Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

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

-- Larry E.
Time II

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I am waiting for...Wait! I've Been Waiting So Long I Forget What I was Waiting For

I'm a patient man. I've raised children, have a wife and had a dog. If you don't learn patience then your kids hate you, your wife divorces you and your dog bites you. I have spent much of my life waiting in parking lots and doctor's offices, so I am a patient man.

This past week seemed designed to test the patience of Job.

First was the highly hyped anticipation of Irene.You think of all the jokes about waiting for a woman to get ready for a date, it seemed Irene was taking forever to get made up for her grand entrance.

Then we were waiting anxiously to get rid of the big windbag.

When she finally went off in a huff, we found ourselves waiting for the lights to come back on as she took our electric power with her. We were more fortunate than some, our power was out but 12 hours, and much of those overnight doing sleep time.

And when the power did pop back, we had to wait another day to have our cable services, so another 24 hours of no TV, no internet and no telephones. This came back on sometime while I was taking my morning walk, then went off again in the afternoon and came back hopefully for good after we returned from dinner Monday evening.

So speaking of my morning walk, this was also part of the waiting game. I usually walk in one or another of our wonderful nearby state parks. However, they had closed the state parks last Thursday for the convenience of Hurricane Irene to spend time there alone. Apparently one of her favorite pastimes is knocking trees over and overfilling creeks and rivers. I wondered on Monday if any were now open. I decided to try Bellevue, which is the closest, just a short spin down I-95, where I can often see if the gate is open or not from the highway.

This morning I couldn't see the gate at all, so I went off the exit and around toward the park entrance. It was fifteen minutes past their opening time. I was behind another vehicle who turned into the park drive and then immediately did a U-turn. Ah, so the gate must be down.

I didn't want to turn in behind the guy making the U-turn. I went straight down the road and went right into the lane of some corporate mall. I did my own U-turn around the little island with the mall sign ready to go left back the way I had come, except... Except four million cars were suddenly on this road from both directions. What is this? This road seldom is very busy, why now?

Why indeed, it must have been opening time in the Corporate Mall for all four million cars were turning in. Finally one lane cleared and something slow came in the other and I zipped out and went on my search for some walking room. Talley, I thought, Talley Day Park was probably open. This is a county park with about a two mile walking track that does a figure-8 around the grounds. It wasn't far, I would zip over there.

Did I say zip?

Not so zippy.

I went up Marsh Road and now I had a nut behind me. This was not a patient driver. She was right on my bumper, which I hate. Then she was kind of trawling side-to-side and I realized she was going to try and pass me on the right, on the shoulder of the road. Oh, no, no, no, I wasn't having any of that. I edged over enough she couldn't. I slowed a bit as well.

We were coming to the intersection where I would turn left and I wondered if she was going straight. I was tempted, if she was, to go straight and further impede her progress up the road. See, that's how angry I get at tailgaters. But I went into the left turn lane after all, just as the light turned red against us. This woman went to the right as if to go straight, but instead she turned into the Pizza Hut parking lot on the corner, crossed its lot, exited the far exit, made a left on the cross street, then a right on Marsh, all so she didn't have to wait for the red light to change green. Say, babe, set your alarm for a little earlier next time!

Now I haven't far to the park. I was driving west (or is it south) on Wilson.  I will soon come to a road called Shipley, make a right, go a short distance, make another right on Faulk and then quickly be at the park. I am just beginning my ease into the right turn lane for Shipley when a traffic report comes on the radio.

"Shipley Road is closed this morning between Wilson and Foulk due to a downed tree."

Now I have to go a longer way, but still not too bad. I go straight and eventually Wilson crosses Foulk, where I make a right and head back a couple miles to the park. Won't be long now...if it hadn't been for that sign, "Road Work Ahead" and the flagman on the corner and the closed right lane and all the backed up traffic.

After my walk I planned to avoid the construction on Foulk by turning left and going home the way I had come. No road work on that side. I pulled up in the left lane of the exit drive from the park at the light awaiting the green signal...which never came. I sat there and the traffic on Foulk sat where they were because they also had a red light and then they got a green light and moved and I sat there.

So I made a right turn on red from the left lane. I know, I know, but believe me, there was no traffic coming behind me.

Of course, now I am in the backup for the roadwork with the closed right lane. I use the word roadwork loosely. Yes, the whole right lane and right shoulder were behind the ornate barrier of orange cones, but the work was being done to THE SIDEWALK!

Things off the road were no speedier for me lately. I found my blood pressure elevated two weekends ago. I was in a drugstore dropping off a prescription for my wife and spotted one of those "Take Your Own Blood Pressure" chairs, so I took it. I shoved my left arm through the cuff and pressed the button. The cuff began its squeeze. A little sign said you will have your results in less than a minute. The cuff continued its squeeze. The result windows stayed at zero, unmoving. The cuff continued to squeeze. Time ticked by to the beat of my heart in my pinched arm, definitely longer than a minute. It came to mind I might be in a malfunctioning machine. It would never give me results and the cuff would never release my arm. Perhaps it was a possessed machine in a Stephen King world, one that would soon rip my arm off and beat me with it.

And just as I was considering yelling for help, my results popped up and the cuff released. My heart rate was 66, toward the lower end of the normal scale of 60 to a 100 at rest. But my blood pressure was a tad high. Okay, more than a tad. More like giraffe height. When I got home I called my doctor because my high blood pressure medication was used up and so was the renewal date. The receptionist-phone-answerer-nurse-whatever said she would call them in to my pharmacy. (I take two different pills for high blood pressure.)

This was on a Monday a week ago. On Friday afternoon, after I got home from work,  I went to the drugstore to pick them up. I am a bit of a procrastinator I admit. On the way I glanced at my gas gauge. I was below a quarter. Oh rats, I should have got gas last night or this morning on my way to work. I better fill the tank now.

Easier said than done. At the next intersection was my regular service station. Cars were lined up at one bay of pumps. It would be hard to squeeze in that side. The other bay was blocked off by my familiar friends, orange cones. Those tanks must have already been drained. The gas station on the other corner was no less crowded. I drove on.

This is good, I am driving in search of a gas station less crowded. Perhaps I will run out of gas looking for gas.  Just to keep my mind alert the radio picked that moment to announce places were running out of gas. I came toward another station, but the traffic was backed up for a red-light and I could not see if the station had lines or not. Closer I came and then stopped, again by traffic and the light. Again closer and stop. Eventually I reached the lot and it wasn't bad. I pulled in with only one car before me at a bay of pumps.

I got my gas and went out on the other road because of all the traffic. I had to go around Robin Hood's barn to get back to my drugstore. On the way I passed the supermarket I often picked up at and pulled in the lot. I wanted to get some soda and perhaps some batteries. As I parked I saw the Wilmington Trust Bank Branch was now striped of any identifiers. This was the great conversion weekend. No more Wilmington Trust Bank. Next week this would be M&T Bank.

I went in one door of the supermarket and right out the other. I wasn't dealing with that madhouse. Why was there so much traffic on the roads because certainly everyone in the county had piled into this supermarket. Besides I could see the battery display and it was empty. I got in my car and drove down the street to my drugstore.

I come in and there is a long line. I guessed everyone was not it the supermarket after all. The rest were here getting his or her prescription refilled before the Hurricane arrives tomorrow. I had never experienced long lines here before. So, I waited and I waited, and I waited some more. The woman before me asked if she could step out of line to sit in a nearby chair. Certainly, I'll hold your place. No sense having people passing out before me, that would only slow things up. Why was it so hot in the place? I could see into the pharmacist's workroom and they had fans set up in there. We were wilting out in line. No fans here. So by all means, dear lady, please take a seat.

Finally I reached the counter and gave my name. The clerk shuffled off to sort through the hanging plastic bags. He went over and spoke to one of the pharmacists, he came back and began searching the computer.

"Did you drop them off today?" he asks.

"No, my doctor called them in three or four days ago."

He shuffled back to the pharmacist, then conferred with another pharmacist, then rechecked his computer.

"We have no record of a call in," he says. "I could call your doctor now if you wish, if he is still open."

I look at the line behind me. "No, that's okay. I'll call her when I get home."

But I couldn't. It was now too late in the afternoon and I wasn't certain the doctor's office was still open. I would have to wait until Monday, after the weekend and after the passing of Irene.

More waiting and more to come...

On Monday, once we had phones again, I called the Doctor's office. The receptionist-phone-answerer-nurse-whatever said she thought she had called it in, she would check.

I waited on hold.

She came back and told me the Doctor had disallowed my prescription renewal because I had not been in for a visit since April of last year. I would have to make an appointment to see the Doctor before she would renew my prescriptions. I made the appointment for the coming Wednesday (which is the day I am writing this). The lady then told me she would call in enough prescription to see me through until I saw the doctor, five pills of each medicine.

The Little Woman and I always go out to dinner on Monday. We usually leave at 5:00. At 4:30 I announce I am going to run over to the drugstore and pick up my ten pills, oh foolish ever-optomistic me, I actually believe I can do this and be back home all within a half-hour.

Traffic was heavy, but this really didn't slow me up greatly. I arrived at the drugstore with still twenty minutes until five. I went back to the pharmacy and what is this a Disney World ride? Today's line was even longer than the pre-Hurricane Friday line. And there were several people sitting in nearby chairs. And it was still darn hot in the place.

So I parked myself behind a lady and I waited, and I waited, and I waited some more. Then do you know what I did? Why, I waited. On Friday two clerks were processing the crowd, but today only one fellow had that joyless job. I admire his good spirits about it though, because there seemed to be mass confusion reigning in the wait area. People seated would get up and come to the line or go around it and call through the window for "Private Conferences with a Pharmacist" to berate someone, anyone to speed it up.

Then occasionally someone behind the pharmacy counters would yell, "Doris, you may get in line now." Wait a cotton-picking moment here, who is this Doris and why is she being paged into line ahead of others? The only thing I can figure is she dropped off a prescription and said she would wait for it.

Now this doesn't seem right. When I drop off prescriptions I always tell them I will come back later, usually meaning in a day or two, to pick it up. I figure I am doing them a favor, giving them time. They usually thank me for this. But if I dropped my prescription off at some earlier time (or in this case, my doctor called it in that morning) why should I have to wait because some Johnny or Jill come-lately said they would wait for theirs. That's like having made a reservation at a restaurant and having them give your table to a walk-in.

And thus I waited. Finally my lottery number comes up and I am at the window. "Name," asks the clerk.

I give it and he shuffles off behind a rack of plastic hanging bags. He then says, just a minute and goes and confers with a Pharmacist. He returns to me.

"We have one hanging," he says, "and the Pharmacist is working on the other. Do you wish to wait or come back later?"

I wish to ring someone's neck, but I say, "I'll wait." No way I am coming back later now.

So I step aside and I wait, and I wait, and I wait some more. He said the Pharmacist was working on my second prescription, did he not? How long does it take to slide 5 pills into a plastic tube? Then at last, someone yells, "Larry, you may get in line."

I step forward, but oh no, this did not mean, "Now we have your pills just come get them." No this meant exactly what was said. Larry could get in line.

Eventually I got my ten little pills in the two plastic vials and was on my way home. Needless to say I didn't make it by 5:00, but no matter, we were on our way to dinner, apparently with the rest of Delaware. Bumper to bumper traffic down the roads. Now it was rush hour and these roads do get crowded at this time of day, but they were more so this night, thus we waited a bit longer for dinner.

But we didn't wait long for service at the restaurant. Lauren was our wait person and had our drinks ordered before we sat down. She knows us well and has extra cherries put in mine. Quickly, my cup of soup was before me. Waiting seemed to be at an end, but there was still the matter of some banking business to contend with and we will get to that next time...if you can wait.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Adventures in iLand: Cops, Computers and Breaking Bad

Now, about getting the new computer. My old iMac was slowing down, aging like your's truly. I was getting that pinwheel a lot and it was spinning there for an exorbitant period of time. Then the internet would freeze up. I had updated the machine many times since purchased, had installed Snow Leopard not so long ago and now wished to upgrade to Lion. Everything I read of Lion mentioned wireless mouse. I use to be very techno, but have been out of the loop a decade now and I wondered could I download the upgrade and still use my little plug in mouse with its skinny white tail? 
So Earlier last week, I went to the Apple Store, three doors down the mall from us. I had been waiting in the hall for one of our managers to arrive with the key. It was a little before nine. I was eyeing the gapping entrance of iLand. The Apple Store always flung wide it's doors by 8:00 AM, often to a long line of already waiting people. A few months ago it had begun hiring State Police to guard it in the mornings. I don't know if this was from mayhem or their. Probably both. One day I arrived at the mall just after the last iPad or iPhone or iPopular-beyond-all-reason Device came out and there were four State Trooper cars across the entrance. I was half afraid to go inside. Was it terrorist? Had the roof caved in? Were gunmen running up and down the corridors? No, Apple addicts were lining those halls waiting to snag the lasted upgrade from the Great Gadget God Steven Jobs.
It's been pretty much that way like that ever since. Apple announces another iThingee and the lemmings come scurrying to wait in line all night if necessary. I think they have more clerks in Apple to handle these hoards than we have customers in our (oh wait, I'm not an our anymore) store in a month, maybe a month of Sundays. For a long period these lines were made up of Asian-Americans. These were people obviously long accustomed to waiting in lines. They came equipped with tiny chairs and stool on which they could squat for hours. It mystified me where they were coming from because I didn't believe we had that many Asian-Americans in our little state. It was explained to me they were car pooling down from New York to escape the high New York sales tax. For what they saved in sales tax they could buy a few extra of these iDevices.
Anyway, on this particular Monday morn I ambled down to the Apple Store. There were no lines that day. It must have been a lull in product announcements. There was a State Trooper however, standing stiffly just inside the doors. Beyond this sentinel were wall-to-wall Blue Shirts apparently assisting customers. I asked the officer if the store was open.
"It's open to people having appointments," he said authoritatively in that clipped way cops and military sergeants speak. "The store opens at 10:00. Can you come back at 10:00?"
"Yeah, I can come back later. I just had a question I wanted to ask."
"Is it a simple question, sir?"
"If it is a simple question, go ahead in. Ask those three guys sitting there." He pointed to three Blue Shirts at a center table.
Simple question? I am sure those three Blue Shirts considered it a stupid question, but I asked anyway and was told that I could indeed use my plug-in old mouse.

So when I got home that evening, I went on the old iMac to download Lion. I am not totally bereft of good sense yet, so first I clicked on "system requirements". 

  • Mac computer with an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, or Xeon processor.   Okay, got that.
  • OS X v10.6.6 or later (v10.6.8 recommended).  Yeah, I;m fine there.
  • 7GB of available space.   Sure, no problem.
  • 2GB of memory.  Dum-de-dum-dum! Problem. My iMac only had 1.8GB of memory.
I guess I'll live with my Snow Leopard. I didn't have enough memory to change its spots.

So I go to work on Thursday and I look at next week's schedule pinned to the board and I have no days after my name. Hmm, I had seen a schedule lying on the office desk on Wednesday that had me on for Monday, Thursday and Friday. What happened? 

So I asked.

My Manager said, "I need to talk to you about that" and I knew what that meant and if you read my last post, so do you. 

It wasn't a complete surprise or a shock or anything, but you still feel a bit discombobulated when such a thing is dropped upon you. There was a lot of work to do, too, and I knew it would take an effort to do all I would normally do to make everything tidy and neat, shiny and bright; more effort than my last two days would allow and more effort than perhaps I was psychologically prepared to deal with at that moment. But I tried. I really wanted to leave them with as properly stocked back room as I could.

But the sudden change to my life weighed on me and that computer situation nagged at me. I didn't want to go into the great unknown with a computer that might be wearing out. I really began considering buying anew iMac, if I could get credit to do it. I decided I would go to the Apple Store after work and check it out.

I didn't get off until 4:00. Four o'clock was the beginning of the rush hour, a miserable time to be chugging back up good old I-95 from their location. There was hope I could avoid that. I had a 15 minute break allotted to me, in fact, it was supposed to be mandatory: "All employees will take a fifteen minute break under penalty of death or termination because we care. So you better take it."

I never took it. I hate those breaks. What am I suppose to do for fifteen minutes? Pace about looking at the clock being bored out of my mind. If you want a break, need a break, then you certainly should be allowed a break, but if you have no use for one, then get out of my way and let me work. They had another stupid must do, lunch. "If an employee worked five consecutive hours, they must clock out and take a half hour lunch." That isn't the state law or the federal law, that was just a company law. Now if I am working full time and sever or eight or more hours a day, yeah, I want the lunch break. Five or six hours, come on, I'd rather get done and go home. Why clock out and then have to be about the place an extra 30 minutes. And the corporate MBAs were very adamant about it, too. More Moronic, Boobish Activity to justify their getting a paycheck.

I never took those lunch hours either.

But now, under these conditions, that my career would end tomorrow at 3:00, why not take the break?

So I trotted out of the store sometime after 10:30 that morning. I wanted to tell the Manager I was taking my break, but she was on the phone, so I just left.

The Apple Store was a-bustle as usual. Blue Shirts everywhere and customers trying do-dads and gadgets right and left. I walked into the sea of humanity and was immediately greeted by a male Blue Shirt offering to help. I told him I was interested in buying an iMac if they had financing. He said they did, and whipped out his trusty iPad. Well, he didn't actually whip it out of a holster on his hip or anything. he simply picked it up from a nearby table, but you get the picture. Everything was done through that device. he was apparently fairly new to this and had to ask assistance from another Blue Shirt occasionally, but even so, in about five minutes I had my credit and was pointing out the iMac I wanted.

"It does have Lion?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said. "when they bring it out we can check. Some do and some don't. If it doesn't we will install it for you."

Someone toted the box out from a back room and plopped it at my feet. He asked about Lion and no, this one didn't. No biggie, they would install it. So we completed the transactions and he took me over to a Customer assist desk and introduced me to a young Blue Shirt who would handle the install.

"Shall I just leave it and pick it up later.'

They looked concerned. "Oh no, said the Customer Assist Blue Shirt. The customer must stay with the computer. It'll take about 45 minutes to install Lion."

"Okay," says I. "Just let me run down to my store and tell my manager where I am."

"I'm sorry, the customer must stay with their computer."

"Well, I wouldn't be away from my computer very long."

"Uh, where is your store?" he didn't say your store, he said the name of the store because that is what I had said instead of my store. You would have thought he would know. We were only three doors down the hall. But then again, why notice us. We had trickles of clients while the Apple Store had lines in the seemingly millions every day.

"It's three doors down," I say.

"Okay," says he, "but you (turning to the sales guy) go with them and carry his computer."

So there we go, out the door and down the hall and over the bridge and through the woods to my Manager, me and my shadow, the Blue Shirt lugging my computer being me. I tell my manager I will be at the Apple Store for 45 minutes and she says okay and me and the Blue Shirt Computer tender traipse back to the Customer Assist Blue Shirt in the Apple Store.

Now I know I was breaking bad. I was certainly at the Apple Store more than 45 minutes. It wasn't something I would ever do, had ever done, in my fifty-plus years of working. I felt and feel bad for my manager for my doing it, but you know what. That corporation tossed me aside in the discard heap because their upper management didn't know how to make a profit in the last five years. I had given them my all and my best and I had a year and a quarter accrued breaks, so overall, I don't care.

I spent some time being instructed by the Customer-Assist Blue Shirt guy and then was turned over to a Blue Shirt gal named Lauren until the install was completed. They had me do it, but they watched over me and paid me attention and helped get things just right. Over the years I have had many a MicroSoft filled PCs and all those times of purchase, I paid and they handed me the box, rather boxes and wires and manuals, shoved me out the door into the cold, cruel world of do-it-yourself techno install. Apple had people who treated me with respect and took the time to make certain my purchase was working and I understood enough to leave the nest. Unlike some companies, Apple seems to know what they are doing.

And Amber and I (the cat in my lap in the first picture) are very perfectly pleased with the new toy.


Sorry, it seemed much easier to snag a scene from Braveheart to illustrate the "Freedom!" cry than to paint me face, don a wig and re-enact it.

I barely know where to begin for my first posting on my new iMac (more about that next post) and first since we got our internet back. This has been quite a week, very much a "That was the Week That Was" one. In between the earthquake and the hurricane came an event that surely has seismographic effects on my personal life.

I lost my job.

Well, I didn't exactly lose it. I know where it is. Right there where I left it last Friday. The work I did didn't go least, not yet. No, I didn't misplace my occupation in a senior moment, lay it down somewhere and forget where I put it. Officially, my position was eliminated. I suppose it sounds better to say, "Your position has been eliminated" rather that "You have been eliminated", although the latter is more the truth.
Technically, I guess, nothing has been eliminated. I'm still here, although no longer there. the work I did is still there, though. So the work wasn't eliminated, just the position. Now the work must be done by someone who already has another job to do. My lighter burden becomes their heavier burden. They're up the creek with one less oar in the cold water to help row. (There are some hints there, those who have eyes, see.)

It didn't take me by surprise. I was on the bottom rung, stock person. Always the first to go when a company begins tanking. First they come for the stock person, then for the sales clerk, then for the store manager and then they give the CEO a $40 million  pension and call it a day. In other words, the people in the trenches, who do the real work, who know the customer, know the product pretty darn well, too, and know what the product lacks, get the boot first. The people who run all these businesses into the ground are never the first cast overboard, when they should be at the head of the plank. Heck, they should never have been whistled board ship to begin with. Most places these days are run by a bunch of MBA (that is a degree in Moronic Boobish Activity) who wouldn't know how to sit down if it wasn't a theory in a textbook written by a person who never sat down. And of course they would miss the chair, because after all, it is only a theory. (By the way, there is another three-letter acronym for CEO, but this is a family Blog so I won't mention it.)

Anyway, they eliminated my position across the board so I'm told. Yeah, that'll save the company, we all made so much.

See, this is what I mean by freedom. I would never have spoken so bluntly if I was working or expected to look for another job. It may be a bit tighter financially, we may have to draw in our belts, but as far as I am concerned I am retired. Now I can speak more freely about what is in my mind. I don't have to worry some one at work will read it and fire me. Oh boy, I've kept a lot of stuff pent up inside me for fifty-plus years. This should supply me with posting for a while.

It is very interesting that I walked in on Thursday and walked out Friday set free. At Wilmington Trust (remember them, around over a hundred years before Moronic Boobish Activity did them in) I got told on a Wednesday and was out the door on Friday. That event was almost exactly 10 years ago. My current ex-employer missed that anniversary by 10 days. I was lucky in a way. Everyone else I saw get terminated at WTC was escorted out the door by security on the day the axe fell. I was asked to stay about for two more days and walked out at the end alone with my dignity. Both that bank and this company harped a bit on loyalty. Where is the loyalty when they cast you aside like a damaged glass vase. If I had quit, I would have always given two weeks notice. I would be considerate, which of course the Corporation would expect, although consideration is a concept they don't understand when it is expected of them.

But don't think I am upset or unhappy with this turn of events. Remember, freedom! I've craved this freedom for such a long time. So here it is and I m adjusting. You may see a different tone going forward, but hopefully I will still write in good taste and Christian love.

And let me tell you, my direct boss was one of the best, a wonderful person who deserves better that she has received over the last several years. The people I worked with were all great, too. The problems in the company are not these people, not those who are the faces the public sees and deals with. You gotta go higher to the invisible elite who think they actually know what their doing. I wonder what company they will be ruining next year?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gates...and I Don't Mean Bill

When you think about it, life is a series of gates.  At birth we push through the gates of our mother's birth canal and at the end someone pushes us through the gates of the graveyard. In between we constantly confront new gates. Some are closed to us. Some are open.  When we do pass through one it may be into a great pasture or a narrow chute. Whichever it is, we are always inside a new stockade of regulation or restriction for that is what gates hang on, fences.

Don't think this is so?

Well, walk far enough across your independence and eventually you'll belly up against a wire or rail or picket.

That is unless you are a Bill Gates. Forty-Billion dollars can buy you a lot of open range. Even so, eventually every Bill Gates of this world will have someone push them inside a fence they can't buy their way out of.

But I, like most, am no Bill Gates. I am just an ordinary Joe (or Jill for my desires aren't confined to sex or creed or race) who always craved freedom. I like to think I went my own way, and often I did and have the scars to prove it. You see there are those barricades surrounding the phases of our life. If you are trying to climb up the rails rather than using the designated gate, you're going to be pushed down a lot.

There are, of course, many bad reasons why a fence might have been erected about our lives. Human history is full of people imprisoned behind the rails of prejudice and ignorance.  But I'm not specifically talking about social justice here.

Many of these imprisoning pens were entered by choice. We voluntarily surrender some of our freedom when we go to school, take a job, pledge to a life partner, join the Armed Services or enter a movie theater. Enter a movie theater? Certainly, if you are a considerate, decent person, don't you give up your freedom to be disruptive and rude so others may enjoy the film? Yes, I know, some people don't and what do we think of him or her? When we allow that kind of freedom it makes life miserable for us all.

There are fences we stand behind for safety. If the barrier keeps us from standing in front of an oncoming train, it is a good thing. We could demand our freedom, push through the railroad gate and stand in the headlight glare of the streamline limited. We can grab such moments of freedom like standing on those railroad tracks or maybe running red lights. It may be a brief moment of exhiliration and the next gates we stand before will either be the pearly ones or the Gates of Hell.

But now I find many of the fences have come down. Most of these life phase gates I have already passed through. At 70, the gate of age has blown open and I see it as the last great beginning, where I may have as much freedom as I can expect in this world. I have nothing left to prove to you or myself, really. I am pass worrying about promotions and status and fame. I don't have the desire or need to impress anyone. I've seen enough to know most of what they call politics is being played out for the umpteenth time with little change. Oh, the actors may be different, but the lines are familiar.

Yes, I know total freedom will never come. Kris Kristofferson sang, "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose." I don't want to be that free. There will always be fences somewhere. I still see the temporary, but very close slats of having a job holding me in. That fence will come down someday and I hope there is a vast field of freedom beyond, although realistically there may be other fences being erected as I type. You know, the barbed wire of poor health perhaps.

Nonetheless, I feel more free today than I've ever felt; I am excited about having thrown wide the gate of old age and look forward to this new adventure. I don't even speculate on how big this pasture is, just I have the freedom to explore it.

Death, by the way, isn't a fence. It is a gate.

All photos by the author, except the second, taken by my wife:

Gates in the middle of the trail through Alapocas Run State Park, Delaware, 2010.

Me atop a horse pasture fence, 1968.

"The Gates of Hell", Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, Pa., 2006.

National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pa., 2005.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A History of Work

There I am, off to the office in 1953, age 12. No not really. The suit and tie jobs were still in the distant future, although I traded in that bow tie for Windsor Knots. This must have been my "Sunday-go-to-meeting" outfit.

How about the hat? This was the de rigeuer style back then.

I don't remember my first paid "job".

There was a small store on Chestnut Street, just around the corner from where I lived. (The photo on the right is how that building looks today, no longer a store.) It was a mom and pop operation, very akin to what we might call a convenience store today. It sold a variety of foodstuff and other things people regularly needed or often ran short of. It wasn't a place anyone did their weekly grocery shopping, just a place to fill in the daily needs. Early on in my boyhood, neighbor's might call me over and ask if I would run to that store and get them bread or milk or some such item. They would give me a couple pennies or even a nickel for my trouble. Pennies could actually buy things in those days, they had real worth, even if sometimes I blew it on wax lips.

So I suppose you could call that my first job.

I had a number of chores at home I was expected to do, wash the car, mow the lawn, help weed the garden when we had one and keep my room clean and neat. I hated those first three and was a dismal failure at the fourth. I had one chore I loved, taking out the trash.

Things were not like today with all our many restrictions and fears. There was less waste and there was a kind of a priori recycling. You didn't throw anything away until it was beyond recognition, let alone use. Clothes were patched and socks were darned. When you found yourself patching patches, then the item became a dust cloth and beyond that use it was a rag for the Ragman. Yeah, there was a Ragman who came about the neighborhood and took old rags.

We lived in a town bursting at the seams with paper mills (almost all gone now) and our used foolscap and magazines went to paper drives and back into the hoppers of these plants. Soda bottles and such were collected by we kids and returned to the store for a couple cents deposit. Garbage, real garbage, potato peels and apple cores and table scraps went to the curb in iron pails. The Garbage man took the contents. You knew when he was coming since you smelled him two blocks away, maybe even across town on a hot summer day if the rotting pulp from the paper mills didn't overwhelm all other scents. He drove an open bin truck. The refuge from our plates went to the slop troughs of the pig farms.

Ah, but there were some things not gathered or collected by others and this was the trash, mostly odd papers and boxes. This was the trash I had responsibility to depose of and how I enjoyed it. You see, it was burnt in large steel 55-gallon drums. Just about everyone on the street had their drum and from it regularly waifed a thin white smoke of burning trash. What made it attractive to me was I got to play with fire.

Here I am (back to the camera and wearing my motorcycle hat) with friends finding other uses for those 55-gallon trash barrels.

But those were household chores, not paying jobs, unless you count my quarter allowance. Oddly, as much as I hated doing most those at home, I jumped at the opportunities to do these things for others. I would mow a lawn, wash a car, even hoe a garden for a fee. I would solicit from a neighbor those things I tried to duck out from at home. So I guess they were my first employments.

I was in elementary school when I did those.  I was also in elementary school when I became a professional writer writing, publishing and selling a newspaper ("The Daily Star," although it came out weekly) with my buddy, Stuart Meisel. We charged a penny a copy. We did make money. We were very successful.

Newspapers were to be important in my early "careers". When I moved from Grade School to Junior High I also moved to more regular employment, Paperboy being one. That occupation came a bit later and lasted only a short period, although I loved doing it and thought it the greatest job in the world. I kinda still think it was. I guess I'm a strange fish, but one of the things I enjoyed about the job was doing it in harsh weather, pushing on through the snow and battling the rain to keep my wares dry. I could imagine myself some kind of adventurer attempting to get supplies to an isolated outpost in some godforsaken part of the world, such fun.

I didn't like the breezy days or that blowhard Old Man March, no not at all. I could cover up my product from the downpours and hail stones if need be, but if an ill wind got under my pouch papers would do what Charles Brown's kite wouldn't. They would fly, here, there and everywhere.

I took over the route from my friend, Ron Tipton, known today as "Retired in Delaware". He moved on to bigger and better things, I hope, and turned over his customers to me. I had about 100 clients for the daily and perhaps a third less for the big Sunday edition. This was the Philadelphia Bulletin, then the premier Philly rag, now defunct. I was earning between 18 and 20 dollars a week, a lot of money for a thirteen-year-old kid in the early 1950s. That would have been around $148 to $165 today. Dailies cost a nickel and the Sunday paper was $25. I had to split that four ways, a portion for me, a portion for my Supervisor, some for the delivery truck driver and the rest to the owner of the newsstand where I picked up my allotment. I got a penny-and-a-half for the dailies and five cents for the Sunday.

And it only took me an hour a day to deliver. Wow, wouldn't you like to make a $165 an hour today?

I said this bonanza was short lived.  Ron held onto his route until after Christmas the year he quit. He wanted to garner those extra-bonus Christmas tips from his cliental. I took over for the New Year, but then my parents moved out of town and in June I was living in the country and could no longer do that route.

I had held other positions in my Junior High days. I had spent a time being caretaker for my friend Stuart's family, cutting grass, watching the place and so forth.

The Meisel's had a large stone house on a good sized lot in the historic part of town. Here is a photo of the front of the home. Sadly, despite attempts by my friend to have the place preserved, it was torn down and apartments built upon the site.

In those times, too, some us walked just east of town and got jobs at the Farmer's Market. The Market was only open on weekends. A lot of Mennonites and some Amish from Lancaster County came down and had produce or meat stalls there. The place was something of a bizarre, selling a little of much, books and boots, clothes and clothes lines, hunting gear and records. It had a penny arcade of pinball machines. The place was our hangout on weekend nights, feeding nickels into those contraptions or making little records in recording booths. I and a friend got jobs one year with a greengrocer. I was not happy. My friend got to wait on customers. I stood in the back behind a tub of water washing celery.  I wasn't long for that job.

When we moved from town upcountry, there wasn't a lot of opportunities for a teen. It was still real country then and there wasn't much around. In the summers I got employed on some farms in the area as a picker. I picked tomatoes and I picked strawberries. It was sweaty, uncomfortable work. It isn't called stoop labor for nothing. You either spent the day bend over or waddling up the rows like a duck. You came home sticky, covered with dust, thirsty, stiff and tired.

I plucked plants for the two summers between ninth and tenth, and between tenth and eleventh. On the third summer of High School  I moved up and out, getting a job loading 18-wheelers at the farms in Lancaster County. Those Amish boys would gee their horse wagons up along side and I would offload their harvest onto the flatbeds, bushel baskets of tomatoes heading to the ketchup factories in the Western end of the state. The baskets got stacked to just above my head all down the trailer. You have any idea how many bushels of tomato you can stack six high down thirty feet of truck?

I think I got paid ten bucks a load.

That was summertime, when the livin' is easy. The winters were harsh and sparse. I got an occasional gig shoveling snow, mostly the parking lot of a restaurant called Flowing Springs Inn in Kirkwood, about four miles from my home. That was a hit or miss proposition. I only made money when a snow storm hit, otherwise I missed out on earning anything.

That's the Flowing Springs Inn as it looks today, under the name Titus Inn. That enclosed porch was open back then, so I had to shovel it and its steps off as well.

I guess I started those childhood chores for hire when I was 8. I might have done some earlier, but I was living isolated from the world in a swamp for a couple years. So all those little scraping jobs covered about a decade, from the third grade until I graduated high school.

They were the beginning of a history of work. Much more was to come and still is.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mystery of the Elusive Waterfall: A Frank March Adventure

Frank March awoke once again determined to find the elusive waterfall, if it indeed did exist. So far it had the makings of a myth, although it made no sense that the trail map would entice people with a nonexistent marking, let alone a picture of a cataract right in the middle of the thing. Look at that representation with those rippling waters and golden fall colors; why wouldn't you want to find it?

And there on the right, just over that red line that shows the boundary between Delaware and Pennsylvania, is the word "waterfall".

Yet after several days searching, Frank had failed to find it. He had wandered up the long hill in the hot rays of this summer's sun (if there was any brownish hues around the elusive waterfall this time of year they would be the cooked and dry leaves wilting in the heat wave).

At least at the top, pausing to regain his breath, he could look out across the valley and see the stone tower that had once been a mystery to him  and further along, the great castle on the hill. (The tower is visible on the upper left corner and the castle just right of the upper center.) But he had solved The Mystery of the Stone Tower, so these were no longer of interest. No, now it was the waterfall he sought.

He had tried many of the trails up atop this hill and seen the wondrous sights of the Woodlawn fields, the horses and the corn, but not the cascade. On his last attempt he had wandered along the upper rim of the mount through the woods, teetering on the edge of a gorge along a narrow path and discovered another mystery, which will probably remain unsolved, The memorial to Bud's Billy Goat.

Here deep in the woods sat the broken remains of a tree, some stones piled at its base and upon a notch near its top. Carved and painted into the base the words, "Bud's Billy Goat".  At the top of the object was this, a bicyclist and dates. Is this a grave of some fellow's beloved pet goat? If so, this goat lived almost as long as this Old Goat, for it would have died at 67.

Or did Bud crash his mountain bike on this site, a vehicle he called, Billy Goat? But that would have been an ancient bike. Did they even have mountain bikes in 1943?

At any rate, this did not lead Frank to any waterfall on that day.

He had asked a few he met upon the trails during his searches if they knew where the waterfall might be. No one he asked even knew there was a waterfall. Was there a waterfall? It was on the trail map. There was also the story told by a friend, about pausing from a bike ride by a waterfall and quite pond on a hot day, of being temped by the water and finally giving in to the lure and engaging in some skinny-dipping. In this he was suddenly approached by a teacher and young children on a field trip and kept submerged until they finally left and he could slip out and back into his clothes.

On top of that Frank stumbled on an actual picture of the alleged waterfall on some strangers Blog.

So it was Frank studied the trail map and tried hard to coordinate it with the satellite Google image of the area. He determined it was down a path he had eschewed on his very first hike up these hills thinking this trail simply went down into someone's backyard. Now he was convinced otherwise. Thus this morning he set off to find his goal.

He had a sudden influx of working hours and this would be his only free day this week, so despite a threat of rain he headed off, but this was an advantage. After weeks of extreme heat, he would be able to go up the long, steep hill without the beat of the sun. It was cooler today as well. He traipsed with a plan, up that hill, through the woods, down around and by the horse pastures that would bring him to the path he had never walked. Now he did, down its rutted stony way, just to the right of the house below and came to the road.

It was the spot he had noted, where Beaver Valley Road made an odd almost-U-turn off to the right into Pennsylvania while what one would think was its continuation more or less straight ahead became Beaver Dam Road. That name sounded promising, Beaver Dam, for often dams create waterfalls, unless this was an actually Beaver dam made of gnawed down saplings.

Frank crossed the road and on the other side found a trail going up another hill. He went up and up and up, on a wide track edging the woods. Once further up he spied a narrow trail to his right, which entered the forest in what seemed a promising direction.

Suddenly there was a thrashing of brush nearby and a deer ran across the path startling him. It trotted between the trees and then stood stock still between two trunks. It was amazing how an animal of its size could almost become invisible simply by standing quiet. If Frank had not seen where it had run he would not have noticed it at all. It appears in this photo as only a light patch of brown between some trees near the center.

As a boy one of Frank's favorite things in the children's magazines he got, "Jack 'n' Jill" or "Highlights" or whatever it was, were these little photos with a caption: "There are 15 animals hiding in this woods, can you find them all?" This deer was playing that game with Frank today.

There had been a light rain when he started on his trek, now he could tell it was picking up. He could hear the drops increase. The leaf cover was affording him some protection, but he knew much of his way back to his car would be open ground and he would get wet. He hurried on his way.

Now the path curved downward and entered a groove of semi-mud, more a dry wash than a trail. He had to straddle it, walk with one foot on the right bank and the other on the left bank. As he shuffled along there was a loud creaking to his right, then a sustained and violent crash as a large tree gave up the ghost and tumbled over in a dead faint to the forest floor. You see many a tumbled trees about these grounds, but this was a new addition to the corpses arriving a bit too close and fresh for comfort.

Frank continued down the rut, twisting this way and that and then he was at the bank of a stream and across it was a road. He had no intension of backtracking up that woodland trail, but how to get across to the road was the next question. The path came to the water's edge at a rapids. There was no other access across and this one was tenuous, wide spaced wet rocks in bubbling water.  Well, nothing to do but risk it.

Frank made it across without so much as a wet shoe, but now what. There was no sign of any waterfall anywhere and he didn't know exactly where he was. He decided to go to his right down this road, following the flow of the stream, hoping it would take him to the Brandywine.

He walked a ways. On the other side of the road, where a hill of forest rose above him, he saw a trail, but not certain where he was he decided not to chance getting lost in a strange woods for some length of time. He continued along the road.

Then, there it was, behind some large rocks, the elusive waterfall. He had stumbled upon it quite by accident. As he stood admiring the dancing waters, he realized all he would had to have done was walk along this road where he had initially crossed and he would have come to this. The hike up the mount and through the dark wood and down the rut was unnecessary. But then where would have been the adventure in walking down a road? He would have missed the deer and not heard the falling tree missing him. Ah, much more fun this way.

He rather doubted this was the waterfall his friend had swum by, though. There was some still water above you could call a pond he supposed, and certainly it was deep enough to swim in, but would one dare skinny-dip so near a public road?

It also brought his mind back to the rain or now lack of it. If it had rained hard, he wondered, how long would his white running shorts have remained  opaque. Hmm, that was a consideration to spur him to move on and see if he could find his way back to his car.

He walked further on and finally came to the little park by the Brandywine. Now he knew exactly where he was and it was still a bit to where he had parked, but that was fine. He ambled beside the lovely creek enjoying the briskness of the morn and happy he had found his waterfall at last, when...

What was that white thing across the water? Could it be the Heron he had seen before?

Wouldn't you know it. He had forsaken wearing his glasses today because of the light rain. The drops would have simply clouded his vision, he reasoned. Besides, he has fairly good vision without the specs; however, not quite good enough to focus well on whatever was sticking up over there.

If only it would move, but it did not. Ah, well, another mystery.

(Turn off my music before watching this short film.)