensions I showed him. His price sounded good. I said yes and he did it. Included a tow bar, of course.

We did the rest in Mr. Walsh’s backyard. He did all the smart stuff and I all the dumb stuff. He did the major stuff alone during the day. It was summer and I’d rush and go work on it after supper. It all went quite well. The plywood drawers slid in and out fine. We sheathed the body with shiny aluminum. Beautiful!

He was pleased with it. I was proud of it. All possible because of him.

But now I needed the tent and poles for it. So I contacted Sears and ordered a tent like the one on the trailer in their catalog. I told them a long one. I said I needed a replacement tent, along with the tent poles. Okay, they said, but send us the serial number on your trailer.

“What?!” I panicked. But I went back to Charlie’s gas station. Lifted the serial number from one of his, changed a few digits and sent it in. Sears sent me the tent and the poles. (Hope I don’t spend too much time in Purgatory for that!)

But, if you think about it, Sears got to sell  a tent and poles it would not have sold otherwise. And I learned a thing or two.

Well, my hand-made rig, with all the stuff I had to buy and the check I wrote out for Mr. Walsh, turned out nearly as expensive as the Sears model! Oh, well. But we were so excited about adventures coming up! Along with little Arthur and Monique. Never possible until this.

We did a lot of weekend camping. We’d leave right after work on Friday and head for a great weekend.

At a state park on Cape Cod. $2 a night. Or another in Rhode Island—Burlingame, very fine—for seashore splashing in the salt water, then swimming the salt off in Burlingame’s pretty lake. We loved it. So did our little two.

We’d cook supper on our camp stove and dine on a park picnic table at our site. Toast a few marshmallows. Fun. Togetherness. Affordable.

We did so much of it and in so many places and my enthusiasm continued so high that n time, I started writing a column for the Telegram. It was called “Camps & Camping.” It ran every week in the Sunday edition. It was an add-on to my regular job for a bit of extra money.  I did it just as much for the fun of it.

No exaggeration now. I wrote it for 10 years without missing a Sunday. Once I wrote it from my hospital bed when I got laid up. I developed lots of regular readers. Amazing how family camping was catching on!

Now fast forward. I’d been promoted to staff writer on the Sunday Telegram’s own magazine, Feature Parade. To me, it was the best writing job at the Telegram. I got two weeks’ vacation a year. I asked Fred Rushton, our editor, for four weeks off—six in all. The extra four would be without pay.

“Why, John? Some problem at home?”

“No, no.” I told him I wanted to take Pauline and the kids on a six-week round-trip to California. She was teaching school. That would work.  My dream trip! And I’d write stories about it for Feature Parade. And he could pay me for them at the mag’s standard free-lance rate. He hemmed and hawed, then said okay.

We did it—11,000 miles all the way to California and back.  Wonderful! A few things went bad, but we made it home safe, sound, and pleased.

And of course we used our home-made tent trailer. But I got a new Falcon station wagon. I set up the back seat as a play yard for our two kids. And off we went.

Along the way, I mailed Fred half a dozen major Sunday features with  photos, every feature with a central Massachusetts peg. I had a small Olivetti portable. I loved it.  I’d set it up at our campsite and type away.

When we got back, I also wrote 22 columns with photos about national parks we had explored. Those ran in our Sunday Travel Section. I produced them at home all while carrying on my regular Feature Parade work. I was a busy boy.

In time, on the side, I wrote a book on all this. It was a memoir about our family camping experiences.  Some Telegram pals I showed it to thought it was great. But I never got to sell it.

My mistake was that I sent it to major book publishers. The biggest in the business. The rejection slips hurt. Thinking back now, I should have sent it to a niche publisher. Live and learn.

Many road trip adventures followed.  With Arthur and Monique, and then  little Mark, our third. But In time, sad to say, Pauline and I split.

Over the years, many trips.  I retired. I switched from the tent trailer to RV’s. So this was camping quite different. It was RVing. Camping on four wheels.

My first RV was the fabled, fabulous little VW Westfalia. A used one. The first and best of its genre. The one that turned legions of folks into RVing. I had long given up on ever owning an Airstream. The Westfalia was tiny, but I’d be traveling solo.

Mine was an ’87. I paid $1,100, I believe. Just a few weeks ago I spotted one. Same vintage. Looked absolutely brand-new. It was parked. Just had to speak with its owner. He told me it was totally restored. Bought it 18 months ago. Had paid $33,000 for it! He said, “I use it to go fishing in the Cascades.” Wow!”

Well, in it I explored much of our USA. Wrote many free-lance pieces as an ongoing series for the Worcester Sunday Telegram.

The Boston Globe in its Sunday travel section published a long summary of one of these coast to coast trips. On Monday morning, a friend named Brian called me and said, “John, I read it. The paper was two inches thick. And yours was the longest in the whole paper. I checked!”

I laughed. “Thank you, Brian. You say the longest! But for sure the best, too, right?” He laughed, too.  He didn’t dare disagree.

I wore that Westfalia out, then bought another.  Criss-crossed not only through our 48 states. In two-long summer trips, I traveled 15,000 miles all through Mexico. From its border right down to the bottom. From Mazatlan on the Pacific Coast to Tampico on the Gulf of Mexico. I ran into so many interesting people. A few things went sour, of course, but what great travels.

Articles about all those  got to be published here or there.

My latest big trip was four years ago. By this time I was driving a Ford E-Van.  I had converted into a one-person camper.  I was then living here in California — six months here, six back back home  in Connecticut.  It was time to head back.

It would be a 3,000-mile ride on the Interstates. If I drove 300 miles a day, I’d get home in 10 days.  Fairly easy. But I wanted to go slow and see a lot. I totaled 5,273 miles and it took me 101 days. A fantastic finale to my roving days.

I’ve locked in a ton of memories with all the articles and columns and blogs I’ve pounded out about all that and other topics over the years.

Which brings me right back to Wally Byam and his beautiful Airstreams. And the fabulous Airstream RV I spotted in the Albertsons parking lot. If only Wally could see it! How pleased he would be to see Airstreams till leading the pack. How he would applaud this model’s comfort and luxury.

I did go online and check out that model, the Interstate. Its price was $176,000. And now add on the sales tax and the insurance. How about that?!

I hope that well-off old retiree and his lady get to use it for more than just a weekend or two at places like Squantz Pond State Park. They should do our whole 48, plus Alaska!

Well,  my dream of owning an Airstream remained just that, a dream.

But what wonderful family camping and RVing I’ve gotten to enjoy! Over so many years … so many decades!

These days I’m so happy just pedaling around on my little trike. It’s nice and warm and sunny out now. So  I’m going to break and enjoy lunch and then take a spin on it. My first stop, the public library. And who knows, maybe I’ll spot something interesting at Albertsons.

~ ~ ~ ~

As you know, I welcome your comments, good and not so good. I read them all. It’s my big pleasure these days in doing this. Send one now.  Johnguylaplante@yahoo.com or @gmail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once a bibliophile, always…

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~

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

 

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…]

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.

~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

But, Doctor, fair is fair, right?

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my questionnaire..

Attending M.D.’s Professional Profile

Name _____________________   Place of birth __________  Age ___

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

Medical School _________________  Location __________ Year of graduation  ______

      Internship   _________________________    When _____

      Residency   __________________________  When _____

      Post-doc      __________________________  When _____

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

Hospitals where you have attending privileges:

     ________________________

     ________________________

     ________________________

     Specialty Certifications beyond the M.D.

      ____________________

      ____________________

      _____________________

Are all of these current?   Yes ____     No  ____

If no, why not?  ___________________________

Are you self-employed?   Yes ____    No _____

If no, who is your employer? _______________________

Do you have Malpractice Insurance?  No  ___   Yes __

 Provider(s) of your Malpractice Insurance

       ____________________    Address ________________________

       _____________________   Address ________________________

Has any Insurer ever canceled you?   No ____     Yes __

If yes, why?  ___________________________

                         ___________________________+

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

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

Do you sometimes provide charity (free) services?   ________

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

If yes, name  ­­­­_______________  Address   ______________________       

            Name _______________  Address _____________________

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

Or for prescribing certain medications?   No ____   Yes ___

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

No ___    Yes ___ How many times _____

If yes, what was its or their disposition?

     Absolved  Yes   ____

     Warning   Yes ____

      Fine  Yes __

      Suspension Yes   ____

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

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

If yes, disposition ____________________________

                               ____________________________

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

Where ____________________________

Have your privileges ever been suspended?   No __    Yes ___

If yes, please explain  ______________________________________________

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

If yes, institution ______________________________

Any treatment / program currently underway?   No ___   Yes ___

Where __________________________________

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

No ___    Yes ____

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

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

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

And Doctor, fair is fair, right?

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

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

Do you make the daily newspaper available?  _________________

Your signature __ ______________________  Date ____

~ ~ ~ ~

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

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

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

 ~ ~ ~~

 

 

 

 

Remember the good old Palmer Method? Spelling bees?

By John Guy LaPlante

Probably not if you’re sixtyish or less.I do though I have not thought about those wondrous two for years and years.

The Palmer Method taught me how to handwrite the way I have all my life – cursive writing, it’s called. A blessing.

And I loved spelling bees. I couldn’t even sing Happy Birthday but I was great at spelling.

All this flashed back to me on Mother’s Day. We were all together at our festive dinner. Little Ruby had a cute card for her Memere, my daughter Monique. Memere is French for Grandma. Monique joyfully passed it around.

It was my turn. Yes, very cute. Ruby had added a little note, very touching. First I noticed her signature. So distinctive! Then I read her a note. Her spelling was excellent, which was not a surprise. And I liked her message to her Grammy, so far as I could tell. I had to guess at it a bit.

It was her writing. I frowned. Some of her words bumped into one another.  She didn’t write the way her Grammy does. Or I do. What she had done was print all her letters and words.

“Ruby,” I said. “Didn’t you study the Palmer Method back in the second and third grade?”

She thought a minute. “No,” drawing out the word very long. I could see she had no idea what the Palmer Method is. Chris and Kim, her dad and mom, were listening carefully.

Well, I studied Palmer Method. And I’m sure her Memere did, too.

Chris jumped in. “Yes, she did. But the teachers have the kids print, so she lost it. And now they all use computers. Now they’re isn’t much need to write anything down.”

And then Kim said, “Yes, John. And that’s what happened with all her classmates. They just plain forgot.”

That was all news to me.

Ruby was listening also, of course.

She likes to play games. “Ruby, would you like to play a little game?”

She nodded quickly. I asked her to get a sheet of paper and a pencil or ballpoint and put them on the table. “Now I will say some words and I want you to write them down. As neatly as possible.”

She was ready in a minute. I composed a sentence in my mind and dictated it clearly. Then another. And another. And so on. Using words she’d be comfortable with. “Now may I see it please, Ruby?”

I looked at it. I frowned. She had printed it just like on her card to her Memere. I couldn’t make out any misspelled words. But again her letters were all printed. So not connected to one another. And she had labored in put all the words down. It had taken a lot longer than using cursive.

And when she came to the word “write,” she had looked up and asked her Mom, “Is it right or write?’ Kim had said “‘write.” If that had happened to Ruby while on her iPad, it would have made the correction, I believe.

And if Ruby had taken part in a few spelling bees, I believe she’d know the difference between right and write.

I took a photo of her work and here it is. Please look it over.

Ruby's handwriting photo

See what I mean? Every letter stands alone. See how some words nearly touch? Her spelling is excellent. Isn’t her signature terrific?!

Ruby is in the sixth grade now. A big year, I was told. Because in sixth every child gets an iPad. They do all their work on it in class and at home.  They must bring it to school every day. All the lessons come to them on the iPad. There are no real textbooks. No need for paper and pencils and ballpoints.

Monique and I have discussed this and she made a point.  “Dad, Ruby does use a pad and pencil.  I’ve seen her using them when she comes and visits.” That made me feel better.

There is no blackboard. Instead, the teachers use a big computer screen that’s on the front wall. Can write some words or do a math problem on their iPad. What they do will show on the big screen.

In one way, that’s fantastic. This is the Computer Age and this is the only age these kids know. The one they will live and work in.  We old folks got into it late and the price we pay is clumsiness and exasperation.

At the Worcester Telegram-Gazette where I worked, the paper scrapped all the typewriters and put in computers. We had to learn to use them and fast.

I was hitting 40 and I remember how uptight I was. Some of my older colleagues were so shaken that they chose early retirement.

Ruby and her schoolmates are at ease with it. Which is wonderful. Just about all of them have a cellphone. And they’re at ease with that too. They can send text and read text. No problem. No way can I argue with that.

Ruby attends a public school in a nice small town. It’s not a big-bucks private school. And there she is with a free iPad. I marvel at that. But maybe that’s why the town’s education budget is so high.

On the other hand maybe that expense is washed by the school not having to supply printed textbooks and writing supplies and so on. All while launching the kids in a most pleasant way into the marvels of computers. No way can I argue with that either.

And maybe in the little game she and I had, Ruby learned something else. Maybe she got to think, “Gee, am I glad I’m not going to a school like the one Pepere did!”

~ ~ ~ ~

My interview with the world’s greatest astronomer

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

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

[Read more…]

The disappearing !  Aren’t you worried?

By John Guy LaPlante

Don’t recognize it?  It’s ! –our exclamation mark. If you’re not worried, I am! It seems as dead as the dodo.

My memory is pretty good. I believe nobody has ever sent me an email and used an exclamation mark in it.  They might be saying, “Happy Birthday, John,” or “Sorry about your terrible fall.” No exclamation mark. Those are exclamations. So an ! is essential!

Haven’t you experienced the same thing? I’ll bet you have.

The big question is, why is our ! so imperiled?

Back in grammar school, excuse me, the elementary school so-called now, we learned we have 12 punctuation marks.  Well, I did. They are the period (.), comma (,) question mark (?), exclamation mark (!), colon (:), semi-colon (;), apostrophe (‘), quotation mark (“), the hyphen (-), the dash (–) , parentheses (which you’ve seen me use 10 times here), and brackets [ ].

In our newspapers and magazines, you never see an exclamation any more. It’s absolutely taboo. A headline will say, “Mother Kills Her Six Children.”  No exclamation mark! That’s absurd! One exception—our awful supermarket tabloids! They sock us with them.

And of the 12, the exclamation mark is one of the four biggies.

Online I just found a perfect explanation showing why they’re important and how they’re used. It’s dramatic! It’s so good that I’m reproducing it here right now. Hope I’m not infringing on a copyright!

First, its clever but unfortunately unknown author shows us several lines of English. With zero punctuation marks.  And asks us if we make sense out of it.  Here’s it is — I’m putting it in italic for clarity.

perhaps you dont always need to use commas periods colons etc to make sentences clear when i am in a hurry tired cold lazy or angry i sometimes leave out punctuation marks grammar is stupid i can write without it and dont need it my uncle Harry once said he was not very clever and i never understood a word he wrote to me i think ill learn some punctuation not too much enough to write to Uncle Harry he needs some help

Do you make sense out of it? Of course not. Well, only after a struggle! Now the author puts in the punctuation, and does so properly. Now take a look:

Perhaps you don’t always need to use commas, periods, colons etc. to make sentences clear. When I am in a hurry, tired, cold, lazy, or angry I sometimes leave out punctuation marks. “Grammar is stupid! I can write without it and don’t need it,” my uncle Harry once said. He was not very clever, and I never understood a word he wrote to me. I think I’ll learn some punctuation – not too much, enough to write to Uncle Harry. He needs some help!

Notice the incredible improvement? Those little marks are essential! I called this a perfect example. Not so. Only half of the available marks are used. It should have included every one of them. And a couple are used wrong, well, in my opinion.

Case closed!

Whoever first used those marks did so to make anything read on paper sound as close as possible to how they would sound if spoken.

When anyone speaks, they utter something and stop. That’s why on paper they’d put in a period. When they ask us anything, by their tone of voice we instinctively know it’s a question.  So on paper they’d include a question mark. If they yell something good or bad, or curse, or warn us about something, we know they’re exclamations. And on paper they’d include the marks invented to show that.

That’s for the main four punctuation marks. To make written messages crystal clear, the other eight were introduced, one by one. They have subsidiary roles, albeit consequential.

I for one would love to read the history of our punctuation marks. The inventor of each one. What year. And so on. Fascinating. I’m not sure a history exists. But hey,  one does exist! I went looking and found David Crystal’s wonderful  Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation. St. Martin’s Press, 2015. I quote him here about the exclamation mark. This is just one highlight.

Here’s a short selection of contexts where the [exclamation] mark would be routinely used these days, says he.

interjections – Oh!
expletives – Damn!
greetings – Happy Xmas!
calls – Johnny!
commands – Stop!
expressions of surprise – What a mess!
emphatic statements – I want to see you now!
attention-getters – Listen carefully!
loud speech in dialogue – I’m in the garden!
ironic comments – He paid, for a change! or . . . for a change (!)
strong mental attitudes – ‘Hardly!’ he thought

A complete list of situations would be impossibly long, as it would need to identify all the emotions that could motivate the use of the mark.”

Thank you, Mr. Crystal!

Well, I  said “Case closed!” Not quite.

What is still open is why, yes, why, the exclamation mark seems to have gone out of fashion. It seems so contrary to the intent of whoever’s the writer. Maybe the writer is a boring, cold-blooded, impassionate person.  Though I’ll bet that’s not so. I think it’s the fear of appearing emotional, or not wanting to run against the tide. Or plain lack of appreciation, meaning ignorance.

In our good newspapers, there’s a different reason. I believe they do so to maintain the “objectivity” that is the hallowed and important prime principle that backs up all their reporting. Which is totally lacking in many other countries where the press is just an arm of the ruling government. China. Russia. And so on.

I mentioned in their reporting.  But it’s different on their editorial page. That’s where they’re telling us their official, on-the-record opinion. True also of their columnists and op-ed writers and letter writers. It’s wrong here for them not to show their strong feelings by abstaining from the exclamation mark! They’re delinquent! That ! would add the needed emphasis!

I use exclamation marks a lot, and I’m sure you’ve noticed.  Though far more than usual in this piece just to dramatize my message. But hey, I’ve even been known to use two, yes, two !! together. Such as, “About this matter, I am damned, in fact, gxd-dammed upset!!”  See?

I can even imagine a situation when I might use three. Such as four years from now, “Trump gets re-elected!!!” See? And that wouldn’t be to show my amazement. No, no!  To show my utter shock!!! God forbid that does happen in 2020!

I’ve even been known to use two different punctuation marks together. Such as, “What did you think of that terrific editorial?!”  See? I’m sure you can tell I intend it as a combination question and exclamation.

Enough said!

But do you think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill? Please let me know!

Do you think I’m too passionate and should calm down? Please let me know!

Do you think I’m fighting a losing battle? Please let me know!

If you agree with me, well, use the  ! more. Please, please!!

Who’s seen a Greyhound bus lately?

 

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

Often I did leave the driving to Greyhound.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Read more…]

The dirtiest book I’ve ever bought

By John Guy LaPlante

I’ve bought many books. None ever as filthy as this.

The book is “The Limerick” by G. Legman. An oldie, 1969.

I’m not given to writing book reviews. But  I’ve got to express my opinion about this one.

Gershon Legman when he was researching and writing full blast.

Gershon Legman when he was writing full blast. Didn’t seem the outdoor type.

I bought it online, so with no peeks inside first. It was considered a classic.  Written by a scholar, with scholarly notes. I liked the cover. And 1,700 limericks. Wow! And there was even a used copy.

One thing I saw right away.  Because it’s an old book, all the limericks in it are old, some very, very old.  Next I’m going to buy one that’s contemporary.

I like limericks. So clever. Often so funny.  Such a challenging art form.

I got my first taste of limericks as a teen-ager reading the great old Saturday Evening Post. And I’d look forward to seeing another, and another. [Read more…]

Ahimsa. What the heck is that?

By John Guy LaPlante

I know you’re eager to know. One minute, please.

Sulekh, my friend for 41 years.We have had many talks, big adventures. adventures together.

My friend Sulekh, new author. I believe the best known Jain in America, all because so passionate about Jainism.

Time and again my dear friend Sulekh Jain has astonished me.  For 41 years!

This time for writing and getting published a detailed, startling book entitled “An Ahimsa Crisis: You Decide.”

What’s it all about?  Ahimsa is a remarkable philosophy, a unique way of life. You’ll be fascinated. Maybe puzzled, too.

Sulekh gets all fired up extolling Ahimsa. He wants the whole world to practice Ahimsa. Its adherents are mostly Jains like himself. What’s interesting is that In India and the whole world there are only some eight million Jains. Very few.

More than 90 percent of them live in India. They’re a tiny minority there but incredibly successful and influential. That’s a fact. Sulekh is a Jain.  That’s why he carries that name. Not all Jains carry it.

Sulekh is an American, by the way. Came here 47 years ago. Part of the huge brain drain from India—doctors and engineers and such. And he’s not a preacher. Not a book writer. He’s a Ph.D. mechanical engineer. Nine patents and more than 50 technical papers to his credit. Which has zilch to do with Ahimsa.  Retired now but working full blast to promote Ahimsa.

Sulekh gives a thousand reasons to back up why everybody should take up Ahimsa.  So that includes me and you. Not his Jainism, but its way of life.  Ahimsa is its core belief.

[Read more…]

To subscribe or unsubscribe Click Here