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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Let's Talk About Lights and I Don't Mean Christmas.

I've been seeing a lot colored lights over the last few weeks. Well, duh, bro, we all have. They're called Christmas lights (t least in this house they aren't holiday lights yet and never will be).

No, these are not those lights. These are dashboard warning lights and I kind of dislike all these warning lights.  I remember when we somehow survived with three gauges instead, one showing oil pressure, one showing engine temperature and a volt-amp gauge that proved your battery was charging. Now we got ;rights, bells and beeps that nag us about everything: emergency brake is on, seat belts aren't fastened, your tie isn't on straight or you got spiniach between your teeth.

I'm talking about those lights.

We've had a hot spell here in Delaware over Christmas. Instead of our normal 45-46 degree days this time of year, we were as high as 75-76 with a number of days in the 60s. This ruined any dreams of a white Christmas, but it will be a nice gift to my wallet when the heating bill comes in. It was mild all fall, actually, but just before the real heat bounce we had a couple real cold days. There was even ice in the birdbath and frost everywhere else.

On one of those nights the thermometer dipped into the mid-twenties and when I started up the car next morning and took off, my low tire pressure warning light stayed lit.

I truly hate this light.

I've been driving for nearly sixties and never saw this light until five years ago when I bought our present car. In those five years it has only lit once for a truly flattening tire when I picked up a penetrating screw somewhere along the road. Yet I have seen it many times over because the temperature changed. Driving all those years in all kinds of different conveyances and the only thought about changes in temperature were what do I wear today. Now I get nagged because cold air deflates and warm air inflates, but usually the cold air today clicks on the low pressure light, but the hot air tomorrow doesn't correct the situation and I got to go find a compressor somewhere and blow up the stupid tire (thank God for Wawa are their free air). All those many years before I drove summer and winter and never gave a care to this up and down pressure thing, never worried or fretted, and still survived with four fine tires years after year. Now...

Well, I'll tell you, it scared my wife to death the first time. She was going to visit a friend up in Pennsylvania and poof -- on comes this yellow light with an explanation point. She had no idea what that meant. She turned around and came home in a panic. I guess she expected the car to explode.

Anyway, it is there again and has been for two weeks now. I wasn't going to air up those tires during this warm spell and then have temperatures go back to normal and have to repeat the process.

And by-the-by, I also have a mystery light I can't figure out. In early December I took my friend, Ronald, to Philadelphia. He was staying there for a week and I dropped him at the place he was booked. There was a garage in the rear we pulled into and an attendant greeted up. You have to give them your keys and they park and fetch your vehicle as needed.

The man took my keys and handed me a slip and something else. It was hard and oddly shaped, but I really didn't look at it closely as I strained to understand this man. I don't know what language he was speaking, if any because it sounded like gibberish and I never did get one word he uttered. I took it I was supposed to set this object on my dashboard and assumed it was some kind of signing device, sort like you get in some restaurants that light up when your table is ready. I didn't see much purpose in this case, but we were just anxious to see Ron up to his friend's, who lived in a suite in the same building.

When I left I looked at the object and it was an automobile headlight (pictured right).  It wasn't even the kind for my car.  I simply dropped it in a cup holder to the rear of the console and forgot it. I did ponder a bit over what the guy handed me a headlight.

Frankly, I had no use for some old headlight and a low pressure light nor for the strange noise that was beginning to drive me to bedlam as I drove.

It was a strange little clicking sound, a tiny cluck-clack that I couldn't locate. I began to fear a problem, perhaps with the transmission. The sound seemed to correspond with gear changes. Yet I could not locate just where it emanated from. Was it the engine area or the hump between the front seats. I though maybe some stuff in the little compartments to the front of the console were rattling. There were some sunglasses, a tire gauge, a pen, and makeup brush, a eyebrow pencil and a pencil sharpener within those holes. I removed these and lay them on the passenger seat and yet the cluck-clack continued.

What? What? WHAT!

You guessed it, right. It was that headlight the mumbler mysteriously handed me rolling in its prison.

Fine, I'm comfortable with this annoying low pressure light and I've located my cluck-clack, but then on the Saturday before Christmas,  I came home from some shopping, pulled up in front of the house and just as I turned off the car the check engine light flashed on the dash. I thought maybe it was because I had turned the motor off. You know how all the warning lights come on when you first turn the key.  I turned the engine back on just to check. Sure neigh all the warning lights lit up and then all the warning lights went off, except two, the low tire pressure light and the dreaded check engine light.

Oh Holly, Jolly dash it all, you don't want this light any time, but especially a week before Christmas.

I really haven't gotten this light much over my driver's life. We had a Pontiac J2000 we bought the
first year GM made them. Our's was a very dark blue and at the time it was unique. It looked different from all the other cars on the road and people are always strolling over to inspect it and ask what it was. We liked the car, but it had one failing.

One winter's day we set out on a long trip up to the Poconos and halfway there the check engine light came on. We hadn't seen this before and we didn't know what to do. Should we pull over immediately before the engine exploded in our faces or what? We perused the owners manual and it said to get the car to a mechanic as soon as possible, but didn't indicate we couldn't drive for a while, so we continued to our destination, not to say this situation didn't remain on our minds the whole stay and even more on the drive home with that light glaring at us.

It turned out it was nothing more than dis on the sensors of the onboard computer. However, it continued to be an ongoing dusty problem there after.

I, as we all do these days, went right to Facebook and bemoaned my latest attack of a warning light. Several people told me to go to AutoZone and get it checked. My friend, Frank, who is a true Geared and auto expert also suggested I do that, but then send him the code and he would advise me, which I truly appreciate. He said there were hundreds of things in a car that can light that light. I'm not sure knowing that is a great comfort.

However, before I could take any action my daughter, Laurel, asks did I check the gas cap. Sometimes a loose gas cap will produce this result. The next morning as I prepared to leave for church, I did turn my gas cap until it was clicking it's little heart out.  I left for church, but the check engine light stayed on and I felt defeated. After church I get it start up and by the time I departed the parking lot the check engine light went out. I trust my daughter and I trust The Lord to keep watch over me.

The low pressure light remains on, though.

So great, I am sailing along feeling fine until Christmas Eve. I turn on the car and there on the dash in
the middle of the tach is a little light, the wretched wrench.  This symbol stands for maintenance. That can be scary expense wise, but at the same time  my milage meter had flipped over showing I was at 15% of oil life.

I knew this one was coming soon. I was hoping not until after the New Year, but here it was now. I need to get an oil change. I can probably still put this off until January. We have two doctor appointments this week. Our body doesn't have warning lights, just appointments. We have a lot of those appointments any more, but that's another story.

Meanwhile, although I hope to let my little light shine more for Jesus in the coming year, I will hope little lights shine less on my dashboard.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

How the Christmas Cookie Crumbles

It appears Jack Frost was shoved aside by El Nino this year, and although El Nino means Christ Child, it doesn't feel much like our typical Christmas weather here in Northern Delaware. If you are dreaming of a white Christmas you'll just have to use your imagination as you open your presents in shorts and T-shirt.  On top of that it is rather damp and dreary, which I admit, looking out through the window at least gives an illusion of winter. If the situation makes you feel more like hoping' down the bunny trail than roasting chestnuts over an open fire, perhaps this little story I wrote will give you a chuckle, if not a hardy ho-ho-ho and bring a bit of cheer your way.

How the Christmas Cookie Crumbles


Larry Eugene Meredith

Daddy called our family into the living room, where he stood with hands on hips and one foot upon the green hassock.  He motioned us into a tight little group and then cleared his throat to make his pre-Christmas address.
“All right, everybody, gather ‘round.  That’s it. I have a little something to say before we start trimming the house.  I hope to avoid the mess we had last year.  I hope to very much. Now, just in case anyone here has forgotten last year, let me refresh your memory.”
I flopped down on the nearby sofa and gasped.  “Forget last year, daddy? We’ll never forget last year.”
“Don’t slouch, Jill Ann, you’ll ruin your posture,” said mom.
I sat up straighter and crossed my legs.
“Don’t cross your legs, honey.  It’s unlady like,” said mom.
I ignored her. I don’t plan on being a lady.
Daddy cleared his throat. “Well, I’d like to run over last year as a short review of events. This may help prevent a reoccurrence.
“First of all, this year, we must be careful about the cookies. Last year both grammy and mother made two dozen each, and then to be on the safe side, they each made another five dozen.”
“That was before mom was asked to bake twenty-five dozen by the church committee.”
Daddy looked at me,  “I’m telling this, young lady, if you don’t mind.”
When daddy is telling something he hates anybody getting ahead of him. Once at a church get-together daddy started telling a joke and Reverend Waverley broke in at the middle and told the punch line.  Daddy had to leave the room on the excuse of a coughing spell.  His face turned purple and all. Interruption is probably the only thing in the world that upsets him. Otherwise, he’s a normal daddy.  Understanding this, I kept quiet while he finished speaking.
“As I was saying, mother was asked to contribute to the church bake sale, but unfortunately it snowed all day of the sale.  It was cancelled and we were stuck with another twenty-five dozen cookies.”
“No, Pop, not just twenty-five dozen.” This interruption came from my kid brother, Bud.  Bud is a real pest. “Remember mom had misunderstood the chairlady and baked fifty dozen.  But she was only supposed to bake twenty-five.  Mrs. Macgregor was to bake the other twenty-five.”
“And then Mrs. Macgregor gave her cookies to me when I babysat for her that weekend.”  I said. “I had to accept them out of politeness.  It was one of those times I wished I was a boy.  Boys never have to be polite.”
“Needless to say,” said daddy, “we couldn’t eat 105 dozen Christmas cookies.”
Mom rolled her eyes.  “Oh, it was just terrible. We gave some away as Christmas gifts.”
Father grunted.  “Which, as I recall, became very expensive.”
I laughed, but daddy’s glare silenced me at once.
“We should never have left that bagful for the milkman.”
“I still say he’s overcharging us still,” said mom. “Complained he had to get a new uniform.  Well, no body said he had to eat them all.”
I couldn’t hold back.  I had to laugh. “Worst then that,” I choked and gasped, with tears in my eyes, “he carried our cookies with him and nibbled as he went and every time he nibbled he got thirsty, so he started drinking the milk.”
“Well,” harrumphed daddy, “he shouldn’t have done it the way he did.  Imagine sipping off a quarter of every bottle you deliver. Deserved getting fired.”
“He developed very strong teeth,” said grandmother.  “It’s good a man should have strong teeth.”
“But it’s a pity his cat died.”
“Probably fed it some of Mrs. Macgregor’s,” said Bud.
I felt the cookies were taking a bad rap and we weren’t going to have any this year if somebody didn’t defend them.  I defended them.
“I liked them,” I said.
“Thought we’d never be rid of them,” said daddy. “They lasted forever.”
“I liked them,” I said again.
Mom looked at me.  “At your birthday party we used them as coasters.  That was March.”
Daddy was shaking his head. “In June, I punched holes in those big sugar cookies and took ‘em to the company outing as quoits. Darn near got fired myself when Sam Johnson mistook one for a bagel and broke his bridge.”
“The trash man wouldn’t take them ‘cause the can was too heavy.” Said bud.  “I got rid of them, though.  I dumped the can for the neighborhood dogs.”
“Those dogs were smart,” said I. “They buried them out back.”
“Yes,” said daddy, “and I got stuck with making a big donation to the SPCA to take away the dogs.  And all this is why I called this meeting. We aren’t going to have this Christmas spoiled by such mix-ups.  This year I prepared a schedule of tasks and we’re going to be organized about it.
“Granny will bake the cookies. Sparingly, please.
”Bud can wrap the gifts.
“Mother will trim the tree.
“I’ll hang the outside lights and Jill Ann can stamp the cards.”
Daddy clapped his hands and sent us to our tasks. 
Bud went to the pile of gifts to be given to various aunts, uncles and cousins. He sat down on the floor before them with his legs crossed beneath him. His Boy Scout troop had been practicing package wrapping for a month and Daddy intended to take advantage of this training. Bud had often talked about this wrapping project, but he neglected to mention that he was the worst wrapper in the troop.  In fact, he loathed the task, considering it ‘girl work’.  He sat with a package on his lap, turning it around and around, and muttering, trying to remember how to begin.
Daddy was muttering, too, but with him it was just a habit.  Anytime he worked on a job around the house he would mumble. He brought the boxes of multi-colored lights out of the attic and was ready to go out and tack them along the borders of our house.
“Lez see,” he mumbled as he went out the front door, “where did I put the ladder last summer?  Under the porch or in the garage?”
Mother and grandmother had disappeared and I was left alone in the room, except for Bud, still twisting the package in his hands and muttering.  I sighed and crossed the living room to the secretary desk in the corner. On top were an armload of enveloped Christmas Cards and two rolls of stamps. I picked up the white-marble water tray and took it into the bathroom to fill, and then I carried it back to the desk.  In the bottom drawer was a small sponge and I took it out and placed it in the water.  I was ready to begin.
Before I had stamped two envelopes, I jumped out of the chair at hearing a loud commotion. It had sounded like an explosion and there was a banging repeating over and over.  I decided to investigate, turned and fell over the bottom drawer I had forgot to close, falling to the floor. In trying to get up, I grabbed the ink blotter, which tipped into the air and sent the envelopes, stamps and water tray raining down upon me. I crawled across the floor, a hundred stamps stuck to my face and head. One roll hung like a long dangling ring from my left ear and unrolled as I went. I kept going, gasping for breath, trying to scrap a stamp off my tongue with my teeth.
The front door flew open and in stumbled daddy, a light string tangled about his ankles, which he was trying to shake loose. “What happened?” he yelled.
I was too engrossed with the stamp on my tongue to answer.
“Where’s Bud?” he shouted.
I looked at the place Bud had been wrapping. He was nowhere to be seen. There was a great pile of scattered gifts, crumpled colored paper, pretty ribbons and bows. The coffee table was on its side. This must have been the source of the explosion I heard. It was quite the mess. Then the mess moved. Daddy and I stared as the pile began to shake. As it did a gift flew off here, a clump of paper there, and soon we saw Bud. His head was wrapped in green and red foil and a yellow bow sat atop his head. A ribbon extended down from the bow, looped his neck and continued down his body to his hands, which were tied together by it, as were his feet.
“How did that happen?” Daddy asked Bud, who couldn’t seem to answer. He muttered something, but the foil muffled his voice. I don’t think it was an answer, though. I think he said something it was best daddy couldn’t hear.
“How did this happen?” daddy asked again.
“You know how clumsy Bud is,” I said.
Bud was bouncing up and down violently, making sounds and waving his tangled hands as best he could. Apparently he was hinting to be set free. Daddy grabbed the ribbon and attempted to break it. Nothing happened except the ribbon tightened about Bud’s neck and he bounced up and down more violently than before.
Daddy tried twisting the ribbon, to pull it loose, to turn it and to bite it, until he was red in the face. Now both daddy and Bud sat on the floor gasping for breath.
I lost interest in their struggle returning to my own problem with the stamps, but I did make a suggestion. “Daddy, why don’t you cut it?”
“Right. Good idea, Jill Ann Do you have scissors in the desk?”
“I have half a scissor,” I told him.
Daddy stared at me. “Half? How can you have half a scissors?”
I shrugged. I’m not very mechanical and don’t understand the working of tools very well. “I don’t know,” I said. “They fell apart last week. I’ve been using one half for a nail file and the other for a letter opener.”
Bud had chewed through the foil by this time and could be heard. “Hurry, dad, hurry,” he screamed. “Hurry before somebody mails me.”
Daddy rolled his eyes. “Okay, Bud, keep calm. I’ll get a knife and have you free in a wink.
Mom met daddy as he was going into the kitchen. Grandmother, who wore an oversized apron upon which she was wiping her hands, followed her.
“Where are you going?” asked mom.
“To get a knife.”
“What for?”
“Your son wrapped himself,” he said and went his way.
“Well as long as he’s behaving,” said grandmother. She never sees anything but the good side. “A boy should behave, especially near Christmas.”
Grandmother never looked at the big bundle that was my brother. She passed by us and took her coat and shawl from the closet.
“I have a gift to get yet,” she said going out, “I’ll bake the cookies when I return.”
Daddy returned with a sharp carving knife.
“Be careful with that,” warned mom, “it’s the only good carving knife we have.”
“I’ll be careful. Say, if Grammy went downtown, who’ll bake the cookies?”
“She said she’d do it when she got back, but I think I’ll do it now and save her the trouble. Is twelve dozen enough?”
“Plenty,” said daddy.
“You there, dad,” called Bud. He had stopped bouncing.
“Yes, I’ll have you free in a jiffy.”
Daddy tried to slice the ribbon, which proved to be rather resilient.
“Uuugh!” he strained at his task. “This is one tough ribbon,” he moaned through clenched teeth.
The knife sawed through the band, but the pressure daddy exerted threw him backward when it broke and he landed in the Christmas Tree. This cushioned his fall, but unfortunately the knife cut into one of the light connectors where it stuck.
Daddy went “Yawoooooow,” very loud.
There was a crash, a cracking, several snaps and a long zzzzzzzz. There was so much noise I couldn’t concentrate on removing the stamps I was wearing. Meanwhile daddy was saying the same thing over and over.
“Pullll the plugggg!”
Bud was yelling again, too. “Hey, help! I’m pinned under the tree!”
Daddy paid him no attention. “Pulllll the pluggggg,” he said.
I got hold of myself, and still picking off stamps, crawled about the room looking for the plug. At this moment mother came rushing back into the room demanding to know what happened.
“Pullll the plugggg!” daddy yelled.
“How did this happen?” asked mother again.
Daddy was getting monotonous, “Pullll the plugggg!”
Mom looked about. “Where’s Bud?” she asked.
“I’m under the tree.”
“Doesn’t that pick?” asked mom.
The front door flew open and grandmother bolted into the house. Her arms were full of gifts and she was smiling broadly. She kicked the door closed and dropped her bundles on a nearby chair. “Yoo hoo, I’m home.”
Daddy greeted her with “Pullll the plugggg!” He was hopping up and down.
Grandmother, as usual, was undaunted by daddy’s antics. She walked over to the wall socket and yanked out the cord. Daddy stopped jumping and fell to the floor panting heavily.
“I thought I was a goner,” he said between gasps.
Grandmother paid him no mind. “Where’s Bud?” she asked.
“I’m under the tree, grandma.”
“Doesn’t that pick?” she asked.
Grammy and I lifted the tree imprisoning Bud, not waiting for daddy to get on his feet. He was content sitting and puffing. After a moment, though, he sniffed the air.
“What’s that smell?”
“Maybe it’s the cookies I bought at the bakery,” said grandmother. “Is twelve dozen okay?”
“Wait,” said mother, taking a deep breath. “It may be the twelve dozen I’m baking. I better take a look.
Daddy was in the middle of commenting how twenty-four dozen cookies would last us until Valentine’s Day when the doorbell interrupted him. Since I had finally managed to remove the last stamp after accidently swallowing the one stuck on my tongue, I answered it and opened the door.
Daddy was first to ask whom it was when I returned.
“Mrs. McGregor,” I said.
He eyed me suspiciously. “What did she want?”
“She didn’t want anything. She brought us something.”
“What did she bring?” I knew that he knew.
“She said she knew how busy mom was and all so, well, she gave us fifty dozen cookies.”
Daddy didn’t say a word. He got up, walked to the front door, flung it wide and called the neighborhood dogs. The house already reeked of cookie odors and soon it was full of yapping, hungry dogs, seventeen to be exact. Over their barking came the hollow banging of the back door knocker. The door opened and the deep booming voice of Uncle Fred pierced the air.
“Merry Christmas, one and all! I bring you glad tidings and good cheer, and many fresh baked cookies!”
Before Uncle Fred could finish his greeting, seventeen dogs pounced upon him and dragged the poor unfortunate soul into the back yard, leaving behind a trail of cookie crumbs.
Later daddy was standing before the sofa with one foot upon the green hassock. He called everyone to gather about in a tight group. “Listen, family, right here and now, so that next Christmas we can avoid such a mess, we are going to outline a plan.”

I didn’t pay much attention, being tired and having a lot of cards to finish. I discovered a final stamp hanging from my earlobe, which I removed (the stamp, not the earlobe) and after that I tried to listen to daddy’s speech, but instead, I fell asleep.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Old Haunts: Some Changed big and Some Not So Much

 My long time friend, Ronald (pictured left) called from the Land of Sussex last week and asked if I would chauffeur him to a suite on Philadelphia's Walnut Street (hired me actually). He was going to take a bit of a holiday for a week and needed shuttled up and later will require shuttling back. Yesterday was the shuttle up.

I decided to take the opportunity to show him where in the big city I had lived once upon a time, as well as one of the locations I had worked. I was driving so he had little choice but to go where I went.

I really wanted to take a couple photographs of these milestone of my past because I took none at the time they occurred.  There are many old haunts of mine left unrecorded by me. I didn't take so many pictures years ago because it was both a hassle and an expense. There were no digital cameras, no computers, no little memory cards and no multi-task phones. You had a box or reflex camera and perhaps an eight millimeter movie camera.

I had a number of cameras during my youth, beginning with a little Kodak Brownie as a boy.  You
put a spool of film within, being extremely cautious to avoid any direct light while doing so for fear such exposure would ruin the precious stuff. I mean, it cost a bit to buy a roll of film. You only got eight shots then, usually black and white. I believe color film was available, but too precious for my budget. Once you snapped the subjects of your choice, you again carefully unloaded the spool in a dark room and took it for developing. Several stores about might have such a service. My family always went to Hutchinson's Drugstore, to a little window in the rear where you dropped it off, and then we waited several days to go pick up the results with crossed fingers that none of the prints was blurred or blank or blackened.

Sometime in the early 1970s I finally managed to afford a Minolta 35 millimeter reflex lens camera.

This was certainly a leap forward in technology. It had a lot of settings and even had a timer allowing me to be in photos, too. Color film was more available and affordable and you got 35 prints on a roll, not just 8 or 12. You still had to buy the stuff and then pay to have it developed and wait to see if your hand was steady when you pushed the shutter. I took more pictures, but still not a lot and I remained very choosy about what it was I shot.

I did own in that time period a Kodak 8 millimeter movie camera, with three lens that you could spin
into place for different range filming. I never really took many movie, though. I also had a couple Polaroid Instant Cameras, which
eliminated going to some processing service and waiting for results, but these brought their own set of drawbacks.

At any rate, there were a number of places I lived and worked that I simply never bothered getting a photo of and later regretted not having one. Thus I thought I could rectify this a little bit on our drive into Philly.

Our first stop would be Welded Tube Co. of America, the largest maker of structural steel tubing in the United States during the period I worked there, which was from January 1973 until November 1978.  I began my Welded Tube career as an Assistant Bookkeeper.
Within three months I was promoted to Assistant Controller  and I had complete responsibility for the General Accounting. In 1976 I was promoted again and took on in addition to my accounting duties the position of Computer Systems Operation Manager.  (On the left is me at my accounting desk in 1974 and on the right [or at least most of me] in my office as Computer manager in 1978.)

I liked my jobs at Welded, but in 1978 times grew tough in the steel product industry and a decision was made to move all operations to Chicago. I was offered a fairly large raise to go along, but we didn't want to leave the Philadelphia Area, so I went to another employer.

So yesterday Ron and I want to visit the site on Weccacoe Avenue in South Philly, not far from the docks along the Delaware River or the sports stadiums complex off Packer Avenue.

Well, I found my way to the area easily enough, but driving out Oregon Avenue I could not spot Weccacoe.  I ended up on Columbus Avenue and thought I would look for the back entrance to the
street, but all to my wondering eyes would appear was a large shopping mall. This used to be kinda a run down industrial backside, with a few small shacks along the street selling sandwiches and hoagies to nearby workers on break. Now it was an Ikea and several other big stores surrounding a huge parking lot. My first inclination was they had torn down my old employer and buried it and Weccacoe under this retail smorgasbord. But after having a lunch of Swedish Meatballs at Ikea, I drove around the back of the buildings and lo and behold discovered the old place.

Weccacoe looked kind of shabby and my old
place of business was forlorn and weathered. I had worked in the offices, a modern-looking (back then) brick building. I thought it was a beautiful structure then, but now it looked an old woman who's face was worn and shorn of makeup. We couldn't get close due to a locked gate and a fenced yard, but I still got my  pictures.

And so a lot had changed here, different company, something missing inside the gates and a certain shabbiness to building and street that hadn't been there once upon the time. And where some shabbiness and desolation had been, was now a bright and active purveyor of goods and food and life.

We drove on from there and back a few years in time, back before I ever heard of Welded Tube when I was busying myself with being a writer. I and my wife had moved from the suburb of Drexel Hill to University City in West Philadelphia. My wife got a job in the Chemistry Department of the University of Pennsylvania and I tapped out articles and stories all day on an old Underwood Typewriter.

We had rented a studio apartment on the first floor of a place called The Commodore. We were to have two apartments in the place eventually, first
Number 106 and later a one-bedroom Number 112, which was at the rear of the floor. (On the left is Lois and on the right am I in Apartment 112 near the end of our residency there.)

This location proved much simpler to find. No shopping mall had replaced anything in the area off Baltimore Avenue between 41st and 42nd streets. Frankly, the whole area was little changed from what I remember from my Hippie days. O'Malley's, the little grocery on the corner of 41st and Baltimore, where I often picked up a morsel or two of food, was something else now. There was a little deli on the block of Chester Avenue that had not existed then. Otherwise it was like we just stepped back to that period. The old Number 13 Trolley, which I sometimes took to Center City, even rumbled by while we were there.

There had been two trolley lines I had my choice of, the Number 13 and the Number 11. I guess both still service this route; however, that bright white engine that passed by was certainly more inviting than those dingy, dull, dark rust red machines I rode on.  It was along the tracks of these lines, at the corner stops, that I would search for dropped change to buy myself some lunch. We didn't have much money in those days.

On the next block from where we had lived was Clark Park, a place I used in some of my short stories about the 'sixties, especially "Community Park" and "Singin' in the Streets". I had to get some photos here. Ronald took my little camera so I could be pictured with Charles Dickens and Little Nell.

The park was deserted, except by two men camped out on the side of the path near the statue. I assumed they were homeless given the amount of stuff they had piled about, but perhaps they were college students just taking a break. They didn't approach us or ask for anything, just sat and watched these two silly men snapping photos of themselves.

We then walked up the block of Chester Avenue between 42nd toward 41st, where Lois and I once
lived. Ron wasn't overly thrilled with this. The area made him nervous and he wanted to leave. "We're gonna get robbed," he said, but I wanted my photos. The area looked pretty much as it was when I lived there, even down to the litter along the buildings. The only change, and it was recent and of little consequence, was the name of the apartments. They were no longer called The Commodore. That name once etched in stone above the door was gone, chiseled away and now a new name was there, The Lexington. My, my, are we going upscale? It appeared only in name. When I told my wife about this change and that I guessed from the place's website they had renovated it, she asked, "Did they renovate the roaches as well."

To his credit, Ron saw our mission through and took me standing at the front doors as if about to enter as once I had entered. The doors were locked. The only change was a control panel and intercom next to the portal that would allow entry using a code. This did not exist in 1968. In fact, I don't think those outer door were even ever locked. We had a key to the inner doors. Between the doors were the apartment mailboxes. Beyond the second door was a small lobby, where a group of Black Panthers used to hold meetings.  One time this group helped me bring a refrigerator up the front steps.

I took a final shot through the glass of the doors
before, much to Ron's relief, we hustled away from there. The inside looked as I remember it. It has probably had several new coats of paint since then and much turnover in clientele. Our first apartment was behind the second door down the hall on the right. The hallway bends in an L and the couple who lived in the apartment at that bend had a drug problem. She would be out in the hall yelling at imaginary things sometimes. I saw into their place once and the floor was covered with mattresses.

Around the bend lived a prostitute with a young boy. She would put her son out into the hall when she had a customer. I would awaken at 2:00 in the morning to the sound of a Big Wheels clacking up and down the hall. Another prostitute lived directly above us. There was clacking there as well, for it seemed she never removed her high heeled shoes and had no rugs. I don't think she took those shoes off for anything. When you were in our bathroom you could hear everything that went on in her place. We had an X-rated bathroom.

Many of the tenants were college students living off-campus from Penn or Drexel. I don't know who rents there now that it is The Lexington. Perhaps there is no more clacking and no more screaming in the hall. Perhaps it is a quiet clientele of elderly ladies and gentlemen.

Doesn't matter, I got my picture.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tiny Tidbits From an Untidy Mind

I guess I'll get this silly nonsense over with first before our cities go up in flames over it. I don't know if the Media (with a capital M) is so frantic to stir up emotions over nothing or some people have become so well off they have breakdowns over essentially non-events, but recently we have had a tempest in a teacup (or cacaphonies over a coffee cup). We are talking the Starbucks' Coffee Cup, the overpriced coffee choice of the pretentious and self-important here. I mean really, people, they brought out a solid red cup for the holiday season and we claims of Starbucks waging war on Christians?

Someone explain how their traditional cup celebrated Christianity? Is that a Nativity scene I see upon the waxed cardboard, was the Christ child born beneath the boughs of a pine tree amid deer and falling snowflakes? We even have a presidential candidate calling for a boycott of Starbucks over this and threatening their leases in his buildings. (No names here, but he is really, really great and if he was going to design the coffee cups they'd be the best coffee cups ever designed cause he has the greatest designers and everyone would love his cups.) There are Christians having their heads cut off in certain parts of this world today and we are supposed to take offense at a plain red coffee cup destined for a trash can?

Maybe the plain red wrapping is more appropriate to the Gospel than all those flakes
and deer. What is the Gospel? It is that we are out in the cold; weary and burdened from our sins, cut off from God and then God sacrifices his Son, Jesus Christ and it is in His shed blood that our sins are forgiven and covered. And as the salvation of Christ's blood covers us in red we are filed inside with the warmth and renewal of the Spirit. It works for me! Give me that Gospel coffee!

If you are really all that offended by Starbucks' packaging stop buying your coffee at Starbucks. Not giving them your money is the most effective protest you can make if a protest you must make. As for me, I wish my life was so free from concerns of living day to day my only worry was the color scheme of a coffee cup.

I open up Facebook the other day and two of my favorites singers from me wasted youth popped up before me, Simon & Garfunkel. Yes, I practically wore out their records and yes, I have all their songs on iTunes. This particular entry was put up by a site called "Little Things". I am not sure how they became regular contributors to my daily Facebook life, but that is fine because they put up these feel good videos and stories, often revolving around cute animals, ordinary people with unexpected talents or those who overcame great difficulties. In this case it was none of those. It was a clip of the duo from one of their last reunions singing, "Bridge Over Troubled Water". This particular occasion was on the 45th anniversary of the song's release in 1970. Thus it was also the 45th anniversary of their breakup as a duo. I guess the bridge wasn't open that day.

The video was accompanied by a glowing paean to it as such a inspirational, comforting, hopeful
icon of music. The piece stated:

"The song is inspiring and hopeful despite its mournful atmosphere. The world seemed doomed in those days, but sometimes all it takes is a song to tell you that, even though the water below is lashing in anger and fear, so long as the bridge holds, you will eventually make it across to the other side."

Mournful atmosphere indeed, the object of this song's narrative is downright depressed. It talks of being burdened with tears, rough times with no friends in sight, weariness and sadness everywhere as you wander down and out on the street, surrounded by darkness and wracked with pain all around.

Then comes the uplifting, inspiring part in the last verse because sailing right behind is something that will ease your mind. What is that shining thing sailing by? That is silver
girl, your trusty hypodermic needle that is going to bring all your dreams on the way. (Go look it up.)

I am sure  Paul Simon will deny strongly he ever had that in mind when he stuck in those mysterious lines, that he never heard that term used for an instrument of drug delivery anywhere on the street or backstage among the varied musicians.

He'll deny it just as much as Noel (pronounced No-well, not Naul) Stooky, also better known as a Paul, will insist "Puff, the Magic Dragon" has no connection to "Maryjane".

Okay, maybe neither Paul meant anything to do with those things, but I can't avoid those images when I hear those songs and I like those songs.

You can put these little anecdotes below in the "Why we hate you, big business" category or "Why a lot of people buy into Bernie Sanders".

A couple weeks ago I am driving home from dinner at Duffer's when I say to the Little Woman,
"Does it seem awfully dark on the right? I think our headlight might be burned out."  Yes, we got home and I checked and the right side headlight was dark. I figured I'd go pick up a new bulb on the morrow, which happened to be a Sunday. I looked up bulbs on the Internet and Pepboys had them for $11.

I also found a YouTube video on how to change a Fit headlight. The last bulb I changed was on our former Cobalt and I had to take a quarter of the car apart just to change the headlight. It looked like Honda had used sanity in their design and you didn't need an engineering degree for such a task.

Fine, there is a Pepboys not far from my church where I could stop at on my way home.

This burn out was naturally bad timing, too,  since I had to get the car inspected and had intended to do it that week.

I didn't get the bulb on Sunday after all.  I decided to get it on Monday after my morning walk.

On Monday morning I turned on the Fit, released the hand brake and this warning light pops on upon the dash. In glowing orange caps it says DRL. I never saw that one before. I pluck the owner's manual out of the glove compartment and find nothing about such a warning light, why it would come on and what it means. Maybe it tells you your headlight is burned out? Once again back to Google. I found nothing explaining exactly what this light meant, but I found many references to it indicating a problem in the electronic system, especially some mysterious black box hidden beneath the dash where some horrid fowl up may have occurred. This might require repairs above my pay grade.

Off I drove to a local garage that I trust. I explained my concerns and the guy there never heard of
that warning light either. He asked for my owner's manual, which of course didn't help. He then went and got another mechanic. This one never heard of that warning light either, but he got a fresh bulb and switched out the old. The headlight now worked and the warning light no longer appeared. We did figure out DRL stood for Daytime Running Light and it was telling me a bulb was burned out. This garage charged me $16 for the bulb and labor. Not bad, because I all ready knew the bulb cost $11, so only $4 for labor and it saved me the trouble, and he struggled some with it because it is a tight space to work in.

Anyway, I go and get the inspection (another complication I may address in a future post). One week later I am leaving Bible Study and when I turn on the Fit my left headlight flares up bright and then goes dark. I knew I should have had the guy install both lights. But I seen it done and am confident I can make the change. I'll just go to Pepboys and buy a bulb.

I go and ask for a bulb. Yep, it's $11 as expected. The clerk says, "You want us to install it, right?" I think, hey it's not that much, sure go ahead. They do and I come in to pay for the operation. "That will be $34," he says.

Thirty-four dollars, you could have knocked me over with a replacement bulb wrapper. Yep, $11 for the bulb, $20 for the labor and $3 for shop use. That was the one that got me, that $3 for shop use. Yeah, see, big business, this is why people hate you and some like Bernie Sanders.

It seems everything has an angle these days to pick the little guy's pocket.  I live pretty lean. I have little in reserves, so it is paycheck to paycheck.  I look at my one bank's balance. I have little left, but one of those checks will come in on Wednesday. Everything I have to pay is covered just barely, but covered and then a new infusion. We can make it for the next two days. I do have a payment for our monthly subscription to the Philadelphia Inquirer coming due, but it is under our balance.

Now, I did plan to move some money from my other bank to the account, but I decided not to make a special trip until the check hits this account. But on Tuesday I check my account and it shows a negative balance of $4.08. What in the world! I open up the statement and I see there is a hold now for that Philadelphia Inquirer indicating it will hit my account a couple days hence. The amount is $10 higher than I had budgeted. The Inquirer has raised my rate and as far as I know they never gave me any notice of this. It is enough to overdraw my account.

No big deal, it is a hold. I've had holds that gave a negative balance before, but only on paper. Still, I
go and make that transfer of money into the account in case it hits over night and really does overdraw me.

Wednesday morning I check my account. My transfer is there, of course, and so has the monthly income check been deposited, but there is also a $35 overdraft charge. Yo, I look down my daily balances. There is no overdraft on any day. I see a message and open it and they have charged me an overdraft on the basis of that hold. They have charged me $35 on a $4 overdraft that technically never really occurred.

Now I use to work in a bank, in fact, I was a costing expert at that bank and I knew what it really cost the bank when someone overdrew and my little $4 blip was minuscule in cost, practically zip. Yes, I am telling you that bank overdraft fees are a racket, a scam, a deceit, a quick buck to the bottom line, although banks wouldn't admit this anymore than Paul Simon will ever admit silver girl is a needle.

I went with statement copy in hand to my bank branch and protested this injustice. The clerk said she would see if she could get the bank to do anything because I had never had any overdrafts before at that bank.  It was not a very confident assurance, though; however, they did come through and reverse that fee. I thank them for that, but overall these are the things that make people hate big business and
some people to like Bernie Sanders.

Anyway, enough of little teeny tiny tidbits and rants for today.

Oh, just as a caution, when you do a Google search on Headlights you get a real lot of images that have nothing to do with automobile electronics.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Day Jobs

What is Charles Ives' (1874-1954) picture doing as the lead illustration on a piece called "Day Jobs"?   You might say he is the poster boy for this subject. Ives is recognized today as a great and innovative American composer, but during his life he lived pretty much in obscurity, composing his music in his spare time.  He took a day job in the insurance business in 1899 and in that business he remained until he retired in 1930 at the age of 65. All those years he dreamed of being free to write his music, but he didn't quit his day job as an actuary and executive and when he did finally retire he found he could no longer compose new music.

Ah, yes, the day job. When in my teens I heard this all the time when I expressed an interest in the creative fields of writing and art, "Get a day job so you have something to fall back on." And so I did. Like Ives I daydreamed about reaching that point where I didn't need that fall back position. When I grew older I didn't think about having some big blockbuster bestseller that would guarantee financial independent anymore. Instead I looked forward to retirement. I would spend my golden years writing, but somewhat like Ives, once retired I found it difficult to imagine up new stories. Take this as a cautionary tale to any young artistic type that stumbles upon it. Watch out for the dreaded day job!

I recently did a post about a period in my life when my writing was seeing the light of day instead of just my reject file. Yet, I clung to my security blanket of day jobs through most of that time, expect for a short period in 1969 when I did nothing but freelance. I had being working almost since high school at Atlantic Refining (which halfway through my employ became Atlantic Richfield or ARCo). I will save any discussion about that place until another time. Once I resigned I had a couple other day jobs to supplement my lack of funds from my literary sales. They were mildly interesting.

Right after I severed my umbilical cord with ARCo, I took a part time job with Philadelphia Gum Co. in Haverford. Maybe you never heard of them, but some older boys and girls out there may remember Swell Bubblegum, El Bubble candy cigars and chewing gum cigarettes as well as other products made by them.

In fact from 1964 to 1967 Swell was in competition with Topps in the football bubble gum card wars. Swell had the contract to produce gum cards of National Football Players while Topps had the American Football Players.  It also
did baseball card gum, Marvel Superheroes, World War II scenes and cards on the Green Berets among others.

I find the RFK series of cards produced in 1968 one of the more odd subjects they did.

I began working there at the beginning of June 1969. My hours were 7:00 PM until 11:00 PM Monday through Friday. Every workday night I came home looking like a ghost, covered as I was in white powdered sugar. I was paid $1.00 an hour, thus I was living on $20 a week plus whatever I could get for a story or essay. I did get to partake of as much bubblegum as I could chew, so most times I looked slightly deformed with a bulging cheek full of gum.

My first position was as Wad Slinger. There was a room taken up by a huge machine. It had a tube curled about like a giant's intestine. It was very wide where it started, but kept growing narrower as it curled around in different directions until at the far end an opening spit out and wrapped long dowels of Bazooka-shaped gum. On top and to the front of this monster gum digestive system was a great metal hopper behind which the operator sat with a big pestle.

Every so often a bell would ring and a conveyer belt would rumble to life. This belt ran up from the kitchen in the floor below to our room and it carried the freshly mixed wads of gum. These looked like gum the Jolly Green Giant had been chewing and spit out. My function was to grab a wad by one end and sling it up upon the top of the big machine, where the operator would then push it into the hopper and tamp it down and in with the giant pestle. Several of these wads would come up and then finally stop until another batch was cooked.

In between bells I would either sweep the floor or sift powdered sugar into a 55-gallon barrel.

After a week I was promoted to Bubblegum Welder. Now I was operating my own machine. It wasn't the big thing. It was like a desk I stood behind. It had foot petals and on top a hot plate and two knife blades.  A  wheeled rack of shelves would be brought to the side of my welder. On each shelf was a long board, six feet I guess, and upon each board were six long dowels of bubblegum.

I would grab one of these dowels, pull it across my machine and then grab a second. I would hit the foot petals, snipping off the ends of each dowel, press them against the hot plate and weld them together. I turned these racks of individual dowels into one long one and fed it to the end of my machine where it was chopped into one inch square pieces and wrapped as bite sized pieces before disappearing up a conveyer belt to the inspection and packing section.

Philadelphia Gum was founded in 1948 and lasted until July2003 when it was taken over by Concord Confections, famous for Dubble Bubble, which in turn was acquired by Toosie Roll Industries in 2004. The Philadelphia Gum Plant was torn down in 2011 to make way for the Haverford YMCA.

I left the place in July 1969 and moved on to my next job, truly a day job, at North American Publishing Company on Cherry Street in Philadelphia. (That building is no longer in existence now either.) However, the company is still publishing under the new name of NAPCO Media, which indicated they have moved beyond just print. There appears to be a complete catalog of new magazines and none of
the ones that existed in my time there.
the titles of my day.

The company was founded by Irvin J. Borowsky (right). He began in the magazine business in 1948 with the publication of TV Digest, which I remember my family buying each week when we got our first TV set. He sold this publication to Walter Annenberg in 1953 and it morphed into TV Guide.

That is the cover of the first nationally published issue of TV Guide for the week of April 3-9, 1953.

I signed on as a Circulation Manager of two of their flagship magazines of that time, "Bestsellers" and "Media & Methods". I wrote about those two magazines in my previous post as far as what their purpose was, so I won't repeat that here.

My starting salary was actually 6% higher than my last at ARCo and I was somewhat successful during the six months I worked there. I straightened out a number of internal problems as well as oversaw the establishment of the first circulation auditing of Media & Methods. So why did I stay such a short time, you may ask?

I grew increasingly unhappy with the place, mainly with the treatment of the employees. But first let me explain the uncomfortable situation I walked into. Two of the crew reporting to me had
simmering resentments that I was there at all. One had been the Circulation Manager, now demoted to just another clerk. The other was the one who felt she should have gotten the position. This did not make them overly cooperative or willing to implement changes I made. It did not helpful that I discovered the former Circulation Manager had not been billing a large client's account for their purchases. This was a Philadelphia bookstore. It had changed ownership a couple years earlier and the new owner had never been sent a bill for product that was being delivered each month from when the previous management had been in place. This newer owner told me he just assumed this was free promotional stuff we sent.

I also discovered the other lady had not been processing subscriptions, but just stuffing them in the rear of her desk drawers.

To further complicate things, when Curtis Publishing (famous for "The Saturday Evening Post") closed, my boss hired a number of Curtis' former staff. I think these ladies had been hired originally by Benjamin Franklin. We used Graphotypes and Addressograph Machines to process the mailing labels for our publications, equipment these ladies had not only never seen before, but were scared to death of using.

On the opposite end, so to speak, my crew was rounded out by two college girls hired during their summer break. The one girl was pretty bright, but had no work ethic. She did possess a great deal of attitude. Doing the job properly was of little concern because she was going back to school come fall and if she got bounced it just meant more time down at the shore. Meanwhile she was perfectly happy to take a paycheck every week.

The other girl was very willing to work, but had no skill. She would sit and type plates all day without complaint; however, more than half would have to be chucked for errors. After a couple weeks of this I sat her down for a chat. She began crying and then she kept leaning forward over my arm, resting part of her anatomy upon me, angling herself to give me a clear view down her front. I felt sorry for her; I really did because I believed she was trying her best, but neither tears or sexual advances were going to get those plates cut correctly. I had to send her packing.

Lastly was the personnel raids by my boss, who besides being supervisor of circulation for the company also had her own magazine. Since she managed all personnel decisions she would play dirty with we department managers. If we got an outstanding employee she would suddenly transfer that person to her personal department and sent you someone of lesser value.

At one point the Marketing Department devised a new promotional scheme. We sold posters to the book stores and newsstands all over the area. The Marketing people decided we would boost sales of these posters if we offered the dealers free frames to display the posters in. Why they discussed this with me, I am not sure, but I analyzed the projected revenue and discovered it would result in a loss. Why? Well, for a start each frame costs us a $1.04 to supply for free. There was a finite number of newsstands in the city and each had a finite amount of space to display posters, which they were already doing. They liked the new frames just fine, but had no reason to purchase a single new poster to hang; therefore, all we would do was spend a good bit of money giving these guys shiny new frames.

At a meeting in the publishers office I presented my opinion. Mr. Borowsky was unhappy, but not at the clowns who hatched the idea. Instead he told me I was too pessimistic.  Okay, fine, so they did the promotion and it was a colossal...flop. It performed exactly as I calculated and we loss a few hundred dollars on the promotion without generating the sale of one extra poster.

As Father Time handed his hourglass over to Baby New Year, I was handing my letter of resignation to the supervisor of circulation.  We were moving into the 1970s now and a lot of changes were right ahead for me. New day jobs awaited, as did a new life style.