Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Monday, May 31, 2010

LIFE, DEATH AND THE LONELY ART


I AS A WAY OF INTRODUCTION

A New Appreciation for the Lonely Art

I have written every day since I was 12. Whether I have the talent may be debatable, but that I have the disposition for it is not. I definitely have three of the four requirements and have convinced myself I have the fourth. These requirements are not mastery of grammar, vocabulary, spelling and typing. These are technical skills that can be learned. I have learned to some extent, but remain woefully inadequate at each. When advisers from the Pennsylvania Labor Department came to our high school to advise we seniors on career choices, they told me I would never be a writer because I lacked vocabulary. These august counselors told me I was best suited to operating machines. (I read that Hemingway used a minimal amount of words in his body of work, yet he and Faulkner both won the Noble Prize, and I'll bet you more people read Ernest than William. I mean no disrespect to Faulkner, I read both.)

I am not certain which machines. There are a lot of different machines to operate. I hope they didn't mean the typewriter. I have always been a two finger hunt 'n' pecker (which sounds smutty somehow). I wanted to learn typing. (For those of you born in the last thirty years -- think non-musical keyboarding.) I elected typing in tenth grade, but they ran out of typewriters and sent me to art class. I was told I would be given typing in the next semester, but I am still waiting for the switch.

The skills I have are these.

As a young boy I lived a period in semi-isolation from other people and learned to fill in the emptiness of a quiet place. I am not afraid of being alone and I don't get bored. This is an important trait, for writing is a lonely art.

I also have a cast-iron seat. I can sit for hours if I have to, and a writer often must. The characters emerging on a page sometimes demand it.
The third is the blessing and curse of scribing, my brain won't shut up. It tries to drown me with ideas, plots and snippets of verbiage day and night. I have to mentally arm wrestle it into submission not to spin off a tale or verse in the mind when I have no paper or screen before me, or I will write it out in my head and lose it. I have lost more than I've written. (And I want no remarks from Retired in Delaware about losing my mind years ago.)


The last is the hardest. It is applying the other three. It is sitting alone in a room before a blank screen and transcribing those ideas into lines of words that make sense to others. I try to manage this. Sometimes I have succeeded.

Blogging has given me a new appreciation, perhaps the first real appreciation, of the columnists, commentators and preachers who do it for a living. You sit in a comfy chair, cup of coffee at hand, reading the morning paper. There are these columns under some byline, tiny essays of 250 to 500 words. What a cushy life, you think. This guy gets paid for this? I can skim through this in five-ten minutes. I could do that, how long can it take? How hard can it be?

Back to where I began this, I have written every day since I was 12. Except for a very few times, I had no deadlines to meet. I didn't have a clock face glaring at me, nagging at me with its tsk-tsk-tick-tock, telling me an anxious editor was waiting. I had all the time I wished to take and if it didn't work, I could start it over tomorrow or next week or next year. No one ever had to see it if it was twaddle. I was a "freelancer" free to take my time. If I thought a piece was ready, I would drop it in the mail and forget it until either the rejection slip or the check came. There were always more rejection slips than checks.

Although as a Blogger, I still am not beholden to an editor to meet a deadline, I now feel an obligation to post often because people actually read these words. Some even come back regularly to see what's new. I actually have readers, perhaps few and far between, but they are there and expect I will be too. Now I appreciate the men and women who "post" daily or even weekly. It is not easy to come up with a piece each day and write it reasonably well. If I don't, it doesn't matter. I can write my blog if no one visits, and if it be slush and slop no one is harmed, not even me. But if those columnists miss the mark once too often, they may do without their next meal for they won't get paid.

Thank you all you columnists, commentators and preachers, even if I don't agree with you all, I bow to your ability to be there.

A Lady of Influence



I would like to say a few words about a lady who profoundly influenced my life, although I didn't know it at the time. She is not one who gained fame so outside a certain circle within a small geographic region, she would not be known. Most of the people who truly influenced me fit such a description. Such people are too often lost in the glare of the superficial star of the moment, some Hollywood heartthrob (more likely in these day to be a L.A. train wreck) or a money magnate - a golden idol building towers to himself; even perhaps a politician riding a mount named charisma.

It is not to say people of fame and wealth are necessarily bad and cannot offer good example to us. It is just that glamour, glitz and gilt may cover a lack of character and blind us to what we might have to give up of our soul to be such.
Yet we can find influence in plain wrappers if we would put on sunglasses against the glitter that emanates from the TV tube or movie screen.
Such is Elizabeth Ezra.
Who?
Exactly, who?
Miss Ezra was my third grade teacher and if not for her I might not be writing this Blog today. I was the new kid in the class, joining it after Christmas break in January 1950. It was at this time, in this class, I met and befriended two people who remain my friends still, although at a distance, one in Florida and one in Lower Delaware (the one who writes the Retired in Delaware Blog I mentioned previously.) They too feel influenced by Miss Ezra. I have learned that many feel this way.
Miss Ezra standing behind The Kid, 1950
In third grade she challenged the class to write a short story. She praised my story, put it up on the wall for the world to see and this was the first of few moments I shown in those early years, and I believe this was the seed that grew into a vine entangling my life. I can't say if it produced a garden or a weed patch, but it certainly made me a cultivator of words my whole life.


Miss Ezra never married. Her students were her children and her life. She was a quiet woman, a humble woman and is still. She turned 101 late last year.
Miss Ezra now and then.


My friend, the one in Lower Delaware, and I visited her a couple years back and she was still spry and cognizant. She walks through town each day and is much the gracious teacher she will always be.
My friend Ron and Miss Ezra at her home


I would hope we all have a Miss Ezra in our life, but more importantly, may we all be someone else's Miss Ezra.
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.Proverbs 22:6

1 comments:
Ron said:


A wonderful thoughtful tribute to a kind and gracious lady. We were very lucky to have such a wonderful woman as our third grade teacher during those important formative years. Miss Ezra celebrated her 101st birthday November 10th at Simpson Meadows Retirement Home in Downingtown, PA. Her health is excellent and she is as sharp as she was 54 years ago.




Affliction: Another influential person in my life -- Stanley Stein

"If the disease breaks out all over his skin and, so far as the priest can see, it covers all the skin of the infected person from head to foot, the priest is to examine him, and if the disease has covered his whole body, he shall pronounce that person clean. Since it has all turned white, he is clean. But whenever raw flesh appears on him, he will be unclean. When the priest sees the raw flesh, he shall pronounce him unclean. The raw flesh is unclean; he has an infectious disease. Should the raw flesh change and turn white, he must go to the priest. The priest is to examine him, and if the sores have turned white, the priest shall pronounce the infected person clean; then he will be clean." Lev 13:12-17

Once I had an inspirational friend who I never met. I only knew him through letters (this was before email). I didn't even know his real name until sometime after he died. He was Sidney Maurice Levyson, but I only knew him as Stanley Stein, as did the world at that time. It was amazing he was known at all. He was considered a leper. Leprosy was greatly misunderstood and probably still is. The real name for the disease is Hansen's Disease and as horrid as the affliction can be, it is not as infectious as once thought. Most of our knowledge of this disease comes from popular presentation of Bible stories where lepers were normally portrayed wrapped in bandages and crawling out of caves.

When Stanley Stein was diagnosed with the disease, he was immediately removed from society and incarcerated (there is no better word for it) in the Carville Hospital in Louisiana. Not only did he lose his home and family, he even lost his name. He choose his pseudonym to be known by more than a number.

But Stanley didn't disappear quietly into the netherworld of pariahs. He began a newspaper called "Star 66", of which I was once a subscriber. He didn't stop there. he also wrote a book about his life entitled, Alone No Longer. As a young man I read that book and wrote to Mr. Stein and we carried on a correspondence for awhile after that.





TO STANLEY STEIN

You have me in a cave as to save from the grave
YOU from my infection,
Because of a pale blemish that’s diminished the finish
Of my complexion.
I don’t know why this land to a man wants to ban
Me, a tainted fixation.

And don’t call me that word anymore, you’ve
Given me swampland barless prison blues.

You won’t allow me a wife or a life in the strife
Of my growing pockery.
And you put me down in the ground away from town
Under guard, lock and key,
Then you turn tail and run and you shun me, and son,
YOU call this democracy?

And don’t call me that word any more, you’ve
Given me swampland barless prison blues.

And your preachers preach the gospel
And they turn the people rather hostile
Then they collect for the hospital.
YOU call that Christianity?

And every gift that you give me
Is sterilized just to rib me
While you say you want to live. Gee!
YOU do that unanimously.

Then YOU wash your hands off
After waving me to please stand off.
After you’ve burned all the land off
YOU leave me anonymously.

While YOU go back home with your own all alone
Whispering where you’ve been,
Then YOU gasp at the rot at this spot and allow how
We aren’t owning much skin.
After which you sit back and get slack with a snack and
Go back asleep again.

And don’t call me that word any more, you’ve
Given me swampland barless prison blues.

There was a reason I was drawn to Stanley Stein. If he and I had lived in Biblical times, we both would have been visiting the priest about skin diseases. We may have both been branded as lepers in those times and shunned by our community, even though my own affliction is not as serious as his. I have the "heartbreak of psoriasis". It covers most of my body. It is not normally dangerous and it is not at all contagious. Basically it is just ugly, although sometimes it itches and sometimes it hurts, like a bad sunburn.
I first was diagnosis when I was 15, although I am certain I had it several years earlier. There were comic circumstances to the discovery. I was sitting on a hammock with a girl (young sister of a friend) and we lost our balance and were dumped to the ground. She landed upon my face and I bounced up in fear my glasses might be shattered and my eyes might get cut. It was a hot late spring day and we were in bathing suits. When I leaped up to feel my glasses, she asked about a rash on my underarm.
I looked and sure enough, there was this red ring around my armpit. We had just been studying "social diseases" in health class at school and I immediately jumped to the conclusion I had a 'social disease". This was how naive and innocent the times were. Why should I have any of the diseases talked about in that class? I was a virgin. I had never had sex of any kind with anyone. And what would it have been to get a "social disease" in my armpit? Nonetheless, I feared the worse and hid this blemish from my parents.
My grandfather spotted a white splotch on my elbow during a visit to his home shortly thereafter and took me to a dermatologist. It was psoriasis. The doctor gave me a cream that was gray and smelled like a telephone pole. I rubbed this on the splotch and the rash and they cleared up. But soon another splotch appeared on another body part. It was a losing battle and the splotches were small and often cleared up on their own.
I didn't even think about it as a young man. Then came the Vietnam War. Lyndon Johnson was president and the war was not going well. he lifted the deferment on married men and I got the letter to report for a physical. At the last stage one of the doctors asked, "what is that on your shoulder?" I hadn't been aware of anything on my shoulder, but when I stretched my neck to see, there was a tiny white splotch. This was the only blemish upon me at that particular moment, but it kept me out of Vietnam. I was classified as 1-Y. This meant I was fit to serve, except only if they needed to scrap the bottom of the barrel. I guess they never got to the barrel bottom because I was never called up.
The disease continued to be an occasional spot of white or patch of red until I reached my forties, then it spread like wildfire. It covered me, but only beneath my clothing. As long as I kept my shirt on, I appeared normal.
I went to another dermatologist. He took one look at my condition and his eyes lit up. He told me of a new experimental treatment, which he wanted to try and then had me strip naked to take pictures. I could see what he was thinking. If he cured me with this new treatment, he'd be in the medical magazines, maybe even write a book and I'd be in there too, in all my naked glory.
I never went back after that initial visit.
But then in my late forties, it spread to my face. I sought out yet another dermatologist and he gave me light treatments. Three times a week I had to go to his offices. A nurse would take me to a back room, where I would strip naked and step into this big box. There was a little window in the door. Inside the four walls were lined with lights. I would stand -- nude -- upon this little stool in these lights. It started with a couple of minutes, but eventually worked up to a half hour. I invented games to occupy my mind. I would stand facing the door for so many counts, then turn left on my little stool for so many, then face the rear of the cabinet so many more and so on.
This went on until I received the doctor bill and discovered what he charged for those light treatments. (Medical insurance didn't pay for it in those days, they classified psoriasis treatment as cosmetic.) But tanning salons were just gaining popularity, so I went to one and for $10 not only got a light treatment, but could lay in a bed (that looked like a giant waffle iron) and listen to music.
The blotches did all go away, but after a period returned. I ignored it this time. But the scales became thicker and soon I was in pain. It hurt to turn a doorknob. I would make a fist and the skin would break and bleed.
To a new dermatologist I went. I had developed an extreme case, one which was now life threatening because my skin couldn't breathe properly. Fortunately, the insurance companies now did cover treatment. I was back to standing naked it light boxes, but they had advanced as well. They were now a sleek chamber that looked like something out of Star Trek and you did not have to be cooked as long.
The light box was not the only thing I was subjected to. I was given several ointments and lotions I had to apply at different times of day. I was to take three baths a day and then sit for twenty minutes slathered with a cream. This was not easy when you work. Once my condition was controlled, I stopped all of this and have just lived as I am since.
Very few people have even commented to me about it. Those who have usually mistake my situation as poison ivy. In Florida in 1984, though, I was approaching the elevator bank of a hotel where a man was waiting. He saw me and ran down the corridor screaming, "what do you have? What do you have?" I was tempted to pursue and embrace him and say, 'I don't know, but now you have it too." I didn't. I wouldn't be mean that way.
It is interesting to me that society has overstated the danger of Hansen's Disease to the point they use to lock people away and they have reduced psoriasis to a joke. Although there is no comparison to the seriousness of Hansen's with psoriasis, the one should not cause the panic it has and the other can be more serious than a punch line.
Stanley Stein is gone now. He was born the same year as my late grandmother, 1899. I remain afflicted with my patches and splotches. But in all, I adapt and I adopt Stanley Stein's credo:

“People sometimes ask me if I have a philosophy of life. I do. I subscribe to the concept embraced by Evelyn Wells in her meaningful book, ‘Life Starts Today.’ I try and make the best of each day, not grieving over yesterday, and not being too concerned over what may happen tomorrow. To me, ‘eternity is the moment.”
“Instead of bemoaning the things that I have lost, I try to make the most of what I have left. In his essay on Compensation, Emerson says, “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else.”
"To Stanley Stein" was written by Nitewrit in 1968. It was performed on March 13, 2004 at Franco's at 4W5 by the author. The photograph and quote of Stanley Stein was taken from "Searching for Stanley Stein" by Jerry Klinger, Jewish Magazine July 2007. I have provided a link to the article in my link section.

II IRONIES OF EVERYDAY LIFE

Saving Lives -- Maybe


In the post on 100 Thing I've Done, etc., I answered number 89 this way:

Saved someone’s life – oddly enough, yes, and it was on vacation in Kentucky in the
 1970s.

Actually it was in Tennessee in 1975, although the vacation included Kentucky.  We stayed overnight in a motel in Lynchburg, where we had taken a tour of the Jack Daniels' Distillery, which I believe is the picture on the left.  (One must learn to label photos as they are taken.) But this is only one time when I might have helped save a life. Let me tell of some in order of occurrence.

The first was a case of almost taking some lives more than saving them. The saving part became a necessity. When I was a teenager, my parents and my friend up the highway's parent along with some others, would go out every Saturday night. They usually met at my friends, then carpooled it to the tavern where they went. This left several unattended and unlocked cars at my friends. My friend and I would "steal" one of these cars and go joyriding, always returning well before our folks might return. (Innocent times, keys were usually in the ignitions.) 

On one such occasion we took my parent's car, a 1953 Studebaker. We drove about, had some
 eats, talked to some girls and then went zipping down one of the back country roads. I was driving. My friend rode shotgun. His brother and another friend were in the back seat. All was fine until I started down a hill and speed picked up. I hit the brake and the pedal went to the floorboard with no resistance. I yanked the emergency brake which had no effect whatsoever.

By this time the speedometer was well above the legal limit and it was not encouraging what lay ahead. This was a long hill and it would soon reach a series of sharp S-curves. Beyond each curve of road was a drop off.

I steered like a madman, or more appropriately, like a scared-out-of-his-wits man. Fortunately, Studebakers were somewhat ahead of their time in design and had a very low center of gravity. This probably kept us on the road around those turns and eventually we drifted to a stop at the bottom of the long hill.

I could not drive it home. My friend took over, and in first gear got us back to his place and into the spot we had taken it from.

But my evening wasn't over. My father would be driving my mother and me from my friend's to our home.  You must understand the new situation. The picture on the right shows my old friend's drive as it looks today. His home is on the right below where the photo was snapped. It was a gravel driveway back then. You can't tell here, but just below where those trashcans sit, the lane took a steep downward dip out to the highway where it dead ended. For us to leave we had to go down that steep dip and make a right turn at the highway. And I could not tell my parents the car had no brakes, for how would I know that?

My dad started out and I slid low in the backseat. We came to the dip and the car took off and then my dad learned the secret and my mother was screaming and we came to the highway and he made the turn and no one came around the bend and smashed us.  I never told my parents I knew about the brakes until their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

At any rate, my driving had saved four foolish teens and my father's driving had saved my family.

My other cases are more to my credit.

Two occurred in 1968. In early 1968, my wife and I had some difficulties in our marriage (and no it wasn't the Seven-Year Itch although it was out seventh year) and we separated for a few months. I went on a ski trip to Big Vanilla Resort up in the Adirondacks of New York. I was miserable. I don't ski and I missed my wife.

When we left on a Sunday evening it was into a blizzard. What should have been a couple or so hours trip, getting us into Philadelphia by 8:00 PM turned into a nightmare of whiteouts, winds, backed-up traffic and a growing tension in the bus. Somewhere after midnight, this tension was verging on panic in the people around me. For some reason, I took charge, somewhat out of character being generally shy around strangers. I told jokes, spoke positively, held people if necessary and it seemed to calm down any dread. By the wee hours some people were even going to sleep. We made it safely to Philadelphia at 6:30 Monday morning. I just got my suitcase and trudged from the bus stop to my place of employment, shaving and changing in the washroom.  I can't say this was truly a life-saving effort, but it may have saved some people from serious anxiety.

Later that same year, Robert F. Kennedy came to Philadelphia on his Presidential campaign. he was going to appear at 15th and Chestnut Street at the lunch hour. I wandered over to the site. The sidewalks were already covered with a blanket of humanity when I arrived. I got as close as I could, which was about halfway back along a building on 15th Street. Despite the crowd, I was tall enough to see the spot where Kennedy was suppose to appear fairly well.

But RFK was an hour late in arriving. The crowd kept swelling and growing restless, pressing out into the streets. Several Philadelphia Cops were present to keep crowd control and they were none too gentle about it, shoving people back onto the sidewalk and shouting some rather impolite words as they did so.  In front of me was a young woman. She wasn't very big and she was trapped in a pocket of much larger bodies. She herself was up against the stone building and the crowd was pressing ever more in around her, pushing her against that unyielding wall. She was in real danger of either being crushed against the wall or knocked down and trampled. I stepped between her and the mob at this point, pushing back as well as I could to provide her breathing room. Fortunately, Bobby Kennedy finally arrived and with his appearance, the crowd surged forward into the streets, cops or no cops, and the lady was freed from the danger.  In fact, so was I.

Now we come to 1975. My wife and I had visited the distillery in the afternoon. That evening we decided to take a walk after dinner just to get out of the motel room.  We walked up along the highway in the direction of the distillery. Perhap a mile along, we saw a lady walking in the opposite direction on the sidewalk across the street. Suddenly she collapsed and dropped into the gutter.  Traffic was reasonably heavy, but no one was stopping to investigate. She lay partially in the roadway.

My wife and I crossed the road, ducking cars, and as gently as possible pulled the lady over to a lawn.  She was unconscious, but breathing. She didn't need CPR, which was good because I was several years away from getting a certificate in CPR.  I tried waving down the traffic, and one man did stop, but he was no help. He just kind of shrugged and asked obvious questions. I left my wife with the lady and went up to some houses along the street, knocking until someone at one finally answered and I asked them to call the police.

Apparently they did, for soon after a patrol car pulled up and two cops got out. I explained what had happened and about that time an ambulance came. While the medics and police tended to the lady, my wife and I quietly slipped away into the evening. I don't know what happened to the lady after that or what had caused her collapse.  I know it wasn't alcohol and I don't suspect drugs. I am sure it was natural.

While I'm at it, I probably should clear up Question 61 since it sounds more provocative than it was.

Had a gun fired at me – had one pointed at me, but fortunately she didn’t pull the trigger

No, not some jealous lover or woman scorned. When I was 15 living again in the country, most us guys had guns. I had a 16 shot bolt-action .22 at the time. My friend had a single shot .22, meaning he had to load a shell every time he shot one. My friend was my age, but he had a younger brother and even younger sister. She was 8 at the time. The four of us were out with our rifles, shooting at cans and such. The younger sister wanted to try and the younger brother, who had my friends rifle handed it to her. It was loaded. She began just turning back and forth asking questions on how to fire the thing, aiming it at each of us as she babbled on, her finger on the trigger. As i said, fortunately she didn't squeeze.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to slip on my cape and go rescue someone.

Toilet Seats and Searching for Dinner: the Ironies of Everyday Life


Sometimes little kindnesses take convoluted routes. Take Tuesday evening when I offered my wife dinner out. Tuesday is not our usual night for restaurants, but I knew she was upset about the toilet seat and although I was weary, I felt she might be more so.

Perhaps I should explain about the toilet seat first. We had a toilet seat, one which had been around for a number of years, that had gotten loose on one side. My wife found this annoying and about two weeks ago she purchased a new toilet seat. It cost $24. Nothing overly fancy, I mean it's just a toilet seat and we weren't putting on airs about it. It was plastic, solid white with some scalloped edges to fancy it up.

I installed the new and unceremoniously deposited the old faithful, but slightly cockeyed, seat in the trash. Life seemed just fine with our shiny new plastic toilet seat brightening up the bath.

But then it went loose on the left side (as you face it). On lifting the seat I could see the two screws in the flap that held the seat to the lid had come loose. I got a screwdriver and placed the screws back against the holes and tightened them. This repair held for perhaps 15 seconds. Well, we lived with a wobble before so we would survive.

A day or so later I discovered both the left and right latches were hanging down with all the screws out of the holes. I retrieved my screwdriver once more and tighten all four screws. The two on the left refused to take hold even temporarily. The two on the right screwed back in, but a few hours later gave up any pretense of being fasteners and became derelict in their duty. We now had a free floating toilet seat.

My wife was very upset about this. I can't blame her. There are some functions of life which should not include a thrill ride.

Now Tuesday afternoon when I got home from work my wife's little apple car was gone. She was out grocery shopping and didn't get back until after four-thirty. Being out and about in the current atmosphere of the Christmas shopping season had her looking a bit strained and thus my little dinner out offer of kindness. (I suppose there is some irony in going out to dinner because of shopping for groceries.)

As I was feeling weary myself, I thought where is it easy to go? My choice was Dead Presidents. This restaurant is along a street in the Italian sector of Wilmington. It has friendly servers and large booths that provide nice privacy for dinner conversation. In line with its name, the portraits of all previous Presidents of the United States who are deceased line its walls. When a President dies, they have a little ceremony and add his picture. Reagan was the last honoree to join their decor.

However, I always like to give preference to my wife and so I asked; "Do you have any preference?' She said, "Barnabys".  Barnabys is on our regular circuit of eateries. It isn't very far, but once you cross over into Pennsylvania and turn off the back road we use onto the main route to Barnabys you hit traffic.
Not just traffic, but a long slow snake of it in both directions. It is a stop and go affair for the few miles, which thus seem like far more, you must travel.

I then said, "How about Dead Presidents?"

She acquiesced, but I though there was a hesitation. We went down our hill in the direction of Dead Presidents, but at the next cross street I turned back toward Barnabys. My wife then insisted Dead Presidents was fine, in fact, preferable, so we began our search for dinner with a ride around the block.

I went down I-95, turned into Wilmington and with not too much rush hour traffic quickly got to the street where the restaurant was. We turned into their parking lot, which was extremely empty. There were two cars, one near the front and one near the back. I parked and we walked around to the entry on the front. It was dark and a sign on the door read: "Temporarily closed due to major plumbing problem."

So it is back on the road, and my wife says, "How about Kid Shelleens?" I had been thinking the same thing since it wasn't far from the first restaurant. So I managed the left turn at a non-traffic-light intersection to get on the narrow back streets that wend to this restaurant. Unfortunately, one look at the crowd and the full parking lot told us to keep going.

I am now headed back toward downtown Wilmington and suggest, if we can find a parking place, the Washington Street Ale House.  We turn up Washington Street and into the parking lot just past the restaurant and straight on through to the street behind because this lot is really full, cars are practically parked on top of cars.

It is proceeding later into the evening and the later it gets the more crowded eateries around here also get. I then suggest Stanleys, which is actually the nearest restaurant of all to our house. We sometimes eat there, but it doesn't have the intimate seating arrangement we prefer. Too often you feel you are sharing a table with perfect strangers because some tables and booths are so close to each other. But it has good food and is close to home and I am getting hungry.

We arrive at Stanleys and although the lot is fairly crowded, there are a number of parking spaces. As we are walking across the macadam to the doors a number of people exit the restaurant. These are followed by a few more and my wife says, "Good, come on, some more leave."

Well, some more do. We think nothing of it. We get to the door and there is a sign. "Due to our Employee Christmas Party, we are closing early tonight. The kitchen closes at 6:30."

There is no sense going in. We go back to the car and drive away, this time in the direction of Barnabys. As we are poking along in Pennsylvania traffic I say, "The irony is, I really didn't want to do much driving tonight."

Before we come to Barnabys, we pass Henneseys, another of our regular places and it looks as if we can get in there. In fact, I got a space right by the front door. We went in and there were empty tables and booths. "I hope this doesn't mean they're closing up for a Christmas Party, too,"I whisper to my wife.
They aren't. We get a cozy booth and have a nice meal, although it costs more than I originally planned to spend. But man, by now I was really hungry.

Oh, the toilet seat -- the next morning I found some larger screws and drilled them into the holes. So far it seems to be holding. It's only a day so maybe a brief victory, but brief is better than total capitulation I suppose.

Nobody Knows Anything -- Including Me

"Doubtless you are the people, and wisdom will die with you! But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you.
Who does not know all these things?” Job 12:2-3

Apparently no one.

THE FORECASTERS
It snowed on Saturday. All day the forecasters said “a chance of snow showers or flurries”; the same forecast for the night into Sunday morning. Who fears flurries; who shutters at showers?
It didn’t begin until late afternoon. I peered out the window around three o’clock and flakes were falling. The distance between flakes was so wide I could have walked between them and never been touched. I went in and took a bath.
An hour later I came out of the bathroom and stopped amazed at the window. All was white, the lawn, the lane and the street. You could not tell where the sidewalk ended and the road surface began. Snow was falling in those small flakes that never bode well. It was falling rapidly and on a slant.
It still was at 5:00.
I do not know what forecasters think they know, but this was not my definition of snow showers or flurries. After two hours of blinding white this was an out and out snowfall.
Weather forecasters do not know these things.


THE DRIVER AND THE HILL
My wife and I go out to dinner on Saturdays. I made the decision this Saturday would be no different. We would just go to a restaurant not too distant from our home. I figured once we got out of our development to the county road it would be okay. That road is mostly straight and flat and the restaurant sits aside it.
The street we live on is not straight and flat. It is a series of S-curves down a hill until it dead-ends in the cross street below. The picture (taken this morning, not on Saturday when the street was under snow) is steeper in grade than the photo shows. A winter sport is to stand in the comfort of our living room and watch the foolish attempt to drive up the hill on snowy days.
It is not necessarily easier going down either unless you know what you are doing.
When we came out to leave there was a car parked along the curb just above my driveway. It was facing down the hill, so was parked on the wrong side, but we thought nothing about this. We figured it was a visitor to my neighbor and cars often park on the opposite side of their travel direction around here.
But as I walked to my own car a man came along the street side of that car. I thought the car seemed odd somehow and as I stepped a bit nearer I saw the right fender dipped strangely and the man was looking at it.
About this time a police car, with lights sparkling and spinning came down the hill and stopped. As we backed out of the drive we saw the right side of the parked car was smashed in. 
It became obvious what happened. The man had driven around the curve just up the street, gone into a skid and whacked the cars parked across the street. Both those vehicles between the trees are damaged along the left side and on that night there was a third car behind them that suffered the same fate.
The man did not know how to maneuver down our hill in snow.
My neighbors didn’t know not to park on the street in bad weather.
These people did not know these things.


THE LIGHT AND THE CELL PHONE.
The county road was not in the best of shape. Obviously no plows had been along it yet and glancing down at I-95 as I passed showed none had swept over it either. Well, who has all the plows primed to go for snow showers and flurries? I had gone down our hill and out the somewhat hilly cross street in low gear. I could push it up to drive on the county road despite its condition. It was hard to see and I had to take it slow, but it wasn’t long until we approached the restaurant.
It was to the left, the first left turn I had to make on this trip. I snapped on my left turn signal and instead of the usual tick tick tick tick there was a ticktickticktick and the little green arrow indicator was just blinking its pointer off.
“Ut oh,” I said.
“What?” asked the little woman.
“That usually means a light is burned out.”
Sure enough, my left rear turn signal was not flashing. There was no reason to worry; there was nothing to be done at the moment. We went in to dinner.
At a long table near our booth was a lady on a cell phone. I am not a fan of cell phone yakkers in restaurants.  They always seem to talk too load as if the whole world should be interested in their one-sided conversation. It this case it was justified. Some of their family was to join them for dinner, but they were being delayed because they were in an accident.
There were a lot of accidents in the county that evening. All we people didn’t know better than to be out and about on such a night. It is still furiously snowing when we leave the restaurant at 7:00. The roads were slippery and dangerous.
We did not know these things.


ORDERING OUT
Sunday was a sun day. The snow melted quickly off the highways and byways. The evening’s men Bible study was cancelled due to inclement weather. They didn’t know the roads would be fine by nightfall.
With my work hours constantly shrinking we find money sometimes tight. This particular month it was long between revenues flowing in and thus our pantry shrunk down to near nothing by the last day of the month. There being little in the house to prepare for dinner, we ordered out from a nearby pizzeria on Sunday. No big deal to call and then go pickup. We use this particular place often for takeout.
My one daughter was visiting and my son would soon be home from work. I passed out menus sent to us by the pizza shop and took orders. My wife wanted the veggie wrap with horseradish and Dijon sauce. I went in and called the restaurant.
After the usual confirmation of phone number and name, the fellow asked what I wanted.
“A veggie wrap with horseradish and Dijon sauce.”
A long pause. “Just a moment,” he says and there was more silence.
Then he comes back on. “Sorry about that. Could you repeat?”
“A veggie wrap with horseradish and Dijon sauce.”
“Ah, just a minute.”
More silence, then he is back. “Ah, I don’t think we have a veggie wrap.”
“It’s on your menu.”
“It is?”
“Yes.”
“I don’t see it.”
 “Yes,” I say, then, “is this so-and-so’s?”
“Yes.”
“Well, it’s on your menu.”
“Look,” he says, “if you want a veggie wrap, I’ll make you a veggie wrap.”
“Okay, but it’s on your menu.”
 “ No, no, I can’t find it. Hold on. I will ask my manager.”
Silence again and then he’s back. “Okay, what else you want?”
“A turkey wrap with horseradish and Dijon sauce.”
“Okay, that all?”
Oh boy, now I know my son’s order will be trouble because it usually is.
“A large Italian sub with just meat, cheese and mayo.”
“You don’t want lettuce.”
“No.”
“Uh, you no want tomatoes?”
“No.”
“No pickles, peppers, onions.”
“No, no, no. No anything but meat, cheese and mayo.”
“You want oil or mayo on that?”
Yi-yi-yi!
“Mayo.”
“Anything else?”
“Yes, a large Italian sub with everything and oil.”
“Uh, you want lettuce on it.”
“Yes.”
“Do you want tomato…?”
So I drive down twenty minutes later to pick up my order with fingers crossed. There is a young woman behind the counter to whom I give my name. She places a large bag before me and I hand her my debit card. She runs it and gives me the slip to sign.
I glance down and see, “Chicken wrap with horseradish and Dijon sauce”.
“What’s with the chicken wrap?’ I ask.
“Oh, we don’t have a veggie wrap so we have to use another wrap.”
But it’s on your menu!
The servers do not know these things.


THE DEALER AND THE BULB
Not quite on par with the squid and the whale perhaps, but it was still a tussle with the dealer over the bulb.
After getting off work Monday afternoon I drove straight to a nearby Chevrolet dealer. This seemed the easiest place to get the correct turn signal bulb. I went to the parts department and stood at the counter. I stood and stood until finally someone in the back took note and came forward to serve me. I said what I needed and the man went to his computer. This brought up a schematic of the rear lighting assembly on my year and model car. There were little arrows and letters marking each bulb contact.
The fellow began clicking away at the keys.
He studied the screen, and then clacked some more keys.
He said hmmm a few times and shook his head. He went back and looked through some drawers in a cabinet. He came back and tapped the keys some more.
“I can’t seem to find that bulb,” he said.
“That’s great,” said I.
He pulled up a couple of charts on his screen. “I think you want a number 3175,” he says.
“No,” I say, “it says in the manual that’s the front turn signal. I need the rear.”
“Hmmm,” he says and presses the keys again.
“The manual says I want a 3075KX,” I say.
He goes back to the cabinet, then returns again empty handed. “I don’t have a 3175. I have a 3075.”
“Yeah,” I say, ‘that’s what the manual says I need.”
He gives me a fish-eye, but goes and gets a 3075 bulb. It is just the bulb, no box or wrapping of any kind. He hesitates. He is still reluctant not to sell me a 3175. I take the light and reach for my wallet.
“Pay at the cashier,” he tells me.
$3.57 for a 3075KX bulb. I wonder what the charge would be if they installed it, but how hard can it be to replace a bulb. I pay and leave. The parts guy is still shaking his head.
He still doesn’t think it’s the right bulb.
The parts guy does not know these things.




THE TAILLIGHT ASSEMBLY AND ME
I look at the directions in the car owner’s manual. There is a diagram. A note says this should only take a few minutes to do.
Step 1: Set the parking brake and pull the keys out of the ignition.
I admit I am not the most mechanically talented guy around. Perhaps it is good the directions are starting with this level of basics.
Step 2: Open the trunk using the driver’s side trunk release or by manually unlocking it.
It’s pretty simple so far.
Step 3: Detach the fastener holding the trunk trim to the inside of the truck.
All right, where is this thing and what does it look like? It was kind of dark over in the side regions of the trunk. I feel around and find a plastic knob of some sort. I twist it and it unscrews, but the trim doesn’t budge. I feel some more and find the trim also has a big long tab-like structure at the top, which fits into a groove on the body. I pull this down and expose the backside of the taillight assembly.
Doin’ good, my boy.
Step 4: Remove the outer screws holding the taillight to the car’s body.
I see some long things sticking out and I have my screwdriver in hand. However, these things don’t seem to have a groove in their tops, neither flat head nor Phillips. In fact the back here seems pretty solid and doesn’t look much like the diagram.
I’m weary. I close up the truck and decide to wait until the next morning.
That evening I go online and Google “replacing a taillight”. I get a site with directions for my year and model. They are a repeat of what is in my manual. To the side is a video on how to change a turn signal bulb. I watch it. It is not my car, though; it is some kind of SUV hatchback. The guy on the video lifts the hatch and says remove the two screws along side the trunk lid. He has real screws. They are right there easy to see and get to as well.
Next morning I am out there again in the below freezing temperature with my useless screwdriver. I get a flashlight and twisting myself half upside down take a closer look at these “screws”. They are not screws. It is a nut and bolt connection. There is a long bolt and at the base these tiny nuts. I must get a wrench, although the manual says I only need a screwdriver.
My first wrench, despite being fairly small, is not small enough. I go in and look for my small ratchet set. It is not where it belongs and I cannot find it. My screwdriver set comes with ratchet heads for removing nuts, but I realize these are too shallow to fit over the long bolts. I dig around and come up with some smaller wrenches.
One finally fits the nut. This is a teeny tiny bend piece of metal I believe came with a piece of furniture I had bought that I had to assemble. But it works, if slowly, because there is little room to turn this device. It takes a while but I finally remove both nuts.
Step 5: Disconnect the wiring harness by lifting up on the tab and pulling it straight out of the assembly.
There is the harness and there is the tab…that will not lift no matter how hard I push and prod endangering my nails. I now have a use for the screwdriver. I snip and snap at the tab with the blade of the screwdriver, fearful of snapping off the stubborn tab because everything is plastic. Finally it gives up the ghost and I can work the harness connection off.
Step 6: Once the wires are clear pull the assembly out of the quarter panel.
In plain English, grab the red taillight plastic cover before the whole thing falls off the back fender to the ground. I catch the assembly in my hand.
I stare at it.
Step 7: Turn the faulty bulb’s socket counterclockwise to remove it from the assembly.
Oh yes this is easy after that socket has been solidly twisted in there for five years of varied fits of weather. I twist till my fingers hurt without any sign of movement on the part of the socket. This calls for priers.
Again I am reluctant because again the whole socket is plastic. It is not easy to get a grip either because those blasted long bolts are in the way from every direction. I keep trying and at long last the socket turns slowly counterclockwise. I pull it from the assembly.
Step 8: Pull the bulb directly out the socket and then replace it with the new one. Reconnect the socket to the assembly and replace the wiring harness.
The bulb resisted pulling. None wanted to come out of their comfortable beds after all these years. I tugged it loose and then shoved in the new bulb, which was the correct one, despite the dealer's parts department guy's opposing opinion. Now I just reversed everything and got it all back together.
The turn signal flashed.
I did not know these things.
Now I do.
I was just amazed that this weekend we all did not know these things.


Curse of Barnaby's.

Last week we decided to go out to dinner at the last moment. We told our son we would bring him back a sandwich from Duffer's. When we returned home, we handed him a shrimp dinner and said, we told you we would get you something from Duffer's, but your mother decided we would go to Barnaby's, which is why you have a meal from Hennesey's.

Let me explain. We started out to go to Duffer's Pub, but not far up the road my wife asked, "how 'bout Barnaby's?" Okay, so I turned up the road toward that restaurant. This road takes you through the countryside out of Delaware into Pennsylvania. It twists and turns some, crosses railroad tracks twice, where we have often been stopped by long freights, and exits out onto Rt. 452 where you pick up bumper to bumper traffic for the remaining miles.

Things seemed fine. We just squeezed out onto Rt. 452 when the light changed and poked our way through Aston, PA. At one point we had to get over as a siren and red lights came from behind. A pickup zoomed past and I asked, "what kind of emergency vehicle is that? Emergency pothole patrol?" My wife said perhaps it was "cone rescue" (an inside joke I don't want to explain here)**. We passed Hennessy's Irish Pub, which was on the way and where we also often ate. Now the road got into the woods and went down a long hill of curvy road until you came to Barnaby's, except just at the last curve a police car blocked the road and a man in a yellow slicker directed everyone off on a narrow side road. 

We saw a couple trucks down the road next to a home supply store right on the curve. We figured a truck had skidded on the wet road (it had been raining) and jackknifed. 

But our immediate concern was we were now on an unfamiliar road going who knew where. It was up a steep hill and half way up we came to a stop at an intersection, we and a long line of cars fore and aft. Here was another guy in a yellow slicker. His pickup truck sat on the shoulder. It was the one that had passed us earlier. There was a sign on the side saying "Fire Police". Well, Mister Fire Police hadn't a clue to what he was doing. He was trying to direct traffic through this intersection, but had it mostly as confused as he obviously was. At one point he was turning in circles just flinging his arms up in a hopeless gesture. As a result, I just missed being broadsided as I passed the cross road.

The hill went on. We passed a college campus. I tried simply following the line of traffic sent this way with me, but they began to go different ways at crossroads. My wife said keep going straight. She thought we would come out on Route 1, the Baltimore Pike, a main highway we knew well and the one on which Duffer's pub is located. Looked like Duffer's after all.

But instead we ended up back in Aston at what is called five points, because five roads all converge at one intersection. I was completely turned around in my head. I had no idea what direction was what. My wife recognized just where we were and got me back on Rt. 452 heading back toward home. We would head for Duffer's after all.

But Duffer's was a long way off in this direction, so I decided to turn around and go to Hennessey's.   I was really hungry.

We had a very pleasant meal and we heard the manager explain to people in the booth behind what had happened down the road. A tree had fallen over and landed on a car, pinning the people inside. I haven't heard anything more about this, so I hope the people were okay. We did think, however, if we had arrived a couple minutes earlier maybe it would have been us.

This Monday we decided to go to Barnaby's for dinner. (We don't know when to quit.) We got there without a problem, beyond the heavy traffic and a few near misses. You could see the remains of the fallen tree and a couple smashed road signs just before we arrived at the restaurant. 

Then Tuesday morning as I started out to work I noticed something absent from my wallet. I had left my credit card at Barnaby's. That afternoon, after work, I had to drive back to the restaurant in a raging thunderstorm to retrieve the card. I have decided Barnaby's is cursed.


** My daughters have longed claimed to be members of "Cone Rescue", whose duty is rescuing lonely and abused highway cones. They mourn the poor cones who didn't make it, but were instead smashed by careless drivers.  I know, my whole family is crazy.

That is Barnaby's in the photo.

When it Snows the Wild Goose Flies

 February is winter here. It is supposed to snow. It did. It snowed more than it did in the last four winters before this. Combined with the unusually heavy snow we had in December, a new record for seasonal snowfall was set last week, 71 plus inches, and the season isn't over. They are predicting another snow this Monday night of possibly 8 inches. We are more than a month from Spring.

It snowed here Friday and Saturday a week ago (February 6 and 7). We got 25 inches that weekend.

It snowed again on Tuesday and Wednesday and we got another 12.8 inches. We have a lot of snow and a lot of icicles hanging from the eaves.

Things happen in bad weather.

Like trash pickups are scheduled on Tuesdays and Fridays. Around eight o'clock (take note of this) the phone rang with a message from my trash service. Due to delays caused by the large weekend snow, my Tuesday pickup was rescheduled to Wednesday this week.

Sure, and we will see if that happens since snow was predicted for Tuesday night and all day Wednesday.

I receive a message (note I make a distinction here) from my trash service on Thursday apologizing for the inconvenience of them not coming as scheduled and rescheduled, but assuring me they were resuming my normal Friday pickup.  Let me jump ahead and tell you, they did not. As stated, my next pickup should be Tuesday, you know, the day after the next snowstorm is predicted.

Out by my shed it now looks as if I am in the trash collection business.

But that is a side issue. The important thing to note is they called me Tuesday morning with a phone message. That means my telephones were working in the morning before I left for work. When I came home that afternoon, they were not. I picked up a receiver to see if there was the voice mail you-have-a-message pulse. There was no pulse, no dial-tone, the phone was dead.

Being ever optimistic, I traipsed about the house lifting the receivers of each of our four phones hoping to find one had been knocked off the hook. But none sprang to life. Nope, our system was down for the count.

My wife was watching TV so the cable itself wasn't out.  I wondered if the Internet was also up. (We have one of those deals where our cable-TV, Internet and telephones are all in the semi-trustworthy hands of one provider.)

I returned to the computer room and on the modem two of the eight lights were blinking instead or the usual but-one. I clicked my Safari icon and yes, I had a living, breathing World Wide Web. The problem was isolated to the phones.

 Perhaps if I couldn't call I could contact the provider on the web and at least schedule a service visit. On their website tech help they have a live chat. I choose this and filled out the form, which asks all my information: name, address, telephone number, any identifying tattoos or scars,  did I see combat in the last six wars, who was my second grade public school teacher and write a brief essay on the nature of my problem...my alleged problem.

There then came a message that I was number three in the queue. Wow! Last time I ever got on such a queue I was 55th in line and sat for much time until my turn came. This time it was not more than five minutes. This must be my lucky day.

I should have realized if this was my lucky day I wouldn't have been sitting here with no telephones.

The technician had a strange name, but I somehow sensed it was a male. I don't know? He wrote like a man?

Despite the filling in of the form, we had to go through the getting acquainted dance of who I was, where I was, what I was, and what was my alleged problem. He (assumed he) assured he could help resolve the matter. He asked some primary questions, all of which I have forgotten except one. "What is your account number?"

My account number? I don't know my account number. Usually every place can pull up my info from just my telephone number. I have automatic bill pay, I never even look at my statements, I haven't seen my account number in years if ever. I say "wait, let me see if I can find a bill"

Man, where do I start. I grab some recent bills from my more current pile and lo and behold the first envelope I look at is this provider's bill. This must be my lucky day!  Oh, right, we already established it wasn't or I wouldn't have been searching for the bill in the first place.

My account number is this twelve digit monstrosity with spaces and hyphens. No wonder I didn't know it off the top of my head.

I give him (assumed him) the number and now we're down to business.  He does some testing of my system from his end. (Does it spook you out that all these places can get into your system from where ever in the world they are and look around? I mean, they ask you a dozen questions to establish you are who you say, but you don't get to ask them who they are -- really.)

I glance over and all the lights go out on the modem. Huh? What's happening. I run out to the living room, but the TV is still playing so the cable didn't die midsession.

I dash back to the computer. The lights slowly return on the modem, but not a peep or peck on the computer screen. No new statement is appearing from the technician. Nothing is saying, "Analyst is now keying", just empty space.  I wait. I wait. I type (I go back well before computers, I still call it typing) , "Are you there?"

Wilderness.

I type again, "are you there?" And again.  I click the end session tab and start over.

I re-enter all my data in the form. I am number 2 in the queue it says. Man, it must be my luck...no, I gotta forget that idea.

A new technician replies, this time it is a woman's name. We again perform the predate courtship ritual before getting to the dance.  She assures me she can solve my alleged problem. She is going to perform some tests, I should not go away, but be patient for two or three minutes. Ah, she has warned me there may be a time lag before I hear from her again. I wait. My modem lights all go out and slowly come back.

I wait. It seems longer than two or three minutes, but I hang in there and sure enough the message appears, "Analyst is now keying". Yes, we are getting closer to an answer.

She is back telling me her tests do not show a problem. I will need a technician to come out. However, she doesn't have access to the scheduling procedure, she will transfer me to the department where they can do that and asks me to hold.

Yes, I will hold. I have been down this road before many times. So often the transfer has resulted in a dial tone or an operator saying, "if you would like to make a call, hang up and dial again." Except this won't happen because this is not a phone and there is no operator.

I see a message saying, "Your inquiry has been bumped up to a higher analyst." What, to an angel? To God?

But what do you know, someone else is keying now. The name is Ana. I guess I can assume this is a woman, it is the Spanish variant of Anna.

I expect to see her (assumed her) type, "we can schedule a technician at your place on...", but instead I see, "Hi, I can help solve your problem."  Well, it did say I was getting a higher analyst.

Once more we go down the path of memory lost establishing I am the same guy who has been at this keyboard for the last hour, where I live, was I vaccinated for rubella and have I been or now am a member of the Communist party. Once determined I am indeed the same guy with the same alleged problem we again proceed to some distance testing and probing of my systems, including now having  me plugging and unplugging cables. (This is getting way too intimate now.)

After more light blinking off and on I am informed by Ana that I need a new modem. I am politely instructed to go to their nearest Office and pick up a new one and asked if that is okay with me.

Sure, whatever, where is your nearest office?

Ah, she must put me on hold apparently while she Googles some Google maps to locate one. She keys the address. I know the place. it is about 15 miles from me. We do our thank you and you are welcomes and finish with a quality survey and I am off line once more.

Well, it is late in the afternoon now with a snowstorm on the way. I am not driving to their "nearest" office today, if it would even still be open when I got there. No, I probably will not be doing that until the weekend, if we can get out on the roads of this Arctic landscape on the weekend.

Although I cannot get or make phone calls, I can get any voice mail messages left me on the computer. I just can't reply to them. I have three. One that thing about the trash. One that my furnace maintenance scheduled for Wednesday will have to be rescheduled due to the snow. One telling me I must come to work on Thursday.


Saturday morning comes. The sun is shining and so are our streets reflecting the sunbeams off their coating of ice. Nonetheless, I unplug the cable, the phone line, the power cord and the UBS cord from the back of my modem and head south down I-95 to my "nearest" provider's office. I am not certain of the store hours. I leave at nine. There is little traffic on the Interstate, there is little traffic anywhere. A lot of what would be traffic is still buried on back roads and driveways.

I'm at the place before nine thirty. I can see the office is still closed, but there are two women standing in front of the door. Perhaps they open at 9:30. I amble over to check the hours. The sign says they open at 10:00 on Saturday.

"Hi," I say, "doesn't open to ten, eh? Are you employees or customers."

"Customers," says one.

"Line will be across the lot soon," says the other.

"Oh," I say. "Maybe I'll join you then."

I go back to the car and retrieve my modem and as I return another man walks up carrying a cable box under his arm. He's now ahead of me.

There we stand, the four of us in the 18 degree morning air waiting for a half hour to pass. It's a friendly bunch. We kid a bit. A fifth woman joins us. She tells us people ask her why she is reluctant to drive in this mess since she is a school bus driver. "I tell them there's a big difference between a school bus and a car. You got a lot of weight on a school bus. You gets traction."

She is there to pay her bill. Her internet is out. She usually pays over the internet, but can't and her bill is due and she doesn't want to get changed a penalty fee.

I have most my regular service on auto-pay. Don't have to worry about missing because my internet, or phones, aren't working.

More people are arriving.

The man with the cable box tells us his neighbor's tree hit the power line and sent 240 volts through his house. He'd pretty jovial about it. He says he has surge protectors on his electronics, good ones, pays to have good surge protectors, his TV, stereo, so on and so forth were fine. For some reason the surge fried his cable box, even though it too was on a surge protector. Ruined his heater as well. Cost to repair his furnace is $1,600.

I tell them I am there because my phones are dead.

Cable Box guy says, "that's where you need a cell phone."

"I have a cell phone, " I say, "but my wife put it through the washer a week ago."

"Yeah, they don't work when they get wet," he says.

"It;s nice and shiny, though," I say.

Line behind us is now stretching out into the parking lot. It is quarter to ten.

I suggest the place should have a TV in the window for us to watch, after all, that is their business.

The man says, "yeah, but then their cable'd probably be out."

We all laugh.

I ask the man if you still take a number when you go in.

"Yeah, and there is alcohol there so you can wash your hands against germs." (He wasn't joking, there was.)  "if your one of the first eight to get in, it's fine. Otherwise you're here for two hours."

The line is way across the parking lot now.  I shuffle over a bit to make certain I don't get shoved aside when the door opens. I'm number four and I mean to retain my position.

Some employees arrive and go in a side door. They press a hand against what seems to be just a window and this unlocks the door. It must be some kind of palm print reader. They say good morning to us.

One of the first two ladies announces it is ten to ten.

The school bus woman has a suggestion. "They should put that ticket dispenser outside. then we could get our number and wouldn't have to stand here."

One of the others says, "yeah, but people would probably come the night before just to get a good number."

Ten o'clock arrives and an employee, making sure to stand well to the side out of danger, unlocks the door. We go in and I get my number. I don't use the alcohol. I'll leave it for those far back in the line who may feel they need alcohol after a two hour wait in a crowded lobby.

One of the ladies says she is glad to be out of the cold.

The man with the cable box smiles, "in about fifteen minutes you'll be hearing complaints about it being hot in here."

The ticket numbers are both called audibly and flashed on a large board as well as over the service window. I wonder about something. When you come in there is the dispenser by the door. it has four selections. One is for people paying bills, one is for equipment (which I pressed) and I am not sure what the other two specify. your ticket has a letter at the beginning of the number indicating what selection you made. But why? One would think perhaps you go to this window for bills and that window for equipment and so forth, but no, any window takes any ticket number. Odd, what's the purpose? I have no idea.

My number is called. I go to the window where my number is flashing. I place my modem in a large Plexiglas box and tell the clerk my problem. She asks my telephone number. I give it to her and she punches some keys.

"I can have a technician at your house between 11:00 and 3:00 today," she says.

"What?"

She repeats it and tells me I need to take my modem home for the technician.

Why was I sent here in the first place? Why couldn't a technician have been assigned online? Oh well, I now fight my way out through the long line still filing through the door and drive home for that horrid waiting-for-the-cable-guy period.

He got there just after 2:00. He was very nice. Everybody had been very nice. He goes to my computer room and looks at the modem (which I have reconnected). He finds the place where my phone cord plugs into the jack and removes that end from the jack and sticks it in the line two socket on the back of the modem. There is a dial tone.

"It's not the modem," he says. He then follows me around to each phone, disconnects them and checks back at the modem each time. Those two lights are still blinking. It isn't the phones.

He now goes outside to the backyard. I feel bad for him having to fight through two feet of hardening snow tracing the phone line about the house. He is slipping and sliding and I am hoping none of the giant icicles along the roof drop off and stab him.

Eventually he comes back in. The phone line had been cut by a falling icicle. He has spliced it back together and sure enough only one modem line is blinking and we have a dial tone in each phone. Problem solved and the wild goose flight is ended.

Ah, modern technology.