Saturday, January 13, 2018

The GPS Hated Us

Many years ago, despite the growing popularity of Global Positioning Systems, Bev and I stubbornly continued to use old- fashioned maps.  However, not wanting  to be the type of older people who refuse to change with the times, we finally decided to borrow a GPS from a friend to see how it worked.

After programming the needed information into the system we began our trip to see Bev’s parents.   Unfortunately, what should have been a peaceful, carefree journey turned into a battle of wills between my wife and the “lady in the GPS.“ 

We have traveled to the in-laws’ house literally hundreds of times, so naturally Bev has certain routes that we take.  The lady in the GPS, however, had other ideas;  she demanded that we take  alternative paths.

Whenever “Sally” (what I named the voice in the GPS) wanted us to turn onto a new route, we would hear something like the following: “Ding! Ding! Ding! In thirty feet turn right.”

More times than not, however, Bev would simply ignore the command.  This sounds crazy, but I felt that Sally didn’t appreciate being ignored.

“Recalculating!” Sally almost screamed at us.  Then, as if pouting, she said nothing more until we arrived at another turnoff.  Once again we were “dinged” before the voice commanded us to turn right or left.  Usually Bev continued to ignore the device.

In a battle of wills I have to put my money on Bev.  She is kind, sympathetic, and fair, but she can be stubborn as a mule (unlike her near-perfect husband).  Perhaps Sally was stubborn, too, but actually, I didn’t know her that well.

Over the next five hours the voice in the GPS intermittently continued to ding and recalculate, while Bev continued to blissfully ignore her.  I swear that Sally was becoming shriller by the minute.

At last we began driving across a long bridge that spanned a deep ravine.  This time Sally didn’t “ding;” she just firmly stated: “Turn right.”

Once again Bev ignored the command, and for once I was glad that my wife can be so stubborn.  It’s a good thing for us that she didn‘t turn; at the time we were in the middle of the bridge!

I think the GPS hated us, and at least from Bev’s point of view, the feeling was mutual.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Observations on Aging

Now that I’m 67 there is no escaping the fact that I’m old.  Lately I’ve noticed some interesting changes in my life:

1.  I’m developing a “turkey neck.”  My grandfather had one of these, but I never thought it would happen to me.  The other day a friend complemented me on my turtle neck sweater.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t wearing one!

2.  Even with my glasses I can’t see well at night.  Headlights, both those oncoming and behind me, partially blind me.

3.  More than ever I’m forgetting where I put things.  The other day I spent 15 minutes looking for my glasses.  The fact of the matter is that I really needed to be wearing a pair of glasses so that I could find my lost ones!

4.  If I sit or stand too long I become stiff as a board.

5.  My back goes out more often than I do.

6.  At this stage in life I much prefer a bowl of hot soup to a hot date.

7.  Hair is growing in the weirdest places, like on my back and in my ears. 

8.   An afternoon nap is becoming a priority.

9.  I personally remember owning more and more artifacts like those that are now shown  in museums.

10.  When people want to talk to me they get very close to my face and raise their voices.

11.  I find myself more often saying “back in my day.”

12.  The Lawrence Welk Show is becoming more interesting with each passing year.

13.  For some strange reason my clothes have shrunk.

14.  When it comes to clothing, comfort almost always trumps style.

15.  Just a moderate amount of exercise can make my feet hurt.

16.  I no longer have any desire to go to a bar.

17.  I don’t stay up as long as I used to do.

18.  As I age my parents continue to get smarter.

19.  One thing is constant. Although she is in her sixties, I still firmly believe that my wife is the most beautiful gal in the world.

20.  It’s no longer important to win an argument.

21.  Family and friends are much more important than wealth, power, or recognition.

22.  I now own underwear that is older than either my doctor or my dentist.

23.  Now when my wife is upstairs and calls for me to run up the steps and be romantic, I reply:  “Dear, I can either run upstairs or be romantic.  Which do you prefer?”

Monday, December 18, 2017

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Back sometime in the middle ages-about 1956 or 1957-as the Christmas season neared , my mother, in a very serious manner explained to me the importance of being good if a kid like me wanted Santa Claus to bring him/her presents.  She explained that the old fat guy with a white beard (now that description fits me!) had little helpers called elves who were, among other things, actually spies. 

Yes, evidently those tricky elves spied upon us poor kids, took copious notes, and then reported their findings to Santa.  No wonder the song says that Santa “knows when you are sleeping; he knows when you’re awake; he knows when you’ve been bad or good; so be good for goodness sake!”  No doubt officials in Washington D. C. could use those sneaky elves to supplement their  surveillance of our phone calls and e-mails, but that’s another story.

Anyway, like any other little kid, I wanted presents, so I had little choice but to go against my basic nature and try to be good.  For over a month I didn’t fight with my sisters.  Without making a fuss I ate Mom’s cornbread that was laced with pieces of fat.  I even did chores without being told to do so.  In other words, I was making some big-time sacrifices.

There was one thing that puzzled me.  I had read that Santa comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve.  This would be a problem, for our house did not have a chimney.  Heck, until 1955 we lived in a place that didn’t have a toilet or a bathtub, but at least Mr. Claus could get into the place. Dad explained that he would leave the door unlocked so that Santa could march right in and deliver that new bicycle for which I had been begging. 

You might be wondering how Santa let each kid know if he or she had been good or not.  Evidently Santa or one of those mischievous elves sent the relative information to our local TV stations.  This led me to another question.  Our local station had a Santa, but so did each of the other stations that we could get.  Dad, in his wisdom, explained that the one and only true Santa was at the North Pole; these television guys were his assistants.  I wonder why there was never a song written about them?

So on the appointed day I rushed home from school, grabbed an apple and a cold drink, and then settled in front of the TV to watch Santa’s show.  After wasting my time for fifteen minutes or so the old jelly belly finally got down to reading the good list. 

If I made that list there would be a bicycle in my future.  If not, I’d probably have to settle for three new pairs of underwear, or worse yet, a big piece of Grandma‘s fruitcake.  With baited breath I waited for my name to be announced. Then Santa, or at least one of his assistants, let me down.  I was on the good list alright, but the dude mispronounced my last name!  Certainly if he sees me when I’m sleeping and even knows when I’m awake, he must know how to pronounce my name!

But what came next proved to me that this old man in a red suit was a complete fraud.  He proceeded to name both my sisters on this supposed good list.  Any of you men out there who have sisters know what evil creatures they can be.  Either Santa was completely crazy or my sisters had sent him a little cash under the table.

However, to my utter surprise, on Christmas morning there was my new bike standing in all its glory next to our tree.  We had left Santa cookies and milk, but lo and behold, they were gone!  So maybe this assistant Santa was either naïve or a crook, but the real Santa came through for me.

Later that day Dad pointed out tracks in the snow that he said were left by Santa’s sled, as well as tiny prints that had been made by the helper elves.  I accepted that explanation, but I do recall that the day before Christmas my friends and I had been sledding in that area and that one of my buddies had his dog with him.

So everything worked out well.  I got the bicycle, and most importantly, once again I could be my normal awful self until at least next November.

So with all things considered, I still believe in you, Santa.  By the way, in case you haven’t gotten the elves’ report or talked to my wife, take my word that I’ve been pretty good the last month or two, and I’d really like to have a new Cadillac.  I’ll leave the door unlocked.  There will be a cold beer and a warm slice of pizza on the table.

*** Peace on earth and goodwill to all men and women.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Real Tree vs. a Fake One

   This Christmas season my wife Bev and I had an important  decision to make: should we decorate our house with a real tree or a fake one?  I, using my extraordinary reasoning skills, argued for the fake tree.
    Bev brought up the tradition angle.  During her childhood , with only one year’s exception, her family bought  a real tree.  Each year the family would go to a tree farm, select one with just the right size and right shape, and then  chop it down.
    I can remember doing that.  Sometimes it was so cold that my fingers and toes became numb; on other warmer occasions I ended up with what seemed like tons of mud on my shoes, pants, and coat.  
    We have a perfectly fine fake tree in the storage room of the basement.  When I was a kid some of the manufactured trees didn’t look real, but this particular one is close to the real thing.  Furthermore, it’s a lot easier to drag a tree up the steps than it is to drag one from a forest or a store.
    Another advantage of the fake tree is that it does not shed.  Whenever we use a real one I find stray needles lying around for several months after the holidays have ended.  One does not need to water the fake variety, and I might add, the fake ones are less of a fire hazard.
    If they could speak English, I’m certain our four cats would vote for a real Christmas tree.  In particular, Tressel, the oldest cat loves nothing more than to eat tree needles and then proceed to throw up in various rooms.  They don’t munch on the fake trees, but rather content themselves with knocking decorations to the floor to use as hockey pucks.
    After my siblings and I left the house my mother used the same fake tree for about thirty years.  Can you imagine how much money she saved over that period?  True, towards the end it was a little shabby-looking, but isn’t it the thought that counts?
    On more than one occasion Bev and I have brought a real tree home only to discover that its base would not fit into the holder.  There’s few more enjoyable things in life than digging out the saw and spreading sawdust throughout the family room.
    Bev and I usually take down the tree on January 2nd.  For a real tree we have to stuff it into a big bag before lugging it out to the end of the driveway for the garbage men to haul away.  On the other hand, one merely carries the fake tree back to its little niche in the basement.  No muss and no fuss.
    I suggested that we start a new family tradition.  Let’s use our fake tree.  We’ll decorate it, enjoy it, and then return it to the basement complete with lights, bulbs, and other such trimmings.  When next year’s Christmas rolls around all we would have to do is carry it upstairs and it would be ready to use! 
    For some reason I couldn’t sell Bev on that idea.   “Whether we use a real or fake tree, we have to decorate it each year.  That’s when we put on Christmas music, lay out the stockings, and spend quality time decorating the tree.  That’s when we make memories.”
    It sure is.  I remember that this is the time that I miss out on some good football games on TV.  That’s when I make the memory of hanging stuff on the tree instead of reading a good book. 
    Anyway, Bev and I discussed the pros and cons of both types of trees.  Being a basically honest person, she agreed with me that with all things considered, it made more sense to use the tried and true fake model. 
    She agreed that a fake tree is easier to set up, is less messy, is less tempting to our felines, and is much simpler to take care of after the Christmas season has ended.  She even agreed that our particular model looks pretty much like the real thing. 
    “However,” she added, “I like the smell of a real tree.”
    “No problem,” I replied. “I heard that you can buy a spray that will make the fake tree smell like the real McCoy.”
    “Well then,” she confessed, “you’ve proven to me that we should use the fake tree.”
    “Great!” I responded. “I’ll bring it upstairs tonight.”
    Her heart was set on a real tree, so we compromised.  This year we’ll decorate the fake one; next year we’ll brave the snow, ice and wind in order to chop down a real one.  As for the cats, they can hardly wait for next year’s tree.  For them it will be some mighty fine eating.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Bob Hope's Words of Wisdom

** Bob Hope was a famous comedian, actor, singer and dancer who died in 2003 at the grand old age of 100.  Always a humorous man, Hope’s zingers often make  legitimate points..

1. “No one (political) party can fool all of the people all of the time; that’s why we have two parties.”

2. “Bigamy is the only crime where two rites make a wrong.”

3. “I grew up with six brothers.  That’s how I learned to dance-waiting for the bathroom.”

4. “A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove you don’t need it.”

5. “Don’t tempt me; I can resist anything but temptation.”

6. “If I’m on the (golf) course and lightning starts, I get inside fast.  If God wants to play through, let Him.”

7. “You know you’re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.”

8. “Middle age is when your age starts to show around the middle.”

9. “I have a wonderful make-up crew.  They’re the same people restoring the Statue of Liberty.”

10. “When she started to play, Steinway came down personally and rubbed his name off the piano.”

11. “Some fighters (boxers) are carried back to their dressing rooms.  I’m the only one who had to be carried both ways.”

12. “I thought ‘Deep Throat’ was a movie about a giraffe.”

13. “I’ll tell you how to stay young-hang around with older people.”

14. “If you haven’t any charity in your heart you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”

15. “I do benefits for all religions; I’d hate to blow the hereafter on a technicality.”

16. “A sense of humor is good for you; have you ever heard of a laughing hyena with heart burn?”

17. “I love to go to Washington-if only to be near my money.”

18. “My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple-loving others.  Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”

19. “I have seen what a laugh can do.  It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.”

20. “The trees in Siberia are miles apart.  That is why the dogs (there) are so fast.”

21. “I don’t feel old.  I don’t feel anything until noon.  That’s when it’s time for my nap.”

22. “She said she was approaching forty, and I couldn’t help wondering from what direction.”

23. “I’m so old they’ve canceled my blood type.”

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Transcontinental Train Trip

Since early childhood I’ve been fascinated with trains.  Going back to about the age of five I can remember Mom telling me about a narrow gauge railroad that had run past her grandfather’s farm.  For obvious reasons it was called the “Bent, Zigzag and Crooked “ Railroad.  And of course, like most boys in those days, I was the proud owner of an electric train set, complete with a tiny depot and houses, as well as little plastic people.
So it is not surprising when our son Todd asked my wife and me to take a cross-country train ride with him we were “all aboard” with the idea.  Besides, such a trip is on my updated “bucket” list.

A few days later Bev and I took a plane to New York City to meet Todd.  I like to travel on planes and trains, but other folks like just one or the other.  Long ago some anonymous person made his or her feelings quite clear by saying, “If God meant for us to fly he wouldn’t have given us the railroad.”  Actually, both forms of transportation have their advantages and disadvantages.

Arriving in New York City, the three of us had a good meal and a peaceful night’s sleep before proceeding to the train station.  Back in our little town we have two boarded, small, and slowly decaying train stations, but both could easily fit into New York’s Penn Station. 

There we boarded a train that would take us from New York to Chicago.  Bev and I were assigned our sleeping quarters, while Todd had a separate one in another car.  The berth was quite small, but on a train all  space must be used wisely. 

Two padded seats faced each other.  At night, with some effort they could be pushed together to form a bed.  The upper bunk came with netting so that the sleeping person occupying it wouldn’t be unceremoniously tossed to the floor in the middle of the night.

A passenger soon learns for his own safety how to walk along the narrow corridors.  The legs need to be spaced far apart to provide a stable base, while the arms should be held straight out from the body, for at any time the train can lurch, sending the hapless passenger careening into the walls.  Once Todd lost his balance and fell into someone else’s berth, but luckily no one was occupying it at the time.  I’ve heard of “dropping in” on someone, but this is ridiculous.

In the open country the train clipped along at a good speed, but by necessity slowed while traveling through the major cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D. C., Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Chicago.  While looking out the windows we were struck by the beauty with which so much of this country is blessed.

At 8:11 a. am. we rolled into Philadelphia, one of the country’s larger cities.  This is where Benjamin Franklin first made a name for himself.  The train made a brief stop in Washington D. C. at 10:25.  Taking advantage of this situation, I got off and walked on the siding.  It’s a lot easier walking on solid ground than on a wobbling, lurching train.

Back on board  we settled in our seats as the train crossed the Potomac River. Supposedly George Washington once threw a silver dollar across this mighty stream.  It that’s true, today he would be one heck of a quarterback or pitcher.  Of course, we must remember there is another possible explanation: everyone knows that money doesn’t go as far as it used to.

After a brief stop at Alexandria we rode past the Civil War sites of Fredericksburg and Manassas.  Thank goodness Mr. Lincoln was in charge during those trying times.

In the dining car we were assigned to a table along with a retired teacher.  At each meal we dined with different folks, which led to interesting conversations.

After lunch I carefully made my way back to our mini-room to take a nap.  It’s amazing, really, that there are sleeping quarters on both sides of the hall when one considers that a standard railroad track is only 4 feet, 8.5 inches wide.

After awakening I joined my family in the observation car.  At 5:12 p. m. we went past White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.  Greenbrier, a nearby resort, has a vast fallout shelter built several decades ago to serve as a safe location for important government officials in case of a nuclear attack.

At 6 p. m. we met more interesting folks at supper and once again the food was excellent.  During this trip we were eating like pigs, so to speak, but we were on vacation.  Our motto was: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die(t).  Well, maybe sometime next week.

Actually, the clacking of the rails and the swaying of the cars helped me fall asleep.  Unfortunately, in the middle of the night Todd raided our compartment to get “better pictures” of Cincinnati. 

At 9:40 the next morning we reached Illinois, the land of Lincoln.  The end of the line, Chicago, was reached at 10:15.  Our first stop in the “Windy City” was Todd’s favorite pizzeria.  It wasn’t bad, but I still like a certain hometown brand better. 

Next my wife and son decided to see the view of Chicago from the Skydeck of the Willis Tower.  I, on the other hand, got a closer view by walking several blocks.  My goal was to reach five miles before boarding the next train.

We climbed aboard the Southwest Chief at 2:30 p. m.  Our itinerary included Kansas City, Missouri; Dodge City, Kansas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Arizona; and San Bernardino Los Angeles in California.

We crossed the mighty Mississippi River into Iowa at 6:30.  After a delicious steak dinner we settled into the observation car to view the scenery before darkness overtook us.  A half hour layover in Kansas City gave us an opportunity to visit the town’s Union Station, which was simply magnificent.

At 6:40 the next morning (Mountain Time) we reached Colorado.  After enjoying French toast for breakfast we once again went to the observation car to enjoy the broad expanses of cattle country.  We saw numerous dry river beds, small, sparse trees, beautiful wild yellow flowers, a smattering of fenced-in-cattle, and many one-lane gravel roads.

Not long after entering New Mexico we went through the Raton Tunnel.  The landscape was proof that God is indeed the greatest artist of all.  Wherever the eyes rested one saw huge and majestic rock formations and mountains.  Green trees, dark red soil, rock-laden hills and deep ravines dotted the landscape.

We arrived at Los Vegas- the one in New Mexico -at 12:42.  Since there were no casinos or floor shows we moved on to Albuquerque.  We had a holdover so I braved the brutal heat and humidity in an effort to get in my daily walking quota.  Bev, on the other hand, headed directly to a set of tables that featured several types of homemade jewelry. 

The train chugged across the Rio Grande River at 5 p. m.  Soon after that we carefully maneuvered our way to the dining car to enjoy another fantastic meal.  Later, while scenery gazing in the observation car, we came to Gallop.  I knew of this town because long ago Nat King Cole mentioned it in his hit song, “Get your Kicks on Route 66.”

We “lost” an hour in changing to Pacific Time, so it was 8:20 p. m. when we hit the Arizona border.  Todd teased me for being ready for bed at 8:30; I reminded him that back home it was 11:30, which is pretty late for an old person.

The next morning we went through San Bernardino.  This is where the McDonald brothers had their restaurant.   Next was Fullerton.  Here we had Internet service so I was able to discover that this city has a population of 135,000 and was founded in 1887.  It’s known as the “Education Community,” having both California State University Fullerton and Fullerton College. 

Finally we arrived in Los Angeles (population: 3.9 million), the center of the nation’s movie and television industry.  We had reached our goal.  An old Wisconsin law prohibited kissing on a train, but I threw caution to the wind and smooched with Bev to celebrate.  Not yet finished, I recited a poem: A peanut sat on a railroad track, its heart was all a flutter.  Along came a choo choo train .  Toot!  Toot! Peanut butter!   Todd advised me to keep my daytime job, adding that I was certainly no Carl Sandburg.

If you are going to travel a great distance and you want to get there quickly, I suggest you take a plane, but if you would like to meet some interesting folks, see some absolutely beautiful country, and be bounced around like a pinball, by all means take a train. 

Bev and I were in a hurry to get home, so we flew. 

Monday, October 16, 2017


** Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra (1925-2015) was an excellent catcher and outfielder for the New York Yankees.  Even more importantly, he was an extraordinary person.  In addition to his baseball skills we remember Mr. Berra for his colorful quotes.  However, evidently he did not say all of the following.  In an effort to clarify the situation he replied, “I really didn’t say everything I said.”  Makes sense to me…

1. “Never answer an anonymous letter.”  He’s right; to do so would be a waste of time.

2. “We made too many wrong mistakes.”  Yogi was talking about his team losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960 World Series.  My wife always points out how wrong my mistakes are!

3. “No matter where you go, there you are.”  This is some deep philosophical stuff!

4. “You can observe a lot just by watching.”  A truer statement was never made.

5. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”  Once I left a basketball game with about five minutes left and the home team was trailing by fourteen points.  Yogi was right-the home team somehow won in double overtime!

6. “I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.”  Sometimes I toss and turn for an hour or so before falling asleep, so I understand his reasoning.

7. “He hits from both sides of the plate; he’s amphibious.”  This brings to mind a large green ballplayer with a big tail and a long tongue.

8.  “Cut my pizza into four pieces; I don’t think I could eat eight.”  Psychologically this makes sense.  Although the pizza is the same size, it may very well seem easier to eat four large pieces rather than eight small ones.

9. “Nobody comes here anymore; it’s too crowded.”   Yogi was referring to a popular restaurant in his hometown of St. Louis.  Because the place was crowded many other folks stayed away.  If I go to a restaurant that has a long waiting line, I go someplace else.

10. “A nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore.”   And a dime hasn’t been worth a dime for a long time.

11. “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  You can bet that the future will be in some ways unlike anything we’ve seen previously.”

12. “It gets late early out here.”  Yogi had lost track of a baseball hit to him in the shadows in left field at Yankee Stadium.

13. “Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t go to yours.”  And it would serve you right!

14. “”You can’t think and hit at the same time.”  This is true.  When a 100-miles-per-hour fastball is coming your way, you must quickly react; there is no time to think about it.

15. “”That’s okay.  I don’t hit with my face.”  An opposing ballplayer was making fun of Yogi’s looks.  Of course, once again Yogi was correct. 

16. “”I knew the record would stand until it was broken.”  Another statement that proved to be absolutely true.

17. “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”  This is my favorite Yogi-ism.

18. “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.”  You cannot sit there forever.  Pick a route and go for it.

19. “Why buy good luggage?  You only use it when you travel.”  Who can argue with that logic?

20.  Supposedly Yogi was invited to a party during a hot, humid spell.  The hostess, spotting him in a new lime-colored suit, said: “Well, Yogi, you certainly look cool in that outfit.”  After eyeing the hostess, he replied, “Yeah, and you don’t look so hot yourself.”  If Yogi didn’t say this, he should have.