Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thanks, Sis - I found the puzzle you left for me!

Every week I do the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, which appears in the local Sunday paper, and then I post an entry about the puzzle and my experience solving it on a blog I have for just that purpose. I enjoy doing this and the process has become an important part of my weekend routine (and we all know how much I love "routine".  I do other crosswords as well and for the most part I enjoy sharing the experience with whoever happens to be around to participate, but I really like to do the Longo puzzle as a solitary exercise so I can focus on what I like or don't like about the puzzle and can analyze my own reactions to it without being distracted by anyone else. It's my way of carving out an hour or two of "me time" without outside distraction or influence, and I like it.

Last week, delivery of the paper was delayed by the arrival of a major snow storm - the motor-carrier who delivers my daily paper plus the Sunday Telegram is super efficient but he's not crazy so he wisely chose to delay delivery until the roads had been cleared and made safe by the very excellent Public Works employees who take care of these things during and after a storm. By the time the paper arrived I was already busy clearing my own yard so the puzzle had to wait. It was still undone by the time I retired for the night so I planned to take the puzzle page with me the next morning to work on while I waited for the veterans whom I drove to the VA facility to be ready for the return trip, so no problem.

But, as Robert Burns famously wrote in his poem "To a Mouse, On Turning Up Her Nest With The Plough", "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry] " (, and my plan did just that. I had not counted on an insomniac house-guest completing the puzzle while I slept but that's just what she did, so I arose in the morning to find a completed grid along with a note proudly announcing that she had completed the puzzle without any help! Good for her, bad for me, but I quickly developed a "plan B". 

The route I take in the van takes me right past a local convenience store and I surmised that, due to the storm, they might very well have Sunday papers left over when I went by early Monday morning - I would simply pick one up, chuck the rest of the paper which I had already read, and do the puzzle while I waited at Togus. Genius! So here's where things get weird.

I went directly to the paper rack in the store only to discover that there were no Sunday papers left - I was disappointed but it wasn't the end of the world so I started to leave when I spotted a single paper on top of the ice-cream freezer near the from door, obviously left there just for me! I picked up my trophy and took it to the cashier who very helpfully pointed out that it was "yesterday's paper" but I assured her it was just what I wanted and she happily took my money, saying that I had saved her the trouble of throwing the paper out, which somebody was supposed to have done before her shift began just a little earlier. So I got a paper that wasn't even supposed to be there to begin with, but that's just lucky! Then things got even more weird.

The paper had the appearance of having been read and put back together, which didn't bother me because I just wanted the puzzle section anyway. But when I finally had a chance to search for that section I couldn't find it - of all the sections and inserts in the paper it looked like the section that contained the puzzle was missing! Panic started to set in. But I'm a determined individual not given to quitting easily so I started to go through the entire paper piece by piece in search of Section G, where the puzzle resides. That's when the situation went from weird to just plain spooky.

In the center of the paper, amid all the ads and inserts that abound during the holiday shopping season, I spotted a torn page kind of crumpled up and jammed down into the crease of the center fold - it looked more like a scrap than anything useful but I pulled it out anyway. It was the top half of a single newspaper sheet which had been torn roughly in two, probably by some mechanical processing error, and as I extracted it and uncrumpled it I discover that I had found the Premier Crossword with the whole grid and all of the clues intact. With a little more careful unfolding and application of some Scotch tape to hold the whole thing together, I had my puzzle!
I've written in this space before that I truly believe there are forces which we do not understand at work in this universe and that not everything that happens can be chalked up to random chance, pure luck, fate, or whatever you call it when something entirely unexpected happens like that. I could be wrong but I don't think it was pure accident that placed that one vital piece of a destroyed section in my paper. Or maybe it was - I don't expect to ever know the answer in this lifetime but if I learn the answer in whatever comes next, I'll try to let you know.

Until I get an answer, if I ever do, whenever something unexpected and good like that happens I like to think of my departed parents and sister and wonder if just maybe one or all of them is still keeping an eye on things back here and helping whenever they can. Probably not, but I still take comfort in the thought - because, really, I need all the help I can get.

Speaking of angels (which I was, without using the word) here's a seasonal song on the topic which enjoyed and I hope you do, too:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wicked Woman*

Today's (syndicated) New York Times crossword puzzle included the following clue: 45 & 46 (Down) - Quite bad; the corresponding answers were PRETTY AWFUL.  This entry generated some commentary from the regular contributors to a blog devoted to the puzzle, including this from @Z: "PRETTY AWFUL is an interesting construction to consider (how did 'pretty' become a word that adds emphasis? 'Awful' as in god-like or as in terrible? Maybe Hera would be the embodiment of PRETTY AWFUL? It's just kind of weird)."

All of which started me to thinking about emphatic words and phrases that I use or hear regularly but which might strike anyone "from away" as weird or non-sensical. So in the interest of helping visitors to Maine understand the level of emphasis imparted by figures of speech which locals may use when describing something, here is a primer of terms that may be employed to specify the degree of a particular description:

- "Pretty" may indicate a higher or lower level of degree depending on the context. Something said to be "pretty good" is OK but not up to the highest standards, and something that's "pretty bad" is worse than just bad.  "It's pretty cold out" probably means the weather is not too severe, whereas "It's pretty cold out there, I'll tell ya" indicates more extreme conditions.

- "Plenty" on the other hand is unequivocally higher in degree. "It's plenty cold out there" means it's not just cold, it's really cold. Go outside only if you have to.

- "Some" or "some-ol'" also indicate a higher degree of intensity, so "It's some friggin' cold out" and "It's some-ol' friggin' cold there, Mr. man" both mean you should probably stay inside under any circumstances. "She's some pretty" and "She's some-ol' pretty" are both high compliments to the lady in question. But if her cooking is "some awful" or "some-ol' awful" you should make reservations at a good restaurant.

- "Awful" raises the level of intensity to a whole new level - "I'm sorry" may be a sincere apology but "Hey, I'm awful sorry" conveys real regret. "She's an awful good-lookin' woman" means she's drop-dead gorgeous, and "I didn't pay an awful lot for it" means it was pretty cheap.

- "Wicked" is the superlative of modifiers. When none of the others quite convey the extreme condition you wish to impart "wicked" is the word you want. "It's wicked cold out there" means don't even think about going outside. Anything that's "big" is exponentially larger if it's "wicked big", and so on. anytime you're looking for the right word to express something in superlative terms, good or bad, "wicked" is the way to go. Here are a couple of guys who totally get the usefulness of the term and have put it to good use to ensure highway safety:

All of the above terms can be used to great effect in conjunction with the word "massive", but that's a topic for another post.

So "pretty awful" might mean quite bad but "awful pretty" is a whole other story - funny how that works, isn't it?



Friday, November 22, 2013

Cutting the Cord

It's been almost three years since I announced in this space that I was considering dumping the cable company  ( )and last week I finally did it. As with the last time, it was a confluence of events that precipitated the need for a change: another hard-to-resist offer from Fairpoint DSL service (this time with prices that get even LOWER over time) arrived just in advance of a package from my cable company, which contained a device required to receive the now encrypted signal for all channels.

I never watch TV anymore but I occasionally have guests who like to watch a ball game or tune in the local news so I had no problem shelling out a few bucks a month for the basic cable package. However, when I discovered that I apparently didn't even have that anymore since I had not installed the requisite decoder, I said, "enough is enough". The time to cut the cord was at hand.

I called Fairpoint to get the particulars of installing their DSL service for my Internet connection and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they would send me the necessary modem, which I could install myself after they had done the necessary technical work on their end - no service call was required. I was even more pleasantly surprised when the very helpful young woman suggested that I could save money on my phone service by switching to another plan, with the overall net effect being that I would pay for phone service and Internet combined about the same as I had been paying for phone service alone - OK, we have a deal!

The equipment arrived as promised and, after a slight delay due to an incomplete installation on their part, my new high-speed Internet service was up and running. I played with it for a couple of days to be sure everything was operating as advertised, and then I boxed up my old Comcast modem and the brand-new decoder they had just sent to me and took the whole kit and caboodle to their local office to cancel my service.  I have to say that process was surprisingly easy and efficient - the lone customer-service rep on duty apparently had a lot of experience in these matters because while I was there she dealt with a steady stream of customers who came in with equipment to return.

On the way home from cancelling my cable service I stopped at the local mall to check out the selection of antennas designed to receive over-the-air HDTV signal and after a few minutes of shopping I came away with an indoor model that promised clear reception of all channels within 50 miles, for under forty bucks.  When I got home and hooked it up I was once again pleasantly surprised to discover that it brought in a total of 15 channels, which is probably more than I had with cable.

So to recap: my $70 per month cable bill is history; my phone bill is pretty much unchanged at $50+ but now I get Internet as well as phone service; and all my local TV stations are free after a one-time investment of $40 or so.  Why didn't I do this years ago, I wonder?

I love to end these posts with an appropriate video so I googled "cutting the cord" and here's what I got back - enjoy!:

Monday, October 14, 2013

Some thoughts on having a swimming pool

Many years ago when the boys were little putting in a pool seemed like a good idea for all the reasons you can imagine, and so we put one in the back yard. We chose a Gibraltar Pool which is an above-ground model with a 16' x 24' swim area, a large deck on the end for sun-bathing and there's a 4' high railing around the whole thing. It's a nice looking unit and it's low-maintenance so I have to say over the years I have been very happy with it. Now that the boys have grown up I pretty much have the pool to myself so it has gone from being a recreation place for the neighborhood kids to a place where I can sun-bathe in the nude and skinny-dip to cool off, which is pretty much the extent of my summer recreation lately.

This year I was incredibly late getting the pool opened up and ready for use. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that by the time I went out to pull the winter cover off I discovered a whole eco-system of critters living in the water on top of the cover. Since the surface of the pool is four feet above ground level I wondered how a bunch of frogs and tadpoles came to be up there, but that mystery was cleared up when my younger son, who was home for the summer, remembered that he had found a frog while he was mowing the lawn and he had put it up on the pool to keep him safe while he mowed. How that one frog turned into a whole friggin' community is still not known but the fact remained that I had to do something about the whole population before I could open the pool.

Well, long story short, a woman who comes into the hardware store occasionally remarked that she was building a frog pond in her back yard and I, knowing a golden opportunity when I see one, asked if she would be interested in the tadpoles inhabiting my pool - she was, and the deal was made. I would transfer the critters into a pail and she would come pick them up to take to her frog-pond. This is what we call a win/win situation, and after not too much longer I assigned the task of gathering the little swimmers up and getting them into a pail to my son and he did a pretty thorough job of scooping them out and transferring them to their container to travel to their new home.

It was mid-summer by the time all this transpired and by the time I got the cover off the pool and got the water cleared up through repeated applications of shock treatment it was later yet. I did get to sit on the deck several times but I think I actually went in the water only once, so I guess I have to ask myself if it was really worth the effort because now it's time to close the pool again and put the cover back on for the winter. But yeah, it was worth it and I'll just have to get an early start in the Spring to extend the season next year - I just hope I don't have to cope with any more vernal pool fauna. I wouldn't want the Department of Environmental Protection to designate the pool as a "natural habitat" subject to regulation - then I'd never be able to use the pool again!

It's a sunny day and still pretty warm - maybe I'll just go sit on the pool deck and think about it for a while longer. I can always close it tomorrow.

(Here's the note Martha, the tadpoles' new mom, left in the pail when she brought it back:)

And here's a song that seems strangely appropriate to the situation:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Evil Duck Strikes Again

I know I shouldn't let it bother me, but when someone is a total asshole to me for no particular reason it tends to get under my skin. Case in point - recently I left a comment on a blog I frequent to give a shout-out to another commenter, a woman whom I have come to know and admire through reading her posts and exchanging infrequent emails with her. We've never met nor do I expect we ever will but I still enjoy tossing an occasional compliment her way, so when  she posted a comment using one of her made-up names (based on answers from the puzzle at hand) I saw it as a perfect opportunity to reach out to her with this:

Dirigonzo 6:55 PM  
@ACM - "Agitato Coeurs Mennen" is perhaps your most apt pseudonym ever as it perfectly describes the effect you have on many males here (and elsewhere, I assume), most certainly including me.

This was intended solely as a good-natured shout-out to someone I know well enough to think it might tickle her if she saw it; it never occurred to me that anyone else would take any interest or find a reason to respond, much less launch an ad hominem attack thinly disguised as a tongue-in-cheek (I guess that what's it's supposed to be) "warning" about a stalker (that would be me, I guess). What I failed to take into account when I posted the comment was the fact that Evil Doug, a despicable figure who haunts the blog waiting for some unsuspecting sole to post something he finds objectionable so he can skewer them with his rapier wit (in his mind), has what can only be called a pathological hatred for @ACM and any mention of her name is bound to elicit a prompt and hateful reply from him.  So I should not have been surprised when the following appeared within minutes of my post:
Ooh, looks like we got a stalker on the prowl. Be careful, ladies. Just because they seem like safe little creampuff admirers on the blog, they might be praying to their creepy shrines to you in their bedrooms. Read their personal blogs, do some serious research, and--whatever you do--don't agree to meet them without trusted people at your side, if at all....


I'm not sure why the comment annoyed me as much as it did, especially since I'm certain that is exactly the reaction Doug was hoping for, as he seems to take great joy, and maybe even some measure of pride, in annoying people. Anyway, Doug advised his audience to "Read their personal blogs..." and I honestly hope lots of them will do just that and read this post plus an earlier (much more analytical) one devoted to "Evil Doug". Only a total asshole would launch an unprovoked personal attack, cloaked in the guise of "humor" or "wit", in reply to a comment that had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with him.  Doug has driven several commenters away from the blog with his outrageous behavior; rest assured I am not going anywhere.
Did I mention that I think "evil doug" is an asshole? This song is too good for him, but I'm a generous kind of guy so I'll dedicate it to him anyway. Here you go, Doug, this one's for you - take it to heart, Buddy, because it's all about you.
Love, Dirigonzo

Monday, July 1, 2013

Meeting the In-Laws

I recently returned from a quick trip to Augsburg, Germany which, despite US Airways best attempts to ruin the experience on both the trip over and the return flight, was an unexpectedly good time.  I say "unexpectedly" because I'm a homebody who doesn't enjoy travelling anymore, and honestly I had been anticipating the journey with more trepidation than excitement ever since the necessity of the trip became apparent.  There are not many things that would get me to embark on a trans-Atlantic flight for a 5 day stay away from home, but the marriage of my older son is one such inducement.

It's been almost a year since Joshua moved to Germany and got married to Daniel in a small, private ceremony, so an occasion to bring the families and friends together to celebrate the marriage was long overdue. Making arrangements for such an event is never simple and when the guests are scattered around the globe (literally) with a variety of commitments and obligations finding a date that works for everyone can be nigh impossible, but finally June 19, 2013, was settled upon and I packed my bags for the journey. Josh's brother, Alex, would fly with me and we would join their mother in Augsburg the day before the celebration, with plenty of time to settle in and get ready for the big event.

You know what they say about "the best laid plans..." - our flight was delayed by several hours and when we finally arrived in Munich our luggage, with our clothes for the dinner party, was nowhere to be found. Subsequent investigation determined it to be still in Philadelphia, the departure point of our international flight, with no prospect for arrival in time for the occasion. "Plan B" was quickly formulated - it so happens that Josh and I wear clothes of about the same size, and Danial and Alex are both tall, slender young men who can share a wardrobe, so there was no need to  purchase new clothes, we would simply borrow some. Problem solved.

The weather was another matter. The day we arrived it was sunny and hot, as was the next day but the forecast for the evening, when the celebratory dinner was to take place on the restaurant's outdoor veranda, called for "class 2" storms - whatever that means. Well, for once a weather forecast was accurate and just before the appointed time the skies opened up with torrential rains and golf-ball sized hail, accompanied by high winds - the very definition of a "class 2" storm, apparently. Those of us already in Augsburg arrived on time, but wet. The guests coming from Munich were delayed by a loss of power on their train, and those coming from elsewhere faced a variety of challenges depending on their location and their mode of transportation. Eventually, though, everybody arrived and the party was moved to an indoor dining room that had been reserved for just such a circumstance. Problem solved.

The dinner, as arranged and paid for by Josh and Daniel, was elegant with multiple courses of food and drink all carefully selected to appeal to the tastes and sensibilities of the diverse guest list - maybe you "can't please all of the people all of the time" but they came pretty close and if there were any complaints, I didn't hear them.  But the food and drink, good as they were, paled in comparison to the company.

Josh and Daniel's circle of friends, many of whom were in attendance, includes a fascinating array of young people engaged in a variety of projects and adventures. For me, though, nobody was more fascinating and interesting than Daniel's parents, Mono and Paul. Both are international music stars in their own right, but perhaps Paul is better known in the US because of his appearance on records with the likes of Freddy Mercury, Eric Burdon and Sting. There was no formal seating arrangement for the dinner but I found myself, through a stroke of sheer good luck, sitting directly opposite these two fascinating individuals, and since the marriage of our sons has united our families we had much to discuss. And talk we did, mostly about the '60s, music and old hippies since those were topics to which we could all relate and about which we all had something to say. This was an opportunity to get to know one another through small talk rather than discussion of serious matters, and to this end I think we enjoyed great success. By the time the dinner was over we had a sense of what "the in-laws" were all about, and Mono and Paul invited my family and me to come to their home later in the week to continue to get acquainted.

Saturday afternoon the two families, joined into one by the marriage of Josh and Daniel, came together for light refreshments and enjoyable conversation at the residence of Mono and Paul on the outskirts of Munich. It's been a long time since I had a more enjoyable afternoon; we were welcomed with the warmth and hospitality usually reserved for close family members or long time friends, and we had a free-wheeling conversation that ranged from Freddy Mercury's tuna salad recipe (which was delicious) to world politics. By the time we had to leave to catch our train for the return to Augsburg I was confident that my son had married into a family that has an abundance of love and kindness to share, and don't we all need all the love and kindness we can get?

Every marriage involves two people certainly, but it also involves the circle of people close to them - their families (the in-laws) and close friends who support the marriage and help the couple make it through the hard times that every relationship inevitably faces. I take great comfort in the fact that Josh and Daniel live close to Mono and Paul, who have the wisdom, experience and love to help see them through whatever difficulties they may face.

Now that I'm back home, thousands of miles away from the newly weds, I can only hope that they will find the joy, peace and happiness of a secure marriage - and that if they hit turbulent times that they will have the good sense to seek the counsel of those who love them.

All any dad wants is for his son to find true love, and to experience the peace, happiness and fulfillment that love can bring. Josh and Daniel, this is my wish for you.

Apropos nothing in particular, I love this from Paul:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

"...a date which will live infamy."

Today is June 6, and I spent the whole day with a vague feeling that there was something important about that date. It was late this afternoon when I was reminded that it's the 69th anniversary of D-Day, the date Allied forces hit the beaches at Normandy in the offensive invasion that turned the tide in WW II. The casualties were horrific. More people were lost in a few hours there than have been killed or wounded in both Afghanistan and Iraq in a dozen years of warfare. How soon we forget.

Our history is replete with dates that marked events that seemed unforgettable when they occurred but have nonetheless slipped into obscurity with the passing generations. Perhaps the most notable of these is December 7, 1941, the day the Empire of Japan launched a sneak attack on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, ''...a date which will live in infamy" according to the famous speech by FDR. Within an hour of that speech Congress passed a declaration of war against Japan and officially brought the U.S. into World War II.  Yet, how many Americans today recognize the significance of "Pearl Harbor Day"?

More recently, of course, there were the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and that was recent enough that our national obsession with commemorating the date has not begun to subside, and yet I am sure it will - or maybe I should say I hope it will.  Our national memory of events lasts only as long as the citizens who were affected are around to keep the memory alive. When the war has been won life returns to normal and those who were  not around to witness the horror forget the sacrifice of those who fought and died to preserve our freedom. Perhaps this is as it should be.

So I wonder, in another 50 years or so will the date September 11 be just another day when perhaps a few old-timers have a feeling that there is something significant about the date they should remember? I hope so, because that would mean that life has returned to  normal and the terrorists did  not succeed in altering our way of life and our freedoms. We can forget the significance of 12/7/1941 because we were victorious against the enemy who precipitated the events, and I hope we can forget 9/11/2001 for the same reason. Or it truly will be "a date which will live in infamy" and the terrorists will have won.

Or maybe it's already too late:

Surely Americans will never forget the date on which they began to lose all of their freedoms - is that date 9/11?  Ask me in 50 years.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

More thoughts on being a Mainah

It's been a couple of years since I recorded my thoughts about what makes a person an authentic Mainah but with the arrival of summer, and along with it the "summer complaints" that Mainahs love to grouse about, it seems like a good time to enhance my definition to list a few disqualifying characteristics since some of the summer visitors will try to lay claim to the title on dubious grounds.

You cannot lay claim to the title Mainah, even if you were "born and raised in Maine", if any of the following descriptions apply to you:

1. You own a car with plates that don't say "VACATIONLAND".
2. You don't pay any state income tax because you claim "residence" in a state that doesn't have an income tax.

3. You voted in the last local/state election in a precinct not in Maine. Or you just didn't vote - either one disqualifies you because who's in charge matters and Mainahs care about these things. We don't all agree but we all care.

4. You read "Down East" magazine to stay up to date in Maine news but you don't read a Maine newspaper.

5. You order from LL Bean because you like to "shop local".

6. You don't own a snow blower, or even a snow shovel, because - well, why would you need one?

7. You think the primary reason to own a generator is to make sure the A/C doesn't go off.

8. You call the drive-in restaurant on the old Bath Road in Brunswick "Fat Boy's".

9. You come to "visit" in the summer but "go home" when the weather turns cold. "Home" is where the heart is but you can only have one - you're either a Mainah, or your not.

10. You stop in New Hampshire to stock up on cheap booze on your way to Maine for the summer. (OK, Mainahs do this too, but we do it year-round whenever we're coming home on I-95.)

11. You really hope the proposed tax reform bill doesn't pass because it would raise taxes paid by tourists and non-residents. (You get a "bye" on this one if you actually know what I'm talking about.)

12. You think Maine is a great place to visit but you wouldn't want to live here year-round.

So there you go - if any of the above applies to you, you are not a Mainah no matter where you were born and raised or how long you've been coming here. You may call yourself a "native son (or daughter)", a Mainer-at-heart or maybe a displaced Mainer, but to be a Mainah you have to take the good with the bad and participate to make Maine a better place. To do anything less makes you a tourist.

Thanks for visiting - see you next year?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Old Post Office Blues

The Founding Fathers thought having a post office as a national institution was important enough to include a section in our Constitution specifically providing for its creation. Today's US Postal Service actually has roots that predate the Constitution, all the way back to 1775 when the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General, so the Post Office has been an important part of the social and economic fabric of our nation since its infancy. I think the Post Office, by whatever name you call it, is still important and deserves our support to help it stay financially healthy (NOT profitable!) and fulfill its mission. But I've already told you all that in an earlier post ("The Post Office needs our help" 8-1-2012); I repeat it here just to establish my creds as a supporter so you won't think I bear any animosity toward Post Office (even though I am a little steamed at them right now).

Here's the thing: the Post Office, specifically the local post office in my home town, lost my passport! I really, truly didn't want to believe it was true so I waited longer than I should have to follow up on a letter the State Department sent saying the document had been issued and would come in a separate mailing. When I finally admitted that maybe my passport wasn't going to be delivered I called the State Department, where a very pleasant young woman quickly determined that it had in fact been mailed to me as the letter had promised. She was able to provide the mailing date and, more important, the USPS tracking number which would enable me to establish where in the postal service it might be.  She wished me luck in finding it but she didn't sound very encouraging, and she told me about the form that the State Department has for just such situations. Apparently I am not the first applicant whose passport has gone astray.

The USPS on-line tracking system is actually pretty remarkable in its own right.  Armed with the tracking number for a specific piece of mail anyone can follow that piece as it goes through all of the stages of process and delivery through the vast postal mechanism - right up until the point where it just disappears, that is.

Let me interrupt my tale here to interject a statistic provided by the USPS itself:

160 BILLION - that's 160,000,000,000 which is an incredible number (unless you are the government and are talking about money)! If the USPS were 99.99% reliable in delivery, and that would be an astounding level of reliability for ANY business, it would still lose 16 million pieces of mail a year!  But none of those should be a passport.

The State Department doesn't just drop a passport into a mail box and hope for the best. Each document is given its very own tracking number which the post office accounts for and updates at every step in the delivery process. My passport's tracking number was 9205596900893484941076 and here's its history from the minute it entered the postal stream:

Current Track & Confirm e-mail information provided by the U.S. Postal Service.

Label Number: 9205 5969 0089 3484 9410 76

Shipment Activity Location Date & Time
Delivery status not 03/01/13 10:34pm

Out for Delivery FREEPORT ME 04032 03/01/13 8:34am

Sorting Complete FREEPORT ME 04032 03/01/13 8:24am

Arrival at Post Office FREEPORT ME 04032 03/01/13 7:18am

Depart USPS Sort SCARBOROUGH ME 04074 03/01/13

Processed through USPS SCARBOROUGH ME 04074 03/01/13 12:34am
Sort Facility

Depart USPS Sort LITTLE ROCK AR 72231 02/28/13

Processed at USPS LITTLE ROCK AR 72231 02/27/13 7:32pm
Origin Sort Facility

Accepted at USPS HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK AR 71913 02/27/13 6:17pm
Origin Sort Facility

Electronic Shipping 02/27/13
Info Received


Do you see what happened there? The passport was mailed in Hot Springs, Arkansas (really?) on 2/27/2013, arrived in Maine only two days later and on the same day was sent on to my local P.O., where the trail ends - "Delivery status not updated". How is this even possible?!

I went to the post office to see what they could do to find my passport and the answer was, "not much". The mail clerk I spoke with made a perfunctory search in a few bins before she turned the matter over to the postmaster, who in turn asked my rural carrier, all to no avail. "Sorry, we don't know what happened to it and there's nothing we can do. You'll have to contact the passport office to have them send another one."

Okay, I'm a little steamed as previously announced, but there is something that I don't understand. If you have a tracking system and it reports "Delivery status not updated", why do you not immediately go to the last person who handled the item to see what's going on? When the postmaster called me to acknowledge that the passport was well and truly lost, she said. "It was human error, we just don't know what human"! It seems to me that a timely inquiry when the status was not updated would have helped her determine that. I'm not looking to place any blame here but what's the sense of having a tracking system if you don't follow up on what it reports to you? The local post office is not that big a place and I'll bet that if somebody had gone looking for my passport right after it went missing, they would have found it.

It's enough to make me wish the State Department had sent my passport via Federal Express. I guess I just have "the old post office blues", but I'm sure I'll get over them.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Say what you want about Maine Governor Paul LePage (and it seems everybody has a lot to say about him) but you have to give him this: the man knows how to get his way in a dispute with the legislature, even when the Democrats control both houses.

A while ago Mr. LePage apparently decided that his top fiscal priority was to immediately repay a debt of several hundred million dollars owed to Maine hospitals, and he proposed a bill to accomplish this in one fell-swoop with funding to be provided by new debt (bonds) to be repaid from the proceeds of a new liquor-distribution contract which has yet to be negotiated. Then, and here comes the good part, he announced that he would not sign any new bills coming out of the legislature until his bill was passed. Nothing whatsoever gets done until the governor gets his way. Most chief executives could not hope to pull off such a brazen stunt, especially with the legislature firmly in the hands of the other party, but Governor LePage has spent the first two years of his administration that he is fully capable of standing by his threat, so his top priority instantly became the legislature's number one issue, too.

Democrats protested mightily of course as they had their own list of priorities and repaying the hospital debt wasn't first on the list.  The governor, predictably, stood firm in his resolve and used every opportunity to convey his message, nothing gets done until the hospitals get paid.  This steadfast resolve ultimately allowed him to frame the issue totally on his terms and left the legislature with no alternative but to agree to the concept of repaying the debt, with only the means of funding the payment remaining at issue.  I'm sure the governor was very pleased - with the result and with himself.  His tactic, which was classic bullying behavior, had worked very nicely - I suspect even Mr. LePage might have been surprised at how easy it was to get his way.

Is there any way we can get President Obama to adopt this technique to get legislation through Congress? Can you imagine the howls from "conservatives" if he ever tried a similar tactic?  Come to think of it, the strategy wouldn't work in Washington because Congress doesn't pass any bills anyway, and Republicans would love nothing more that to be able to point to the president and say it's all his fault that nothing gets done. So never mind.

I should close by reporting a happy ending, of sorts, to the saga.  The governor was so pleased that Democrats came around to his way of thinking on paying the hospitals that he agreed to sign an "emergency" bill passed by the legislature today to permit bars to open early on St. Patrick's Day. See, he can be reasonable when he gets his way. With any luck at all we'll all be able to sing this song by 7:00am this Sunday (without the "emergency" legislation we would have to wait until 9:00am before we could start drinking - how sad is that?):

Monday, February 11, 2013

"He' aint' haughty, he's my brother"

"Esquire" magazine's Rule No 1,002: People in mobility scooters always seem a little haughty.

I take the term "mobility scooters" to mean battery powered wheelchairs or the 3- or 4-wheeled scooters steered with handlebars, all of which are used by persons with physical disability to get around in their day-to-day activities. Let me tell you about a  man who uses one.

I volunteer at the VA Medical Facility once a week and I spend a lot of time waiting in the lobby of the hospital there, observing the comings and goings of the veterans who are there for medical treatment.  A not insignificant number of these men and women move about the building in those "mobility scooters" to which Esquire's "rule" refers. With some the need is readily apparent to the casual observer, others not so much because not all infirmities are visible to the naked eye - but one has to think that any one of them would much rather be able to walk than to have to ride in a motorized device.

I first saw the man who is the subject of this narrative several weeks ago and I have seen him a few times since.  He moves about the hospital building in a motorized wheelchair which he controls with a "joy stick" that  he operates with his left hand, because that is the only extremity he has - his right arm and both legs are missing! I was pretty impressed with his ability to move about easily and confidently despite missing three limbs and I was amazed, and glad, that his "mobility scooter" afforded him the independence that he exercised as he didn't seem to require an assistant or even a service animal to help him get around. But there's more, I learned.

The next time I saw him I happened to be outside in the hospital parking lot when he approached a van near me and stopped near the side door. He apparently used a remote control because the door opened and a lift came down so he could "drive" onto it, lift himself into the van, close the door behind him and move to the "driver's seat". I watched the van start, back out of the parking spot and proceed to move down the road; and because I was just leaving too, I followed him off the hospital grounds and down the highway for several miles and not once did he drive in a fashion that would in any way indicate the van was not being operated by an "able bodied" driver. I guess the van was like a "mobility scooter" on steroids, because it certainly provided him with the ability to  move about independently to a degree that I would not have imagined possible.

As a footnote to the story, I recently saw him at the hospital accompanied by a woman whom I took to be his wife, but of course maybe she wasn't. In any event when they left the hospital and went to the van, her presence didn't change his routine one bit and he drove the van away with her in the passenger's seat - but I guess that's to be expected as she probably doesn't know how to operate the adaptive controls that allow him to drive. But it still made me chuckle.

So "haughty"? No, I don't think so.  Anyone who uses a "mobility scooter", be it a veteran or a civilian with a disability for whatever reason, would rather be able to walk and for a publication like "Esquire" to print a "rule" that they seem haughty is insensitive at best, and I think arrogant, too.  Apparently the editors of the magazine don't know anyone who has a physical debility that limits their mobility - but even so why would they go out of their way to publish a "rule" that stigmatizes everyone who needs mechanical assistance to increase their mobility? They should rescind the "rule" and apologize to everyone for ever publishing it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

War on Everything!

Here's what I don't get:  If we are the peace-loving, benevolent people we say we are, why do we so readily go to war against anybody and anything that we find to be in any way dangerous, disagreeable or objectionable?  Seriously, why is that?

On the international scene we have during my lifetime (which began shortly after WW II ended) been at war, in the sense of armed conflict, in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Bosnia, wherever we were during "Desert Storm" and "Desert Shield", Iraq, Afghanistan, African nations that I have never heard of other than we sent troops there, and I can't even begin to list the places in the mid-east that we have sent drones, special forces or both in our prosecution of the "war on terror".  Most of these conflicts came after we defeated the godless commies in the Cold War. And of course our ongoing "war on drugs" has led to military action by troops, CIA operatives, mercenaries and "contractors" in Mexico and several South American nations. I'm sure this list is not exhaustive - but it certainly is exhausting to think about.

On the home front, we have actual paramilitary operations conducted by heavily armed police forces using military tools and tactics to wage war on drug lords, gangs, and the occasional fringe group of lunatics who are intent on making war against the federal government.

If one reads the national headlines for a while it becomes apparent that we as a nation are waging metaphorical war on poverty, illiteracy, illegal aliens and illegal downloading, disease in general and cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer's (among others) in particular. Depending on your point of view you may or may not agree that there is a war on women, religion, science, unions and, of course Christmas. Again, the list is not all-inclusive. (I forgot to mention the "class war" that the president may or may not be fomenting to advance his political goals.)

Here's what I think we could do as a first step to reduce the perception, and maybe even the reality, that we are a nation that will go to "war" at the drop of a hat - let's limit our use of the term "war" to apply only to those situations that fit the classic definition of the word, as supplied by Wikipedia: "War is an organized and often prolonged conflict that is carried out by states or other types of parties wishing to form or control states or other types of territories. It is characterised by extreme aggression, economic disintegration and irrationality, social disruption, and usually high mortality.[1][2] War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political communities, and therefore is defined as a form of political violence or intervention.[1][3] The set of techniques used by a group to carry out war is known as warfare. An absence of war is usually called peace."

Maybe, just maybe, if we stop using the term to apply to situations that don't fit the definition we can look for solutions that actually seek to get at the cause of the problem and thus develop solutions that will solve those problems. I mean really, you can't fight a war on "terror" or "drugs" or any other inanimate object because they don't lend themselves to being defeated by frontal assault.  If we start viewing them as "problems to be solved" rather than "wars to be fought" perhaps we can reboot the process to seek creative, effective, peaceful solutions to the problems "that bother us so" (to paraphrase Jimmy Buffett).

How about we just declare victory in all of our wars, stand the troops down, and redirect the vast resources to finding solutions instead of fighting wars?

Wouldn't it be lovely if "peace" broke out everywhere we are fighting a "war"?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy birthday to the KING of Rock 'n' Roll

January 8, 2013 marks 78 years since the birth of Elvis Presley. I might not have remembered this fact if my radio friend, Bill Audette, the old time rebel of rock 'n' roll, had not done a special tribute to the King and his music this morning on WMPG radio with a special edition of The Night Train Show.
I grew up in the very early days of rock 'n' roll - Elvis singing 'Hound Dog' is pretty much my earliest recollection of hearing music that was different from the music my parents listened to - and I liked it!  So I called Bill and asked him to play it, and of course he did, and oh so much more!

Bill played 2 1/2 hours of all Elvis hits, near-hits and long-forgotten tracks.  I thought I knew pretty much every song Elvis ever recorded but Bill rooted out some I had never even heard of - and they were all great!  Whether you are an ardent Elvis fan (who isn't?) or never heard of him (what planet have you been living on?) you have to listen to this tribute, because if you are already a fan it will remind you just how great the King was, and if you are not already an Elvis fan this will make you one.  The show is in two parts and here they are:
Tribute to Elvis - part 1
Tribute to Elvis - part 2

And just so you can see what all the hoopla was about, here's a video of Elvis doing 'Hound Dog' on the Milton Berle Show in 1956 (my, how the times have changed!)