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, 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.