Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Yellow On The Move

4:21:10 PM - March 28, 2011

4:21:14 PM - March 28, 2011

7:32:40 PM - March 28, 2011

7:35:08 PM - March 28, 2011

Green isn't moving nearly as fast....

Monday, March 28, 2011

It Wasn't All Fun And Games....

The 1960s, I mean.

In-between going to drive-in movies, and looking forward to getting my next Baja Marimba Band LP, and visiting the Moose Lodge, and playing space ship in abandoned refrigerators, there was Vietnam to think about.

Vietnam was like a crazy aunt in the attic. Nobody knew what to do with her. Until somebody somewhere came up with something, she was allowed to scream for a few minutes every day on the TV news and in the newspapers. Respectable people simply ignored her and moved on.

McHale's Navy was never ordered into the Gulf of Tonkin. Gomer was never deployed overseas. The Flying Nun was never told to drop napalm on anyone or face imprisonment. The body bags never made their way back home to Mayberry....

Our paperboy, Tom K., was scared shitless regardless. In fact, he was so scared shitless of his draft number being pulled and being sent to Vietnam that he preemptively joined the Coast Guard. He might have married my sister otherwise. Instead, he married someone else - but not before telling us that his experiences in the Coast Guard had been so awful, he wished he'd taken his chances with the draft instead.

I guess there's just no pleasing some people.

A boy about Tom's age who I sometimes saw at the barbershop didn't seem to be scared at all. He may even have enlisted - I don't know. Whether he enlisted or was drafted, he seems to have been quite happy the day he stopped by the shop to show off his brand new uniform. The head barber (George) was very impressed. Me, not so much - partly because he never, ever acknowledge my existence in all the times I saw him, and partly because the head barber never, ever seemed to be half as impressed with me.

Maybe I should have tipped more?

Anyway.... The boy (whose name I can't recall but who may have been known as Terry) ended up being shipped to Vietnam. Months passed. Eventually the news wafted into the barbershop that he wasn't doing so well. I'm not sure what happened. All I can recall is the head barber (George) talking about how he'd been vomiting blood. I don't know if that was the result of being shot or because of some strange Asian illness he'd acquired. I don't think he ended up dying, but I really don't know. The concept of vomiting blood seems to have blotted out everything else. I'd been seeing people die on TV and in the movies for a very long time by then, after all - but vomiting blood? That was startlingly unexpected. Surreal. Like being told that someone was pissing out their ears....

My cousin Roberta hooked up with a US soldier named Lee, circa 1968. Roberta was my sister's age. The two girls had talked about getting an apartment together the minute they turned 18 in 1967 but that idea seems to have been dropped when my mother threatened to do some carpet bombing of her own. So instead Roberta married the soldier. I'm sure he turned out to be a more useful roommate. He wasn't much of a conversationalist, though. And especially not about Vietnam. Although he served time there he simply refused to say one word about his experiences. If he had, maybe I wouldn't now remember him as The Quiet Hillbilly. I'm sure that's unfair, but it's the best I can do with what I have to work with....

I think Lee and Tom and He Who Vomits Blood were the only boys I personally knew who got tangled up in LBJ's southeast Asian police action.

Bob the Marine was the only man I knew who got tangled up in it.

Or the only career military man who embraced it with gusto, anyway.

It was Bob the Marine who drove us to see Cleopatra at the drive-in in the summer of 1964.

And it was Bob the Marine who almost became my step-father a year or two later.

I think my mother went to high school with Bob. In any event, they were both in their mid-30s by the time people were going from watching Walter Cronkite's nightly gore report to watching "What's My Line?" and "The Munsters" without blinking an eye. Like He Who Vomited Blood, Bob seemed to see the war as some kind of great and noble undertaking. Like The Quiet Hillbilly, however, he never had much to say about it.

He did send us a batch or two of photos while he was on a tour of duty, however.

Here's my favorite shot:

In the early 1970s I saw a big anti-war ad in the newspaper that went something like this: "If your son is 13 he's just 5 years away from being drafted and sent to Vietnam."

For maybe the first time in my life it occurred to me that the war was something that might end up engulfing ME.

Scary thought.

But not quite as scary in retrospect as the realization that I came very, very close to becoming the adopted child of a career Marine officer.

Not that he seemed awful at the time. Fence posts didn't seem awful at the time, either. But who wants a fence post for a father?

I guess I ought to be glad that he wasn't worse - glad that he seems to have barely looked at me, let alone tried to run my life in ways too horrible to contemplate - but... what can I say?

"All in the Family" is funny when you get to watch it as it unfolds in a little box for 30 minutes every week but not so much when you have to live it 24/7.

But maybe I have it all wrong.

Maybe there was a tender or a curious or an artistic side of Bob that I just never got the chance to see.

Maybe he did me a favor by teaching me that tickling can be a kind of torture and that Indian arm rubs were something to be avoided at all costs. (Why didn't the Vietnamese surrender in the face of such things?)

Maybe he really wasn't being hilariously stupid the day he told me that the only correct way to assemble a jigsaw puzzle was to start with the upper left hand corner and proceed methodically piece-by-piece across the first row, and then the next, and then the next. (Is it any wonder that we lost the war?)

Maybe it betrays a grave person failing, but... suffice it to say that I never liked Bob more than when he was far, far away and sending beautifully colored red, white, and blue air mail envelopes to our door....

Bob's dead now - but not because of anything that happened in the war. He simply got old after retiring from the Marines and (as far as I know) enjoying a long and happy retirement.

The photos he sent so many years ago remain.

Pieces of history. Or of a dream. Or both.

Pieces that barely hint at what once was. And what might have been.

The sort of pieces that death and time continue to funnel my way as if they're consciously pandering to my unsavory inclination to poke at and ponder the rubble left after every private apocalypse.

If I were being paid for this I suppose I could call myself an historian.

Since I'm not I guess it would be more honest to call myself a sick puppy that keeps lapping up life's barf in the crazy belief that it'll somehow prove to be more nutritious and edifying the second time around.

If they ever come out with a Wii version of that, let me know.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dear Donnie...

"Hey! I quit OD. Eyes gone really bad since cataract surgery - shouldn't have done it. So, I don't get on the computer much anymore. Tires eyes/me out too much.

"Anyway - - - I saw 'Singing in the Rain' at a drive-in in Dallas with a bunch of cousins. Now, THAT says something about MY age. PBS did a very interesting documentary on drive-ins not long ago. Or was it Showtime? No matter; if you get a chance to watch it (whatever channel it's on), be sure to do so.

"E. Taylor was, as they say/said, the most beautiful woman in the world."

Donnie (March 27, 2011 1:14 PM)

Dear Donnie -

Thanks for stopping by and leaving these comments!

That's really too bad about your eyes. I hope things improve for you as time goes by. And I hope your visual memories of "Singing in the Rain" remain as vivid as ever. That's a great show!

I missed that documentary about drive-ins. Sounds neat!

I was never a huge fan of drive-ins, but like a lot of other things (such as portable washing machines) they were odd enough to make an indelible impression on me - and their demise is proof that things really *do* change over time. (It seems I can never get enough proof of that.)

According to my copy of this book -

- Richard Hollingshead opened the world's first drive-in in Camden, New Jersey in the early 1930s. By the late 1940s some 743 were scattered across the country. By 1956 there were 5000. They allegedly peaked at about 6000 in 1961. By 1991 only about 900 remained in business.

I'm told that as cities expanded, the land these drive-ins were on was too valuable to be used for a business that operated only at night (and only part of the year in the north). That I knew. The authors go on to say that Daylight Savings Time proved deadly, too. Most of the country adopted DST by the late 1960s and that pushed movie start times to 9pm or later - not good for those folks who had to get up early the next day to go to work. (The authors also claim that more places became available for teens to have sex, but I wouldn't know anything about that.)

Cable TV and the VCR probably did the most to kill 'em. Why go out and sit in a car for hours on end to watch a movie when you can just pop a tape into a machine with pause and rewind buttons?

Now the video stores are all dying, thanks to Netflix and the Internet. Our two local Blockbusters just recently shut down. The closest has already been torn down. (A bank is being built on the site - but how long before online banking kills it off?)

It was big news of course when the first video stores opened. I was living in Dayton at the time, circa 1984. The first tapes I rented from the ludicrously small shop that displayed its wares singly along one long wall were "Metropolis" and "Let It Be" - things that didn't pop up on broadcast TV very often (if ever). It was probably the most fun I'd had with a cathode ray tube since the release of Pong nearly 10 years earlier....

As for Elizabeth Taylor.... She always did strike me as being supernaturally beautiful - much more so than the cartoonish Marilyn Monroe ever did. Or Jean Harlow, Betty Grable, and Rita Hayworth (who always seemed to me to reflect the tastes of a very different generation). Elizabeth at her peak seems to transcend time somehow.

I once had a book that called her The Last Movie Star. That's how I've thought of her ever since. That's not to say she was a great actress or a great celebrity but... the last iconic visage and larger-than-life personality worthy of a huge screen or a wall-size poster. It's hard for me to imagine anyone wanting a wall-size poster of Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts, but maybe that's just my old age talking.

I don't think so, though, since I've felt this way since about 1970. Stars like Elizabeth and Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne and Cary Grant and (perhaps last but not least) Paul Newman seem to have had something that Steve McQueen and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro (let alone Tom Cruise) just don't. Maybe it was something manufactured by the studio system, maybe it was something generated in my mind by their having first become iconic in glorious black and white, or maybe I'm just being delusional (as my SO seems to think). Whatever the case, in my mind at least she'll always remain as perfect as a 1956 Chevy in a world of ugly SUVs and cookie cutter econo-boxes.

Well, as perfect as a 1956 Chevy that allgedly once aborted Frank Sinatra's child can be, anyway....

(NOTE: My SO has reminded me that Mickey Rooney still lives and has earned the right to be called the last movie star. This claim would be much more persuasive if Mickey had ever seemed like a star to me at all rather than like a kid who snuck into MGM when the guard was out to lunch.)

(NOTE 2: My SO has also reminded me that I'm terribly opinionated for someone who has never been crowned king. I plead guilty as charged but ask that the members of the jury visit me for an in-house demonstration of my ability to back those opinions up with a wild waving of my cane before they recommend a sentence.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Walk In The Park

Here are a few mementos from March 20 that I've been looking at often the last few days. They remind me that the recent return to wintry temperatures is nothing more than a dip in the road as the year moves inexorably towards summer.

An old friend, not seen since November 13.

A new friend, never seen before in all my years in Ohio.
(Do you recognize her? I think she's an Eastern Towhee.)

A male Downy Woodpecker - another old friend who won't loan me money.

A female Downy Woodpecker on the opposite side of the same tree.
(Both 'peckers snobbily ignored the lowly tree rat in the background.)

The first daffodils I've seen all year.
These were in an area that gets very little sun.
Go figure.

Not daffodils - but almost right across from them.
(Despite their proximity, they failed to fool me.)

Day of the Living Crocus!
(Somehow I managed to escape their clutches.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Unforgettable Night With Elizabeth

Although it all happened a long time ago, I can still remember things quite clearly.

She was a young and vibrant 32 or so.

I was an even younger and more vibrant 5.

The hot summer night brought us together at a driver-in theater I hadn't even known existed the day before.

As my eyes played across her face from the back seat of the car, she seemed bigger than life and twice as colorful.

Then everything started going wrong.

For some reason, she seemed to prefer talking to Rex Harrison instead of to me.

Blah blah blah.

I excused myself and went to check out the concession stand, then the playground area beneath the screen.

Her quivering, angry voice followed me everywhere I went.

Blah blah blah!

It felt terribly strange to be out in the night air, playing on the swings with strange boys half my age while her voice seemed to emerge from a million different places and huge disembodied heads loomed over me.

Somehow I made my way back to the right back seat of the right car despite my extreme discombobulation.

It was hard to get comfortable but eventually fatigue worked its magic and I drifted off to sleep....

That would have been back in the summer of 1964.

Here's what the site of our tryst would have looked like back then:

It seemed much more charming at night, with its multiple strings of flashing orange and yellow lights outlining many of its edges.

I suppose I can thank an ad like this one that appeared in the July 20, 1964 edition of the Toledo Blade for bringing us together:

That same newspaper tells me that the movie started at 9:10. Other sources tell me that it ran over 4 hours. All I can say is that it seemed to run much longer. (Part of my brain suspects that it's *still* running and so-called real life is just a desperate, self-generated attempt to get away from it.)

Toledo had seven drive-ins at the time; only one remains. I think this was the only time I was ever at this one. I'm told that it opened in 1964 and could accommodate 600 cars. It apparently closed in 1988 and was replaced with the sort of strip mall shops I doubt Elizabeth ever made an appearance it. (I bet all the better asps steer well clear of the area as well.)

There were three other people in the car with me that night. Of the four of us, somehow I was the one who ended up with the special 48-page souvenir program - my one tangible link to that long ago night.

You can get one just like it for $25 now on eBay. That's like paying someone a penny a week to store it for you since the day it was first sold.

(NOTE: There's a notice on the inside back cover that says additional copies can be obtained by sending $1.00 to National Publishers, Inc., 1472 Broadway, New York 36, New York, but... I wouldn't count on it.)

If you ever spent an evening with Elizabeth, I hope you have something even better to show for it.

My own last similar experience with a woman was in 1982 when I met up with Dolly Parton at the Auto-Vue in Sidney, Ohio. Somehow or other, Jeane Dixon never got around to telling me that the part of my life that started in the sands of ancient Egypt when I was just about to enter kindergarten would come to a screeching halt in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" less than 20 years later. This is just one of the reason why I hate Jeane Dixon.

Now it's almost 30 years after THAT!

Cheesus H. Christ! Exactly how old am I??

*Making a note to figure that out right after my afternoon nappy*

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sky Drama

I don't know why so many people continue to watch manufactured drama on TV when there's so much real drama going on right over our heads.

And NO commercials!

Today's sky drama reached its climax about 4:15 this afternoon when it started to hail.

It was pea-size hail - or maybe just a tad bigger. Which is just about the best kind of hail there is. Big enough to be interesting, but not big enough to do much damage.

And here's what the radar looked like at the time. (I'm the smiling Ohioan down there in the center of it all who's waving hi.)

It only came down for a couple minutes, but that was enough. I tend not to like shows that require an intermission to reduce the chances of a burst bladder.

Coincidentally, this is Severe Weather Awareness week here. They tested the tornado sirens at 9:50am. But, as usual, they didn't explain what the procedure would be if a tornado actually popped up at test time. Some areas of the state cancelled the test for fear that it would conflict with a real event. But there seems to have been some confusion as to whether or not that's what the National Weather Bureau was recommending. This confusion about testing procedures does not exactly boost my confidence in their ability to do the right thing during an actual emergency.

Neither does the memory of their sounding the sirens too long a few years ago during an actual tornado touchdown. They ended up burning out quite a few sirens as a result. The replacements cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Oops. Guess the designers never heard about fuses.

(I sometimes think that our Internet browsers need fuses. You know - something that will burn out before our brains do. But I digress.)

They said on the news yesterday that any time a storm produces hail it can also produce a tornado. Because of the height of the cloud and the forces inside. Or something. But obviously there's more to it than that because not every cloud that produces hail also produces a tornado. I'd even bet that hail is far more common than tornadoes, so that something must be pretty significant. Jet stream speed and alignment, maybe? There was almost no lightning here today - and there's almost always lots of lightning when we do get a tornado - so.... I dunno. I'm just throwing this out there in case you're looking for something to do your next science fair project about.

(The last science fair project I did involved making a model of a nuclear reactor. That would have been back in 1973. Before Chernobyl. Before Three Mile Island. But after the Fermi incident that inspired the book, We Almost Lost Detroit. I lived less than 50 miles away from Fermi at the time. Had things turned out a bit differently back in 1966, the Japanese could have been the ones in front of their TVs watching me popping iodine tablets while living in a rain-soaked tent. Instead, I was able to sit in my room and come to the conclusion that relying on a substance that's going to be deadly for thousands of years just to boil water to turn turbines to power TVs so people could watch "The Brady Bunch" was more than a little stupid. Nobody ever asked for my opinion, though. If they ever do, I'm ready to share it. But I digress.)

I can remember that it started to hail one day when I was walking home from school. I was walking south along the west side of Cambridge - not far from where I saw my first dead squirrel a few years earlier. It must have been late spring - school was still in session, but all the trees were full with their summer foliage. Cambridge had a lot of trees back then and those leaves protected me from the pea-size hail. Or maybe it was a little bigger than that. Anyway, it was an awesome experience - as unexpected and as magical as the anti-poppy snowfall in The Wizard of Oz. Let's say it was 1966 - the same year the Fermi incident almost released a very different kind of magic.

In the years that followed I often found myself walking home from school longing for a repeat performance. It never came....

I think it was my friend Freddy L. who told our teacher the next day that he'd been caught in a hail storm on his walk home and had scooped up some of the hail and put it in his freezer. This caused waves of envy to wash over me. Not only did this prove that Freddy was a genius - it also meant that he'd taken what had been an extremely ephemeral event for me and turned it into something he could savor forever at his leisure.

Well, haha, Freddy. Today *I* was the one who thought to capture the hail with a digital camera. And just in case you haven't heard, digital photos are the things that don't melt when the power goes out after all the reactors have melted down. Sure, I might not be able to actually see those photos again until the power comes back up or I loot some batteries from a store as our society collapses, but I know they'll still be there for me.

And I'll even let you look at them after I get those batteries if you'll finally apologize for punching me in the face.

Oh, what the hell.... You shared your watermelon with me once. And let me into your basement to see your Dad's elaborate train sets. Feel free to go back up to the earlier part of this entry right now and stare at my photos for as long as you like.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Future Shocked

Regular readers may have long ago picked up on the fact that one of the things I've been attempting to do with this diary is to better understand the past.

That's become increasingly difficult to do as this year has unfolded. It seems that it's hard to focus on the past when wave after wave of current events are washing over it and threatening to carry it entirely away.

I have to say, I expected 2011 to behave itself much better than it has. Instead, it's acting like a bratty child with ADHD, bouncing off the walls and screaming its lungs out. If there was a way to slip a year a few tranquilizers, I would do so now without a second thought. (I might even slap it silly if I knew which end was least likely to slap back.)

Ordinary years are bad enough, what with their standard number of car accidents and drownings and all the other hazards of life that anyone with access to good statistical data can predict with uncanny accuracy. The goal of a sane society would be to better understand those statistics and the incidents they represent and then work to influence them in a positive way as part of a common human quest to make life on this planet as pleasant as possible for the greatest number possible.

Alas, it seems an unending series of extraordinarily unfortunate events have indefinitely postponed the opportunity to deal with merely normal hazards.

And as one extraordinarily unfortunate event has followed on the heels of another, it seems that we can't even begin to comprehend (let alone deal with) one of these events before the next is upon us.

Consider the Tucson massacre of early January. Has anyone yet really grasped its significance? Have we even begun to identify let alone grapple with the deeper issues related to mental illness and easy access to guns that it raised? No, we have not. Perhaps we had time to shed a tear for the child who was killed or to cheer on Rep. Giffords' recovery before the start of the next Big Thing, but honestly, I can't recall. "Things are in the saddle and ride mankind," as Emerson said, and things seem to have acquired a new set of spurs.

Tunisia.... Egypt.... The unrelenting Republican assault on public workers and their unions.... Japan's earthquake and tsunami and nuclear disasters.... Libya.... It's as if the Fates have overdosed on amphetamines and are now determined to squeeze an entire year's worth of news into just three months....

At what point does the rush of events overwhelm our ability to deal with them in even a perfunctory manner? At what point do we and/or our institutions just shut down?

Earlier human beings certainly faced tremendous challenges but what in our long evolutionary history has prepared us to deal with the peculiar challenges presented by today's complex social, economic, political, and technological systems or their even more complex interactions?

Exactly how are we to adequately learn from and adapt to an event like last year's BP oil spill in the Gulf when hit with a nuclear power crisis less than a year later?

Exactly how are we to successfully pay for and manage a new war in Libya when we have yet to successfully pay for or manage the nearly decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Exactly how are we going to find and nurture the enlightened political leaders of the future when the issues raised by the assassinations of our political leaders of the 1960s continue to be ignored (or written off as unsolvable)?

There's more I could say, but at this point I suppose it all boils down to this:

Move to Canada.

Unplug the TV.

Hope for the best.

(If you have an opinion as to which region of Canada is most likely to make it to 2015 with a minimum of icy build-up on its wings, please share!)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Between The Houses

6:20:18 PM - March 12, 2011

6:23:46 PM - March 12, 2011

6:25:12 PM - March 12, 2011

6:27:24 PM - March 12, 2011

6:27:42 PM - March 12, 2011

And to think that just 11 days earlier, the sun was going down right behind the street light....

Saturday, March 12, 2011

From Winter To Spring In 30 Hours

Here are a few photos I took today while visiting a local park.

It's suddenly hard to remember that snow covered the ground as recently as yesterday morning....

No signs of life (other than the botanical kind) at the frog pond yet. It was good to see that recent rains and snow melt have raised the water up to a respectable level.

Despite a decade of trying I still haven't figured out if the goldfish somehow manage to survive in the depths all winter long or if the pond gets restocked with them every year when I'm not looking. No sign of them today.

I *did* catch a cloud making faces in the water, however.

Silly cloud. I bet it laughs every time the wind blows some poor woman's skirt up, too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Troubled Skies

5:47:26 PM - March 7, 2011

5:54:28 PM - March 7, 2011

6:07:24 PM - March 7, 2011

6:14:42 PM - March 7, 2011

The sunsets have been showing up later and later lately - when they've bothered to show up at all.

It's almost as if they know that the Republicans are plotting to take away their health care and pensions, too....

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Pleasures And Pains Of Laundry Day

I was recently discussing laundry with my S.O. and mentioned in passing that there was a time when I was a child when a neighborhood midget woman would bring her washer over and haul it up our flight of 23 stairs so that we could use it in our kitchen to wash our clothes.

My S.O. looked at me like I was crazy.

It's a true story, though, however surreal it may sound.

At least I thought it was a true story. The bizarre images that it conjured up even as I was telling it made me wonder....

The woman had dark hair. I'm not sure how my mother met or knew her, but she seems to have lived on Islington or maybe Rockingham a few blocks to our south. Somehow she managed to drive a car over to our place despite her extreme lack of height. Somehow she managed to get her washer up our stairs, too, all by herself. I was too young to help and my mother never offered to. Apparently my mother thought that the few bucks we were paying the woman was enough to cover the delivery and retrieval of this appliance as well as our use of it. Maybe this is why I can't recall the woman ever smiling much....

Of course I'm not talking about a full-size modern washer but a small, portable model that was about the size of a bushel basket and looked rather like an over-sized roaster or pressure cooker. I've not seen anything like it since, and that fact (combined with all the other odd little details associated with this story) made a small part of me wonder if I was merely remembering a dream.

A few minutes on the Internet managed to prove to me that such washers did indeed exist.

Apparently they were first patented by Bernhart A. Benson in 1943 and subsequently churned out by the Chicago Electric Manufacturing Co. and sold under the Handyhot brand name.

Here are two pictures that almost exactly match the appliance that I remember:

The agitator connected to a motor in the lid. The hand-cranked wringer attached to the side of the tub.

It's now hard to imagine this contraption managing to get a single pair of pants clean let alone a week's worth of laundry for several people as it sat propped up on one of our kitchen chairs next to a cast iron sink straight out of "The Honeymooners." Maybe its extreme limitations quickly became obvious and explains why it disappeared from my life fairly quickly....

Recalling this story led me to other memories of Laundry Day and the somewhat startling realization that for more than half of my life getting my clothes clean has been a real pain in the ass.

For a time before and after we tried to use this portable washer in our kitchen we carried our clothes a long way down to a dark and dingy basement where the pleasures of an old wringer-style washer awaited us. My mother stopped using that washer when she started getting a bit of an electric shock whenever she put her hands in the water in the tub. I suppose she might have been electrocuted had the short been a bit worse. I suppose my life would have turned out very different if she had been....

For a while we sent our laundry out. An older man with a deeply wrinkled tan face, silvery hair, and black-rimmed glasses would haul our clothes away in a nondescript gray van, then magically return them all clean and folded up in tightly sealed bags a few days later. It was an expensive service, however, and we seem to have regularly ended up with other people's socks. I don't know who these other people may have been, but it was oddly disconcerting to find their socks popping out and falling onto our living room floor when I helped to open up the bags. Visions of my underwear popping out and falling on *their* living room floors were even more disconcerting....

Soon my sister and I found ourselves hauling our dirty clothes every week to a laundromat 4 blocks to our north. The momentary excitement of using a machine on the wall that magically converted dollar bills into delightfully clattering quarters did little to counter the boredom generated by 2 hours of white noise and the sight of the clothes in the dryers going around and around and around. Thank goodness someone would occasionally put too much soap in one of the over-sized front loaders and cause it to overflow!

It wasn't until the 1970s that another, much better portable washer freed me from that weekly walk to a steamy purgatory.

Ours was '70s brown - not avocado green - but otherwise it looked just like this one. A full load of clothes easily fit into the left side where a back-wall-mounted agitator spun continuously in one direction and made a pretty good show of getting things clean.

We lived in the upstairs duplex apartment on Cherry at the time and our landlord lived right beneath us. Various washer functions (especially those involving the spinner at the right) seem to have produced quite a bit of noise and vibration. I seem to have taken a perverse amount of pleasure in knowing that the ceiling of our landlord's kitchen was shaking and shimmying every time we engaged in a noble attempt to rid the world of our human stench....

If I ran a zoo I think I'd put a few of these old washers in with the chimps and bonobos just so they might get some inkling of what they've been missing by obstinately refusing to evolve up to our level.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Time Transcended For Just $10

I consider myself a fairly careful person, but, you know... accidents happen.

In 1982 I acquired a set of cups and plates and bowls and saucers that I've been using almost every day ever since. I started off with 8 of everything but somehow lost or broke 3 of the smaller plates. No matter how many times I've told myself that losing an average of 1 piece of dinnerware every 10 years is a pretty good record, it's still a situation that's annoyed me - especially on those days when I'm really in the mood to serve myself 8 cookies on 8 matching plates.

Well, I'm happy to report that I'm annoyed no more. My S.O. recently found an online store that sells individual pieces of long-discontinued dinnerware sets for a fraction of what it would cost to construct a factory and make them myself.

The 3 replacement plates came on Thursday.

Being the sunny and optimistic person that I am, I fully expected them to arrive broken or at least badly chipped - if they arrived at all.

And if they weren't broken or chipped, I was pretty sure that they'd be the wrong pattern, or a strange variation of the right pattern, or so new and shiny that they'd make the old plates I've been using almost every day for decades look shoddy in comparison.

Instead, I found the replacements to be not only intact but a perfect match for the plates I already had. Now that they're all mixed up together in my cupboard, I don't know of any way I might tell whether any given plate is old or new.

I'm still stunned.

I can think of few other things that I bought in 1982 that I can still buy today. (It's hard enough to go out and find the same socks I bought last month!)

And I can think of few other things that I bought in 1982 that still remain in virtually pristine condition today despite regular use. Except for silverware and maybe a screwdriver or two, almost everything else seems to have worn out and been disposed of long ago.

Somehow my dinnerware seems to have transcended the passage of time.

Unlike Ronald Reagan, the space shuttle, and Men At Work.

Or any of the people I saw at my 10-year high school reunion.

And all it cost me was $10 a plate to find this out. (Or $4.56 a plate in 1982 dollars.)


Do you suppose there's an online store out there somewhere in cyberspace that might also be able to sell me the pain-free spine I had in 1982?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

13 Things I Bet My Sister Doesn't Know

----- Western whiptail lizards shoot their tongues out about 700 times an hour.

----- The leading cause of death around the world for girls 15 to 19 is pregnancy and its complications.

----- There are about 20,000 volcanoes under the sea.

----- In 1990 paperboys on foot and on bikes delivered the newspaper to about 70% of home subscribers. By 2008 paperboys delivered only 13% of these newspapers. (The vast majority are now delivered by adults driving cars.)

----- 1.3 million Europeans are expected to die of cancer this year. (That's 7% fewer than in 2007.)

----- There are 3142 counties in the US. About 760 of them (about 24%) are fading away as deaths exceed births. (Virtually no US counties were fading away prior to the 1960s.)

----- It takes about 10 million mustard seeds to make one container of French's mustard.

----- At least 14% of Americans sleep with their pets. (I'm guessing most of those pets are cats and dogs and very few are hamsters or goldfish.)

----- China has 12 cities with a population above 5 million. (And I bet my sister has never heard of most of them.) That's more than any other country. (The US has exactly one city in that category.)

----- Walmart sells more strawberry-flavored Pop-Tarts when a hurricane is approaching.

----- 50% of the serious crime that occurs in Minneapolis occurs in just 6% of its area.

----- Phoenix, Arizona was founded in 1867 by a morphine addict.

----- The world produced 1.6 billion tons of steel in 2010. That was an all-time record. (It's also about 450 pounds of steel for every man, woman, and child on the planet. Where did YOUR allotment go?)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Shift To The Right

But don't worry - a shift back to the left should become quite evident next fall.