Monday, July 25, 2011

Everything I never needed to know, I learned doing crossword puzzles

I've always thought of myself as a pretty smart guy, in a "technically proficient, know what I need to know" kind of way. Throughout my professional career I was the "subject-matter expert" on every aspect of knowledge required to perform my occupation; I was the "go-to" guy for my co-workers when they had a job-related question or problem. Being "smart" in this regard served me very well during my career and enabled me to advance and to garner the respect of my associates. And of course staying "smart" required constant growth to stay current so my education was continually on-going. But now I think maybe I'm not so smart, after all.

When I retired a few years ago, all of the "essential" knowledge that I had accumulated and that made me so "smart" in my professional life became totally irrelevant to me, unnecessary to my day to day living. Oh, I'm competent in most aspects of normal life - I'm reasonably well informed of current events and I can carry on a more or less intelligent conversation on a wide range of topics, but it's becoming painfully obvious that there are a whole host of things of which I am totally ignorant. This sad fact is made painfully obvious to me every day when I sit down to do the NY Times crossword puzzle.

These puzzles are marvelous, ingenious creations that require a broad range of knowledge on topics ranging from "The Simpsons" to Greek literature to quantum physics to solve - well, that or a lot of crosses and lucky guesses. So every day I come face to face with my ignorance and have to find a way to overcome it if I am to solve the puzzle. And the fact is, just about every day I am able to do that and in the process I learn something - some days I learn a whole lot!

So now I know things like the river that runs through Florence is the Arno; Painter Chagall's first name is Marc; a Yenta is a busybody; some herons fly with their necks retracted; the New Jersy hockey team is the Devils; Teslas are magnetic induction units and Euler is an eponymic mathematician; and a Kraken is a monster of Norse myth. And those are from puzzles early in the week; they get progressively more difficult each day!

I understand that I don't really need to know any of these things and I recognize that knowing them does not make me "smart" but it makes me feel better that each day I learn something that I did not know before (or maybe had long since forgotten); if nothing else it reminds me of how much I do NOT know which can be a pretty humbling experience - and humility is something which I definitely DO need to know.

Like I said, everything I never needed to know, I learned doing crossword puzzles but I've also learned a little about myself in the process and I think knowing one's own self is pretty important. And there's that humility thing...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jimmy Buffett, Ex-wives and Skinny-Dipping

Careful readers of these posts, if such a person exists, will have learned a little about me including two facts relevant to this post: I have been married a few times, and I'm a big fan of Jimmy Buffett. A confluence of recent events has me thinking about these two characteristics.

I can find a lot to like in just about any Jimmy Buffett song - the tune is always up-beat with a Caribbean flavor and the lyrics speak of a life and life-style that I would lead in a perfect world. But the world is not perfect and I am not Jimmy Buffett so I will have to be content listening to his music and imagining spending the rest of my days leading a life of leisure in Margaritaville. The song that is on my mind as I write is "A Pirate Looks at Forty", specifically this verse:

I go for younger women, lived with several awhile
Though I ran them away, they’d come back one day
Still could manage to smile
Just takes a while, just takes a while.

Which gets me to the events about to transpire this weekend. Ex-wife number three, a woman 20 years younger than me and the mother of my children is coming to visit for the weekend. And I have no idea what to expect. Of course she's coming to visit our younger son who still lives with me, not me, but still she's staying in my house and it will be pretty hard for us to totally avoid one another for the whole time she is here, so I'm a little anxious as to how it will all play out.

I do expect everything will be at least civil - time heals all wounds (and wounds all heals), as the saying goes and all the anger and acrimony that characterized the break-up has long since dissipated. So the question is, I guess, just how cordial will our time together be after all these years apart. She's single again and so am I so it seems like the possibilities are endless. She's come back, if only for a visit with her son, and I hope she can manage to smile.

Life is too short to harbor ill feelings against anyone so I sincerely hope her visit is a pleasant one for all concerned, and while I'm keeping my expectations low if she were to suggest a skinny-dip in the pool I certainly wouldn't say no! In fact I think I can guarantee that would make us both smile.

I began with Jimmy Buffett so I'll end with him. Here's some philosophy to help keep things in perspective:

"1. Never forget--"they" are always the enemy.
2. Just remember, assholes are born that way, and they usually don't change.
3. You don't want to go to jail.
4. When you start to take this job seriously, you're in trouble.
5. It takes no more time to see the good side of life than it takes to see the bad.
6. If you decide to run the ball, just count on fumbling and getting the shit knocked out of you a lot, but never forget how much fun it is just to be able to run the ball!"
— Jimmy Buffett (Tales from Margaritaville)

And now I believe I'll have another "Boat Drink". And turn the pool lights on.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Erland "Cappy" Quinn

A while ago I wrote in this space about a remarkable man I had met many years ago and I lamented that I could not remember his name. Well, the mind (or God, or something) works in remarkable ways. I tried to consciously remember the name for several days, running the alphabet, thinking of common names. looking in the phonebook but of course none of it worked.

Then one night, when I was in that netherland between wake and sleep a name came into my head - Earle Quinn. And I had the presence of mind (and a handy pen and pad of paper by my bedside just for such occasions) to write it down. When I was fully awake the next morning the name was completely lost to my memory but there it was indelibly written on my bedside note pad! But I knew it was not quite right, so I just left it there to consider further.

Days later as I was just waking up a thought came to me: not "Earle", but "Erlon" so I wrote that down by my original note. Today I decided to see what this all meant, so I fired up Google and went to work.

Turns out, my subconscious mind had it almost right - in fact the remarkable individual I encountered all those years ago was a gentleman by the name of Captain Erland Quinn. It also turns out, not surprisingly, that my experience with him was typical of how he treated people. Here's a quote from a brief biography published on the menu of Cappy's Chowder House, a restaurant in Camden so named in his honor:
Just who the heck is Cappy anyway?

Our customers always ask "Who is Cappy?" Cappy Quinn was old Maine stock, born and brought up on Eagle Island in Penobscot Bay. For many years, he was a familiar face around the Camden waterfront, always willing to give a helping hand to anyone in need. To us, he gave his love of the bay, of boats, and of life. Nothing gave us more pleasure than reminiscing with Cappy about the old days and old boats of Maine long gone. He taught us about pride, and we hope your experience here shows that.
They even had a picture of him and that's it at the top of this post.

Sadly, but I guess not surprisingly, Captain Quinn is no longer with us. He died on July 25, 1991, at age 90 so he lived a long and by all accounts very full life - no one can hope for more than that. And clearly he lives on in the hearts and memories of those he affected in life, including me.

I wish you fair winds and following seas Captain Erland Quinn - God bless you and the ship you sail on.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Syndication synchronicity

I'm addicted to the NY Times cross word puzzle - I do it every day (except Saturday). But I don't get the NY Times and I don't subscribe to the puzzle on-line, which means I have to solve the puzzle when it is published in "syndication". As a consequence the puzzles that I get in my local daily are ones that originally appeared five weeks earlier (except on Sunday, when it's only one week earlier - I have no idea why.)

Usually this time delay is not a problem, except maybe when the puzzle is published to coincide with a particular date or event such as some notable birthday or a holiday. For example, the "April Fool" puzzle published on, you guessed it, April first, is traditionally a puzzle with some neat twist in honor of the occasion, but if you are solving it on May 6 the significance of the publication date may elude you, thus complicating the solving process. But this is a minor inconvenience and usually being a "syndication-solver" is not a problem.

Except there is a blog, "Rex Parker does the NY Time Crossword Puzzle" to which I am also addicted. It's a wonderful site that adds immensely to the pleasure of doing the puzzle - and it helps make you a better solver, too! But of course Rex and all of the contributors to his blog solve in "real time" (which is to say, because they solve on-line, the night BEFORE the puzzle actually appears in the New York Times.) So by the time I, and all the other syndication-solvers arrive at the blog, the "prime-timers" (as I call them) have long since left the room and moved on to the future. Pretty much everything there is to say about the puzzle has been said so it can be hard to add a comment that means anything.

Recently someone posted a comment on Rex Parker's Facebook page that being a syndicated solver on the blog is like showing up late to a party and all that's left is some watery punch and a drunk passed out on the couch. Rex liked the metaphor and suggested that we syndi-solvers should have a NEW PARTY of our own when we arrive at the blog. That conjured up in my (admittedly sick) mind an image of a bunch of rowdies showing up for a party long after the invited guests had gone home and the host had retired. And that reminded me of a Jimmy Buffet song which may not be literally applicable, but I think it's close enough to describe what the party in syndication-land may look like - because we may not be on the "A-list", but damn, we still have fun! So here it is - judge for yourself. (Substitute "Rex Parker" for "Jimmy Buffet" and I think it works pretty well.)

Strange bedfellows

There are probably not many issues on which I would find myself in agreement with Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shiite cleric in Iraq who leads the opposition to the continued presence of U.S. Forces (note: "non-combat") in that country. But on one point I find myself in total agreement with his position: there should be NO extension of the deadline for the removal of U.S. military forces from Iraq. Period.

I'm getting pretty sick of watching the "Honor Roll" of U.S. Service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, aired nightly on PBS, "as their deaths are confirmed and pictures become available." (Six more tonight, as I write this.)

The "deadline" (irony noted) is January 1, 2012 - it should NOT be extended.

And then we can turn our attention to getting them out of Afghanistan, too (but I don't think al-Sadr cares about that).

Monday, July 4, 2011

The vagaries of Blogger as they relate to comments here

I've said from the outset that I am strictly an amateur when it comes to this whole blogging adventure, and today that point was driven home with a vengeance when I discovered that I don't even know how to leave a "comment" on my own blog. And apparently I am not the only one who has had difficulty in this regard.

Comments, until recently, were not a concern to me because there had been none and, frankly, I didn't expect any - so no comments, no problem. That changed recently when my dear (but distant) virtual friend ACME (the subject of an earlier post) notified me by email that she had read my blog and had left a comment! But alas, the comment never appeared, at least not on this blog - I suspect it lives on in some parallel universe created by Blogger for comments that it has decided for reasons of its own are not to be posted on the intended blog. And so ACME lost forever the opportunity to be remembered as my very *first* commenter - a man's recollections of his *first* are very special and I would have loved for it to be she, but I guess it was not meant to be.

Today Blogger notified that there was a new comment on one of my posts from a while back, so I clicked on it and there it was, a very nice and interesting comment from @Deb (who by the way recently signed on as a "Follower" to this blog.) She made some lovely points in response to what I had written in the post, and I wanted to reply and tell her how much I appreciated her comment (and to let her know that SHE was my *first*.)

I composed a comment of my own in reply to @Deb - it touched on a couple of points she had made and added some new thoughts on the topic at hand. All in all I think it was a pretty good comment, one she would have enjoyed reading (and this is a bourbon-free assessment) so I felt pretty good when I hit the "Publish" button - and then a weird thing happened: I got caught in an endless loop of "Sign in to Google" (I was already signed in) and "Captcha" - there was no way to get the comment to actually post (at least not on my blog - maybe it went somewhere else.) I'm no quitter, so I tried several times and in a couple of different ways to post my comment but they all met with failure. So @Deb, I'm glad you commented and I'm sorry Blogger won't let me reply directly with some of that "wit and wisdom" that I am famous (in my own mind, at least) for. I hope you'll keep reading and commenting when you feel like it, but please don't take it personally if I don't comment back.

And ACME, you weren't the *first*, but not for lack of trying, so I hope you'll come back again and try again someday - it's always a joy to hear from you.

Patriotism and the Fourth of July

The Cryptoquote that appeared in today's paper is (probably not accidentally) particularly apropos the holiday: "Patriotism is easy to understand in America. It means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country." It's attributed to Calvin Coolidge. Now I don't know much about the Coolidge Presidency but I think that's a pretty good quote no matter what your politics are.

Lots of people call themselves "patriots" but my sense is that many of them define the label in terms that consider their own interests over those of the nation as a whole, and they generally deny application of the label to anyone whose views may differ from their own. I've expressed my own views on divisive politics in this space before so I won't belabor the point today.

The Coolidge quote is, I think, evocative of another more famous quote by a later president, JFK - the "Ask not what your country can do for you..." speech that was such a seminal moment for the young people of my generation (well, we used to be young, anyway.) Both men were expressing a simple yet critical axiom: the interests of the nation, i.e., We the People, are greater than the interests of any of the individual citizens (we the persons?) Simple but profound, I think.

So here's my hope: That on July 4, 2011, every citizen of these United States will find a way, even if it's a very small way, to be patriotic a la Coolidge and Kennedy. Just remembering why we have the holiday to begin with might be a good place to start.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

It was the whiskey talking...

I don't "do" Facebook. Oh, I have a page that I created for reasons that I have forgotten but as a rule I pretty much stay away from it. But recently a blogger I follow, Rex Parker, set up a new FB page and invited his readers to check it out, so I did, and now I go to Facebook occasionally to see what's new on his page; I've even left a couple of comments on his wall (I think that's the right term) and "Liked" some comments from others, but as a rule I'm not a fan of Facebook.

I'm not at all sure why last night I decided it would be a good idea to see if I could find an old friend of mine on FB. And by "old friend" I mean a woman with whom I had a brief but very intense "relationship" about 30 years ago. We have not exchanged a word since we parted company (amicably)way back then and I have absolutely no reason to think that she even remembers me, never mind wants to hear from me out of the blue all these years later. But I typed her name into the search box anyway, just for the heck of it, and there she was, with a recent photo and everything!

Now I've located other old friends, acquaintances and distant relatives on the Internet lots of times, just to see where they were or what they had been up to since we lost touch but I have never been tempted to actually contact them. But last night sitting there looking at her picture and remembering our time together, that "Message" button just beckoned me to use it. And so, after considerable hesitation and maybe another few sips of bourbon, I clicked on it and composed a brief yet charming and witty message and after another hesitation, and possibly a couple more sips of bourbon, I hit the "Send" button, and the deed was done.

I didn't regret it immediately, in fact I felt quite pleased with myself for the rest of the evening, confident that she would be at least amused and possibly even glad to hear from me. It wasn't until this morning that I began to have doubts as to the wisdom of what I had done. I re-read the message I had sent and while it wasn't nearly as clever or amusing as I had imagined it to be, at least it wasn't lewd, crude or obnoxious. It certainly had the potential to be at least unwelcome and maybe irritating, depending on how she remembers me and our time together, and I began to regret sending it.

I even considered sending a second message to apologize for the first but I decided against it - one intrusion into her life was bad enough and I don't want to compound the offense with a second one, no matter how well intentioned it might be. Besides, she might have had a couple of drinks when she reads the message and maybe she will think it's charming and witty, and maybe she'll want to write back - hey, it could happen! (But I doubt it - I'm pretty sure that's the whiskey talking again.)

So now I have a new addition to my "Don't drink and..." list: Don't drink and cruise FB - it can be dangerous to your social health and you never know where an ill-conceived message is going to wind up.

At least I didn't include any photos!