The Studebaker's headlights glowed a dull yellow through the steam rising from the water that came out from the garden hose. "The rink will be frozen solid by morning." When you are four, being outside on a cold winter's night is quite the adventure, and watching your dad create something you had never imaged possible in your yard was quite the thrill. We had shoveled a clear area in the side lot, the snowbanks made a form for the ice. The taste of wet wool in my mouth was joined by a tingling from my toes, I had to go in, but didn't want to.
The next night it seemed as if all the neighborhood kids were on our rink. My sister, with her pink scarf and mittens, skated in figure 8's with her friend Joyce. Kirby and Kevin the Jensen brothers, were there too. I didn't have skates yet, but enjoyed sliding around in my black buckled overshoes. I fell into a bank, and instead of rising, I just stretched out in the snow, and looked up at the stars of the big dipper, they were so clearly etched in the black sky they seemed to be diamonds.
Later on, we were called into the house, hot cocoa was waiting, and a winter's night was never so perfect as then.
Cheaper, Faster, Better
Pick two. Or so the old business bromide goes. You can have any two attributes at the expense of a third. Every once in a while, something comes along that is so revolutionary, so original in concept that this "law" is shattered to bits.
Chester Carlson worked on perfecting Xeroxgraphy for over twenty years. When it went on the market in 1960, it was so much faster, cheaper AND better than any other method of copying that it changed this office procedure forever. The current world has a lot of new products, but instead of cheaper, faster, better, they are just different - and marketing drives change, not any true innovation. Pick a "new" technology - Digital Photography? It is getting better, the new Canon 16 meg camera is said to have "film resolution". It costs $8000 for the body alone - plus computers, hard drives, archiving, cost of hard copy ($8000 equals about 400 rolls of film WITH processing, prints AND CDs ). DVDs? They have a bit higher resolution, are much cheaper to make (but not to buy) and are very fragile (and will be obsolete in about 4 years). TVs? The high end ones are so expensive that the midline ones at ONLY $1000 start to look like bargains. Still no standards, you will end up buying another box. Audio? Mp3's are the dominant new format, and are definitely a step backwards in quality, and even legal downloads are somewhat pricey. Cars? Faster, yes -certainly not cheaper or better (worse gas milage). Computers seem to be the exception to this - they definitely have all three bases covered - (but not software.)
So it seems that not every advance is all that it is touted to be. And Chester Carlson's invention? It is estimated that over 500 copies per every person in the world are made each year by Xeroxgraphy (laser printers use the same basic technology.) That's not bad for a 45 year old invention that was turned down by many major corporations as "unnecessary and impractical".
A simple concept, but is it possible? A mirror? You engage in a little play-acting, putting your best appearance forward. A TV camera and monitor? A little better, you get a little disconcerted by the fact that it is NOT a mirror image, you have to adjust your movements in an unnatural way. When that phrase is used as a warning, it can connote anything from a familial concern ("Watch yourself - it's icy here") to a downright confrontation ("Watch yourself - you are getting out of bounds!") There might be another way to interpret this phrase, one that has a tie-in with blogging. Most of us that do non-commercial blogging try to leave a pretty good image of ourselves here. When we go back over old posts, you can watch aspects of yourself almost as if you are reading about another person. Certainly my own blog is biased and tends toward the self-serving, (that's part of the fun) but most of us are like that about ourselves anyway. The interesting parts are those things that can slip between the cracks. Maybe the medium is the message, or maybe the message is only a tease, never letting us get any closer to ourselves than we are comfortable with.
The bigger picture
She sat on the bench and thought about what to do. It was not exactly what she would have called a nice garden. Traffic sounds from a busy street nearby surpassed the tiny birds' melodies. She wondered if they were aware of the fact that they were not all singing the same song and thought about whether she should tell them. She noticed a plastic bag that looked oddly out of place full of clothes and personal belongings. How odd, she thought and looked around watching out for a likely owner. She was alone in this peculiar place and it was like time stood still on the inside while life passed by on high speed on the outside. She was very curious about the bag and slowly moved towards it, making sure no one was around to see her snooping. The bag smelled of sweat and tobacco and the clothes looked old and used. She was so wrapped up in her finding that she almost forgot her problems which had brought her there. The tears on her cheeks had dried but the nauseating feeling inside of her was still there. She deliberated taking the bag and give it to the local authorities in case someone had lost it. Still, it didn't look like the sort of things one would miss and in the end she decided to leave it. Against her curious nature she accepted the fact she would never know who's it was and what it was doing there. She sat back at her place and concentrated on the off key birds.
She had been sitting there only for a couple of minutes when an old lady came and sat on the bench next to the bag. She smelled of sweat and tobacco. The old lady had a sandwich in her hand which she ate like a hungry animal. She finished everything but a little piece which she cut down to even smaller pieces and threw at the birds. She smiled at the girl and took the bag into her arms. At that moment the girl realized she was sat in the middle of the old lady's home. The old rags were all her earthly possessions, the birds her friends and the bench her bed. It put things into perspective. She departed the garden free. Free and thankful for how unimportant her problems were.
Be The Man
Back in my show-biz days, I seldom rose above the "working the toilets" circuit. One band that did elevate things was The Wallets, a keyboards-sax-bass and drums outfit, led by the visionary Steve Kramer. The Wallets weren't really a "show" band, but they certainly had their moments. One notable tune was "In The Congo", complete with jungle drums, animal cries and an extended middle that always got a big reaction. Halfway through the song, the lights would be doused. The aforementioned cries and drums would reach a pinnacle of cacophony. Then, a couple of us in the crew would start waving flashlights around. In the dark, you really didn't know what you were seeing. That is when Mr. Kramer would whip out his rubber snake, having it wrap around his neck and torso. People started screaming. Lit by our feeble flashes, it really looked alive. Cost of this stage effect: about $20. I'm sure there are still some deluded souls that would swear that the snake was real. It was close enough for a couple of hundred judgment-impaired moshers.
More on Steve here.
The joy of "classic" country and western music (30's - 50's) stems from the fact that these performers were quite a bit closer to their roots - Hank Williams tops them all, with Jimmie Rodgers coming in a close second. Some acts, like the Carter family, kept these ties for their entire career. The song that really does it for me is "Dust on the Bible" - Kitty Wells did a stirring rendition in the late fifties. What could top this as a rebuke - "Dust on the Bible! Dust on the Bible!" With the proper delivery, you could shame someone for their fallen ways AND slovenly housekeeping. It just doesn't get any more down-home than that. So if your Bible has been neglected - give it a little "spit-shine", it could save you a world of disgrace.
Let me watch any corny old movie, a movie where stifled love finally emerges triumphant, - watch my river flow. Come from behind sports events, where the player in question has had hard times and finally wins big - watch me weep. Poignant television commercials with knowing looks, granpa can play with the grandkids again 'cuz he's on a new kind of dope - I turn on the waterworks. I always wondered about that.
One day I was talking with my aunt Marianne about it, and she just laughed. "You are a bawlin' Neumann - we're all like that. The Neumann's were my father's mother's folk, a big bunch of sentimental crybabies. I certainly didn't get it from my mothers side (that's where the chronic low-grade depression comes from.) So pass me a Kleenex when Sam in Casablanca plays "As Time Goes By - it's just my defective gene expressing itself.
Back In Sync
It has been a strange winter. The absolute lack of snow, not that I missed shoveling or driving in it, has put everyone here on edge. It's just unnatural. Nervous laughter when talking about the weather. That vague sense of unease when leaving home in the morning and the world looks like November. It finally snowed yesterday, a good 8 inches, with lots more heading east. The disparty between calender and climate has been reconciled, I can walk between snowdrifts now on my way to get a paper and not have to look at halloween candy wrappers frozen where they fell nearly three months ago.
The fresh snow is pretty, but more comforting is the fact that now we can finally watch the snow go through its familiar phases, white and fluffy, crusted, dirty, melted and refrozen, and ultimately, gone. We were waiting for the snow cycle to start, perhaps our concern was that if it didn't start sometime, we would be stuck in a Twilight-zone like limbo, a cold Omaha, where spring would never come. Spring will come, life will bloom again on the prairie, and once again the circle will be complete.
Clouds of disappointments
keep reminding me
that I am not.
The trees have arthritis now
as they point at me -
laughing and asking
just what have I got?
So, snow, come and grow
higher on my window
clear my head down to my toes -
there's nothing left here anymore
fill me up with
Winter wears no wig now
she's bald and she's bold
and I better keep walking
before I catch cold.
I need direction
I always need to be told
It's low down and shady -
how fast I'm growing old
So, snow, come and grow
higher on my window
clear my head down to my toes -
there's nothing left here anymore
fill me up with
My heart is stuck to the ground
I'm a frozen flat tire
and this lug won't come undone
I'm so uninspired.
Just a little snow now
Yeah that's what I desire -
And I'll roll down on this road
and look for some fire.
So, snow, come and grow
higher on my window
clear my head down to my toes -
there's nothing left here anymore
fill me up with
- Jimmy Derbis
Brave Little Yaris
It is usually a bit of an adventure renting a car overseas. The models have different names, or they may have the same name yet be a completely different car. Or for some real fun: a right-hand drive (with a manual transmission!) With globalization, there is more uniformity now, but still there can be surprises. In the U.S. Toyota's smallest car is the Echo. Overseas (in Iceland at any rate) it is the Yaris. Very much like the Echo, yet somehow different, maybe it's the grill-work, the proportions, certainly the moniker. Now the roads in Iceland are of three kinds, Paved (very nice), gravel (black lava gravel, usually ok) and other. I picked up my perky little white Yaris and headed south on 42, to take some pictures in the Reykjanesfólkvangur (a volcanic park of severe beauty.) As the ruggedness of the scenery increased, so did the weather until a gale force wind and torrents of driving rain escalated into what is called in Iceland "skemmtilegur". Still, my trusty Yaris held fast. The rain finally did ease up a bit, so I turned west on 427 to see a geothermal area and swing back via the Blue Lagoon. Leaving the hot springs (boiling hot!) the gravel road now snaked through miles of an ancient lava flow.
I took some more pictures here, and then noticed that the road ahead had become a small river! Now, I had seen a few cars come from that way, but none were quite as small as my rental...carefully I proceeded, with a vision of my being swept away playing in an endless loop in my fevered imagination. Finally I was through! Then the road turned from OK into other. After a few miles, I found myself driving through a working quarry, complete with heavy equipment. The road was marked by flags every 50 feet or so, but you could also judge where it was by the fact that the actual excavation site looked smoother than the road proper (just drive on the rough spots, right?) And then a GREAT BIG STEEP HILL - WITH A BLIND INTERSECTION AT THE TOP - all this my brave little Yaris handled in stride. So, I would definitely recommend this car to anyone with a sense of adventure and little luggage - my camera bags and tripod took up all the rear seat very nicely. No AC though - oh yeah, I guess that it's not really needed in ICEland.
In 15 years of employment, I had taken one sick day. Today I took another. Whatever it was that I had, I just had to stop my daily routine and lay low for while, like a wounded animal. I got up, called in (there wasn't any work anyway) and watched morning TV for a while (now that WILL make you sick!) I pulled the couch blanket over my bathrobe and went back to sleep. About two hours later I woke up and was absolutely drenched in sweat. There must have been some intense battle being waged for the control of my emaciated bod, and I had won. I felt great! All my symptoms were gone, and although I was still plenty weak, I knew I had turned the corner. I got up, put the sopping wet bathrobe in the washer, and took a nice warm shower.
Not dead yet.
...the latest development from Flippist Industries© - The first release of a wonderful new wine - Chateaú de Batti. After years of experimentation, the kindy professor has developed a hearty, robust vino sure to please both the expert and amateur wine lover. With strong notes of ginger, mango and onion, this complex red holds unlimited potential for the discerning palate. Grown from wild grape stock in Anoka's feral cat preserve, the cats patrol the vines, keeping it free of predators and adding their own "little something" to the mix. With a long, lingering finish, punctuated by flavors of cumin, cocoa puffs and burning rubber, make sure that your next get-together includes this delightful ice-breaker. Remember - If it's Batti it's non-poisonous! (mostly)
Government warning: do not operate machinery, drive or attempt your John Travolta impersonation while under the influence of this beverage. Manufacturer will not be held liable for outcome of karoake contests or any unwanted pregnancies while under its influence.
Maybe it was the 100+ hours below zero (-18 C.). Perhaps it was working on #2 son's car outdoors in the fore mentioned temperature. Perhaps it was due to just getting over a nasty two-week cold, and then getting another. The Weaver wants to go somewhere on spring break, and we've already done the Boundary Waters and Iceland. "Somewhere warm this time." It is not negotiable. A few clicks on the 'net and my problem is solved - Hawaii. I check my e-mail for a confirmation and there are two messages from the only person I know in Hawaii! Pictures of her frolicking with a rhinoceros! She said she'd introduce us. I don't get that opportunity every day. Maybe it will be this fall for Iceland...
Blah blah blah blah...
blah blah blah blah....
blah blah blah blah...
blah blah blah blah blah....
all the wonderful people at HBO
blah blah blah blah blah blah
blah blah blah blah blah blah
How can something that costs so much be so damn boring? Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the Golden Globes.
End of post.
Seriously, I had a chance to contribute in a small way to the local aspect of a photo exhibit at the Minnesota Center for Photography. Lauren Greenfield, the photographer, assembled a series of 58 images (in sumptous Cibachrome) of "girls" of various ages in play, socialization and work. With an emphasis on glamour, fashion and exhibitionism, the show was kind of sad. The older girls were professionals - models, strippers, dancers. The younger ones were usually shown in sort of a proto-bimbo state. The exceptions to this were a few girls with weight disorders. The saddest picture of all was a shot of three girls at a weight-loss camp. They weren't overweight. In a side gallery were several pictures actually shot by local girls. They were everything the big show wasn't. Girls having fun, laughing, drinking, the versimilitude of these images was a marked contrast to the "lipstick, powder and paint" of the others. The idea of a girl culture is nebulous at best. The "girls", when you can find the real thing, ARE great. The "Culture" is another thing. When girls design their own clothes, write their own stories, produce their own music, movies and television, then the idea of girl culture will be a reality. It is already happening, with advances in communication techniques (internet publishing, low-cost audio and video) the revolution will soon be here.
The day of a teen-age, female Orson Welles or Jane Austen is just around the corner. I can hardly wait.
Who'll Be The Next In Line?
As Dubya's war in Iraq grinds on, the lack of progress is as notable as is the lack of any perceptible plan or end game. Recent announcements about ending the search for WMDs and the creation in Iraq of a new super-terrorist training state are just the most recent failures of U.S. foreign policy. Dubya's tardy offer of less than half of his inauguration party budget for tsunami victims met with little outcry from the U.S. media. Its pretty obvious that unless it involves a "sexy" photo-op ('Mission accomplished!') our ADD president will flit from one manufactured crisis to another, act irresponsibly, and then move on. No one will stop him.
What's up next in Dubya's quest to "spend his political capital"? Cuba would be a tempting target, although the idea of U.S. soldiers killing tourists in a tropical paradise probably wouldn't play out too well with those countries (mostly U.S. allies) who have invested there. Still, Jeb Bush (GOP prez candidate in 2008?) IS Governor of Florida. North Korea? Nuclear warfare by a certified looney - even Dubya isn't that stupid (I hope.) The sad thing is, Dubya has so much unopposed power, and so little sense, that he could attack ANYONE. During the election, his hacks were making "book tours" touting ideas like "France is the enemy." (Amazingly, they received unquestioned acceptance in most media markets!) Why not include Spain? Germany? The old song by Ray Davies comes to mind:
"Who'll be the next in line?
Who'll make the same mistakes
I made over you?"
Monster From The Radio Tube
Vacuum tubes (valves in the UK) are almost a thing of the past. There are still four uses for these elegant electronic devices:
1. Monitors (TVs) - these seem to be on the way out, too heavy, full of lead and being replaced by a variety of new technologies. Still in use by millions.
2. Microwave ovens - this is one tube you never see - carefully shielded - these tubes put out a lot of energy. Also used by millions.
3. Radio transmitters - again, lots of power handling, not in domestic use.
4. Audio amplifiers - Mostly guitar amps and esoteric audiophile gear . There is still a difference, I always find it amusing to see a band play with 40 or 50 year old amplifiers (or their modern-day clones.)
When I was young, transistors were just coming into the marketplace, most radios had these glowing glass jars in the back, each like a little ship-in-the-bottle or a snow globe, except instead of a yar vessel or a bucolic scene, there was a strange metal sculpture inside, the mad construct of a demented engineer. Some tubes had a blue glow that would pulse in sync with the music, all of them were HOT. My friend Andy even wrote a short story about one of these artifacts coming to life—growing in size and terrorizing the neighborhood. This update on "War Of The Worlds" ended with the malevolent tube being banished to the moon, where you could see its ruddy glow in the dark areas of a partial moon. In later years, I actually went the trouble of learning how tubes work, ultimately building my own guitar amplifier. Every so often, if I am playing my guitar with the lights out, I'll take a little peek at those "monsters" in the back of my amp, and recall Andy's story with a smile.
How many times have I hit it off with someone effortlessly? Not many. I sometimes (usually) come on too strong, sometimes the other person is too shy, sometimes the mood is wrong, who knows? Maybe it was my horoscope? But with most people that I deal with on a regular basis, some kind of accommodation works itself out after a while. When someone that you have been civil with, even pleasant but distant suddenly opens up the experience can be overwhelming. Everybody has their own inner demons, and we all deal with them as best we are able. Respecting another's struggle without judgement or rancor can give each of us a second chance. And a chance is all any of us get - in love, in life, for a day or two of happiness.
We can ask for no more. We should give no less.
A last minute freebie gave me the opportunity to check out a theater premiere at the Guthrie Lab, an adjunct to the Guthrie Theater. I couldn't find someone who could attend with me, so I ended going solo- kind of fun once in a while. The production was "Lysistrata" by Aristophanes, I find that there's nothing quite like a 2500 year old comedy about the war between the sexes to get my dramatic "juices" flowing.
I took my seat, right next to another 'singleton' a pleasant youngish woman with a bohemian appearance. We hit it off right away, and spent the 10 minutes till curtain in an animated discourse about theater, the Guthrie (note to non-locals - this theater is has an international reputation) and Sir Tyrone Guthrie himself, whom I had the chance to meet when I was a teen. 'Alex' was performance artist herself, the director of this production was her friend. We enjoyed the show, and continued our conversation in the lobby until the theater closed. Our 'play' was every bit as enjoyable as the staged one. Testing, sparring, checking each other out, quickly realizing that this night was for talk only, and we made the best of it.
About a year later, I was with my family at a east bank cafe, enjoying a night out before the boys went back to school. Our server came up, not so bohemian this time, but Alexandria nonetheless. It was all business, but when it came my turn to order, a little smile crossed my lips as we looked at each other. She seemed pleased to see me, and also seemed that she was glad our 'accidental' date turned out the way it had.
New Year's Resolution
I had the opportunity to do some upscale shopping this holiday season (anything above thrift-store level is upscale for me) and wound up in an "International Design" center filled with hideous ceramics, off-putting sculptures and "assistants" who were using the store computers to create promotional materials for upcoming "rave nights". In one corner of this strange establishment, was a sleek new media entertainment center, Scandinavian in origin, a large plasma display HDTV ensconsed in a sea of brushed aluminium with built-in surround speakers, tres chic, nez pas? A DVD was playing, and the friendly (lonely?) clerk in that depatment beckoned me to sit down and "savor the experience." Well, Batty usually doesn't fly that way, but what the heck! It's Christmas! (The DVD was 'Elf')
I started watching a bit, as the now VERY FRIENDLY clerk sat nearby and started his low key pitch. "...of course this is not an inexpensive system, but it will fill all your needs for media for years to come..." We talked about HDTV, the competing systems, (US broadcast was supposed to be switched over in 2005, but has been delayed) and other video options. That was when I noticed THEM. The dreaded mpeg artifacts, crawling over smooth textured areas like the visual onset of an LSD trip. Creepy stuff. With a regular TV, I would have never noticed, but this was disturbing. The REALLY, REALLY, FRIENDLY clerk edged a little closer, whispering things like "1080i" and "Line doubling option." Then he stroked the remote and the entire monitor came to life - it began to sway and tilt, in a most provocative fashion! I thanked to clerk for his demo (I really had just come in to warm up) and made a beeline to the street. The future is now, be afraid, run away. Will Ferrell is creepy enough in low res.
When I was "emancipated" and living on my own for the first time, my needs were few, my desires many. As is common with many impressionable youth, I craved excitement. My options were limited by my bank-book and my circumstances. One outlet for entertainment that always beckoned was the downtown amusement gallery. A collection of world-war II era pinball machines, in a dirty storefront, lit by a couple of flickering florescent lamps and the gaming apparatus itself. Some machines were a nickel a play, most were a dime. Most had some minor defect, you just played around that. The idea was to win games, to hear that resounding "thock" as you passed an arbitrary score. The games were just as addicting as their modern counterparts. They had an aura of hand-craft about them, the varnished wooden deck, the hand stenciled decorations, the general funkiness of a machine from a different era, they were almost an anacronism already (the first Pong games were just coming out.) And even if you only had a quarter, you could play for a while.
Of course, after a while you had lost your quarters, and you had lost your time, time lost forever in the company of your fellow-reptiles, seeking that animal adrenalin rush, trying to stave off extinction for another day.
Life Imitates Art
After yesterday's rant, my overworked imagination got the best of me. I took a warm bath, had a cup of cocoa, and went to bed. Fitful slumber ensued, which was irrevocably rent asunder by the throb-throb-throb of a helicopter's rotor. I sat up with a start - was I dreaming or indeed, had my lunatic fantasies become real? The noise became louder until it sounded as if it was directly overhead. Finally it receded into the distance, taking with it my peace of mind.
In the morning I asked the weaver if she had heard it. Yep, exactly as I remembered it.
That settles it. I'm going to only write about pleasant things from now on.
It isn't that I think people are out to get me. After all, I could just kill my blog, close up the ol' laptop, and disappear back into the pages of Ripley's Believe It Or Not ("Man writes meaningless blog for months, then vanishes!"). That would be too easy, the coward's way out. It's just that I know that people are watching me - a couple of months ago I put in a site meter (click on the black number at the bottom of the sidebar) and it will tell you, in a vague sort of way, who's been reading. The ordinary web portals, AOL, RR and other dot-coms are no problem. Some I've even managed to correlate to the reader. Just plain folks, nothing to be afraid of. But every so often some commercial address pops up - like glaxowellcome.com.
Now what would a huge international drug cartel want with yours truly? A new direct-marketing scheme? Do they think I'm importing drugs from Canada? Or are they concerned that "The Key" of Flippism is a powerful holistic healing method that will make all drugs obsolete? Or how about the Swiss consulting firm KPMG - am I to think that a major corporation is checking into Flippism with the eye for a hostile takeover bid? Or finally, GOV.UK. Tony Blair knows where I live. He read my B&B from hell post, and it's payback time... My mind is running wild with possibilities of malfeasance. Isn't that the sound of a helicopter hovering over head? Isn't that a phalanx of jack-booted brown-shirts coming up the side walk? The door...they're breaking in...no escape... must not panic... ARRRGH!
"Bothered by persistent heartburn? Ask your Doctor about the purple pill..."
...a public service of Glaxowellcome...
3rd Street Theatre
When I was quite young, my mother (who had somewhat of a 'hands off' approach to child rearing) often left me in the charge of my big sister. This was a pretty good deal for a 5 year old. My sister was the queen of the neighborhood, all enemies and alliances, the sub-teen power brokering, went through her. She had a knack for organizing childhood play, whether it was a game of "starlight moonlight" or a trip to the swamp or a 'parade' with wagons and trikes and even a few 'wild' animals thrown in (our old tomcat did not approve of that!)
The topper was when she staged her 'theatricals'. We had some 2x10's left over from a remodeling project. When placed upon extra concrete blocks - instant seating. An old blanket draped over a clothesline was the curtain. I was too little to be in the play, so I was pressed into service as the usher. My flashlight would do double duty as a spotlight. The play was set for 8 p.m. It was toward the end of August, a cloudy, warm evening, where summer's embrace was still felt, even though the nights were lengthening fast. The neighborhood children (and there were plenty of children) began to trickle into our back yard. I took their tickets (1 cent, please) and when the show was ready to begin, I went over to the 'curtain' and gave it a tug. It was some variation on The Brothers Grimm, perhaps Rumpelstiltskin or Rapunzel. The littlest kids were enchanted, the older ones distracted. It got a little darker, the clouds started to look like they meant business, and the theater was now lit up from our yard lamp, with its yellow "bug" light.
"Every body go home - its gonna rain" my Dad's warning voice closed the show.
"Tales of brave Ulysses, and the sirens sweetly singing."
Those beautiful weird sisters' songs would lure sailors to their doom on a rocky coast. In World War I, air raid sirens would announce the arrival of the Zeppelins, with a cargo of death and destruction. Fire and Police sirens sound a similar warning, death is imminent, the grim reaper is nigh. Anyone in tornado country knows what a siren means on a hot summer evening. My father's last ride had the soundtrack of a wailing Ambulance siren.
A siren is a deal with fate. We accept its presence, and we can buy ourselves a little space, a little time, a little breathing room from its inevitability. We give ourselves a chance. Some people have suggested that an expanded tsunami warning system could have saved lives in the Indian Ocean. Some areas might have been spared - others, such as the obliterated villages in Sumatra where only the mosques were left standing - were probably too close for any warning to have helped. Still, we have tools, we have science, we have motivation. Faith is worthless against an Act of Nature - but we are not helpless.
London Baby Yeah
There is something strange going on here. I feel like there is something growing out of me. Out of my hip and it's got hair. It speaks and it has unbelievable amount of opinions. It doesn't like this and that, and it complains quite a bit. It has a friend. The friend isn't really a museum person and doesn't like looking at some old paintings because mother nature does so much better job than Van Gogh and Da Vinci ever did. Oh no, never mind. It's just my mother and her fellow counselor friend who have permanently attached themselves to me. Make a mental note: Never go on a week long holiday with your neurotic mother and her unbelievably clingy friend without some kind of a back-up plan.
I like this place. I would like to live here. I think I will at some point.
I was sitting in a chair in some side street the other day while my mother was trying out a suede jacket way out of her budget. It looked good on her but this was the 10th jacket she tried on that day so I was just all jacket-shopped out and was paying no attention to my surroundings. Suddenly a huge slightly intoxicated Italian man stood right in front of me and spit out: You French? I told him no and said with pride Icelandic and smiled. Ah, I have a very good Icelandic friend, Gummi, maybe you know him. I call him now he said and pulled out his mobile. He dialed some numbers and then handed me the phone. Er... hello? It surely was Gummi on the other end, a middle aged man somewhere in Iceland, who seemed just as bewildered as me over this phone call. I explained what was going on and then Gummi told me that I should ask for his discount if I decided to buy something. Then he hung up and I handed the odd Italian, who was now busy coming on to some Spanish girl, his phone back and hurried out. My mum did not buy the jacket even though we could have got it with Gummi's discount.
The B & B From Hell
In the fifties and most of the sixties, air travel was the province of the well-to-do, with airfares quite high (even by today's prices), but toward the end of that era, new regulations and the rise of low-cost charter flights changed that scene. So, in the summer of '73 I found myself waiting to board a round-trip flight to England for the grand total of $168. I had a traveling companion; neither of us had any experience abroad. And we waited. And waited. The 7 P.M departure time departed. The new departure time of 11 P.M. departed. As well as the 1 A.M. mark. Finally at 3 A.M. we boarded, flew into the rising sun, arriving in Gatwick by late-afternoon. We took the train into London. It was getting late, we booked the only available B&B, "That'll be the Rowan's", the clerk at the lodging placement centre said, with an arched eyebrow. We were so exhausted by then that we would have taken a bed in St. James park.
We trundled (with luggage) about a mile, finally ending up in a somewhat shabby part of London, and found the address. We went to the door, a grim looking woman answered, we explained our needs, and she agreed to let us a room - "Two night minimun, pay in advance." We agreed and followed her to our "room". When she opened the door, a disheveled drunken man raised his head off the bed. It was a brother-in-law who had just "dropped in". She had another room, and we went in. This was really a prison cell - one high barred window, a bare hanging light bulb, no decorations, two small metal beds with a mattress(?) stuffed with wood shavings (excelsior) covered with a worn sheet and tattered blanket. Oh well, we thought, what are looks - we'll be sleeping anyway - and after using the W.C. (which really was a small closet - about two square feet) we tried to sleep. This was when the choir of watch dogs in the square behind the house began their nightly concert. Then, from the other side of the door we heard a young girl screaming "Don't let him touch me! Don't let him get me!" The landlady's daughter was being molested by her "funny uncle"! Amid this cacophony, we finally, after 36 hours awake, managed to drop off to sleep. We woke early, about 5 A.M. and quickly decided that ANYTHING was better that this. We quietly left without breakfast.
Later, we actually found a very nice hotel in South Kensington, and spent several days there -really quite civilized, thank you. Since that time, I have spent many nights in B&B's and guesthouses and have found them to be a wonderful experience (The Paradise House in Bath is just that—paradise.) But my aspiration of becoming a World Traveler was almost nipped in the bud by THE B & B FROM HELL!