Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New York, New York

"The Bronx is Up and the Battery's Down."
This is midtown Manhattan as seen from the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway taken a couple days before Christmas.
My wife and I spent Christmas and a few more days in the Big Apple. I lived there some 40 years ago - drove a cab. While much has changed in the city, much remains the same.
While there is much to love in New York, it is also a really tough place to live and work. It's really hard to be middle class there.
We did and saw a lot in the 5 or so days we had: We saw "Fela" the new Broadway musical, we saw the movie "Avatar." We attended a Christmas Eve service at "The Marble Church" to hear my wife's cousin sing a great solo. We went to the "Top of the Rock. We walked around the Battery and Ground Zero. We toured Trinity Church and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden where my son works. We strolled around Central Park and had eats at The Boat House Restaurant. We also toured MOMA which was absolutely packed.
But mostly, I guess, we spent a few great days with our younger son. Both of our kids live well away from home. We see them only rarely.
What takes a midwesterner's breath away about NYC is the cost. We stayed at our son's apartment in Brooklyn, so we didn't have to pay for lodging. Still, everything costs a bunch. Eating at restaurants can be really expensive, although it doesn't have to be. Transportation is very costly. When I lived in NYC the subway cost 20 cents. There were no monthly passes or anything. You just plunked down 20 cents for a token. (Hell, the Staten Island Ferry was a nickel.) Now a single subway ride is $2.25 (or $2.50, I can't remember which.) Now you can purchase monthly passes for $80., but for a variety of reasons, subways just weren't going to work for us. Most subway stations are 2 to 3 levels below ground. My balky knees just don't do well with steps. Cabs are really pricey. A cab ride from LaGuardia to my son's apartment would likely have cost us in excess of $60. The alternative? Car services. You call a car service and usually they appear within 10 to 15 minutes - sometimes far less. The cost? The LaGuardia to Brooklyn trip was $35. The trip from Brooklyn to midtown Manhattan was usually $25. The same for the return. Still, after a few days it became apparent to us that we were spending a bunch on these cars, but there just wasn't any reasonable alternative. They are generally far better than cabs in that they are usually late model Lincoln Town Cars or something similar; far more comfortable than the average cab. They actually have suspensions. The car service drivers tend to be less manic than most cabbies - I know. Remember, I used to be a NY cabbie.
My wife had what she called her "New York" moment when an older woman accosted us down by the Battery asking for money. I didn't hear what my wife said to the woman, but the woman responded by calling her a cunt. Welcome to New York!
Good times.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Scourge of Nationalism

While we are now deeply concerned and in conflict with radical religious fundamentalism, it is also true that nationalism is essentially equal to religious zealotry in its destructiveness. The wonderful British philosopher and essayist A.C. Grayling stands in agreement having stated that "Nationalism is an evil. It causes wars, its roots lie in xenophobia and racism."

The notion of "American exceptionalism" is not only bunk, it is at best insulting to the rest of the world. At its worst it marks us as delusional in the irrational belief that we are inherently superior to everyone else which sets us up for a hard fall. We are all Americans simply by the accident of our birth.

While we have long felt - and perhaps rightly - that our particular constitutional system is superior to any other, as we know all too well, it has been so bastardized in practice (if not in print) over the years that it is hardly recognizable. George, Thom, John & Ben would probably shake their heads in dismay at what we have wrought out of their hard labor in the Philadelphia heat.

However, I am not one who hankers back in the belief that we should return to our supposed governmental roots. The fact is, this country and the times in general have far outgrown our founding documents. That there are those who would amend our constitution for the sole purpose of depriving citizens of basic rights is perhaps a harbinger of worse things to come.

We are on the verge of being a global society. I won't live to see it, and perhaps no one alive today will witness it either, but it is coming, like it or not. It will be necessary to human survival. If it doesn't come, it will mean that we have blown ourselves back to the stone age to start again (if any humans do survive.)

Its coming will no doubt be violent and painful. If we think getting health care reform has been difficult, wait until the battle begins over the notion of a "one world" global government. Warning shots have already rung out with the collapse of the WTC. Nationalism and its cousin, regionalism, won't go quietly, not to mention the ongoing tussle over whose god can beat up all the other gods.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Swans! Woohoo!

A day for swans. These two majestic fowl ambled across our yard and settled for a time in a neighbor's front yard to calmly preen. I couldn't get any really good shots owing to their incessant preening, the little bastards! Oh well.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Something Special In Indy

The above photo is of the Indianapolis Children's Museum. This place will flat knock you out!

I know Indianapolis is not a place many would think of to vacation, and rightly so. Our weather is hardly tropical. We have no water to speak of. No beaches. No surfing or sailing. It's not cold and/or snowy enough through the average winter to support winter sports.

But, there are some things of interest - primarily indoor sporting events which do draw fairly large numbers of visitors here. I believe Indy is hosting the NCAA Final Four next spring. We are hosting the Super Bowl in 2012. Of course, every year we have the very outdoor Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 auto races. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is now also hosting a yearly motorcycle event and we have drag racing national competition every year.

Outside of sports Indy does sponsor a national violin competition every couple of years. There are a number of a variety of conventions and other gatherings of large groups here throughout each year. However, I'm not writing here to boost those events. They seem to do all right without my help.

So, too, does the Indianapolis Children's Museum. It is, I believe, the largest children's museum in the world, and some will tell you it is the best. That, I don't know. I have visited only one other children's museum in Winnipeg. While that visit was several years ago, I will say that it was a pretty great place, and my wife, Jo and I enjoyed our tour of it. But, the ICM is, I believe in a class by itself.

Earlier this evening, Jo and I took a "behind the scenes" tour of portions of the ICM with my sister in-law and her husband. It was a pretty great evening. At one point I stood holding like a 65 million year old triceratops tibia. How cool is that?

During their teen years, both of my kids were active at the ICM working on a children's newspaper - The Children's Express - and otherwise volunteering in some of the exhibits. It had been several years since either Jo or I had been there. I was vaguely aware that the museum had been undergoing some expansion and general remodeling, but we were not prepared for what we saw earlier this evening.

I don't know the exact figures, but it seems to us that the museum has perhaps doubled in size. As the above photo illustrates, this is one damn big museum. But its size is only part of the story. The ICM hosts an ongoing rotation of a large variety of traveling exhibits every year. They have been hosting a King Tut exhibit since last summer which, unfortunately, will end next week. In December, they will be opening a "Barbie" exhibit in honor of her 50th birthday. While I can't say that Barbie is exactly my cup of tea, it should be remembered, it IS a children's museum.

But the museum's permanent exhibits are, for the most part astounding and at the very least are usually very interesting and masterfully presented. They are big on dinosaurs. If you look closely at the photo a bit left of center in front of the glass building is a very large dinosaur reared up on its haunches, whose head is actually protuding into the main lobby of the museum. There are other dinosaurs busting through walls and generally cavorting on the museum lawn.

The permanent ICM exhibits run the gamut of natural history, science, and all manner of stuff of interest to kids. They have a monster toy train collection, not to mention an actual well over 100 year old steam locomotive and caboose in the lower level. We toured a portion of their collections which has every toy any kid ever imagined having.

In the inner lobby is a fascinating "water clock" installed several years ago. One can stand and watch it operate for several minutes or even several hours. In the very center of the museum proper is a huge blown glass sculpture designed and largely executed by Seattle's Dale Chihuly. On the lower level is a great planetarium and on the top floor is a full size, fully operational carousel. Of course, this list just skims the surface.

The point of this little bit of shameless hometown promotion is that, while I doubt that many people would make a special trip to Indy just to visit the ICM - although, I'm sure some have, and it would not be a bad choice to do so, anyone who may be coming to Indy for whatever reason - sports, music, a convention, visiting friends and family - make a mental note to include a trip to the Indianapolis Children's Museum whether you have kids with you or not. You won't be disappointed.

In fairness, I should also note that the Indianapolis Museum of Art is rather amazing in its own right as is the Eiteljorg Museum of Indians and Western Art and the Indiana State Museum just a couple of blocks further west. We also have the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum and what I think has been dubbed the Hall of Champions at the national headquarters of the NCAA. There's probably more, but that's all I can come up with right now. If museums are your thing, Indy won't disappoint.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Who's That Uh... whatever

An opera singer only a mother (and father) could love! My son in his role in Wurzburg production of The Magic Flute.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Guess what I found "Clustered" at Meijer?

This has been a trying time for breakfast aficianodos. One of the truly great breakfast foods has all but disappeared from store shelves. Over the past several months I have been able to find General Mills' Honey Nut Clusters at but one store in the entire Indianapolis Metropolitan area - namely a Safeway store on the staid north side of the city. Frankly, it's been hell.


I happened to be strolling through our local Meijer store a couple of weeks ago. Without realizing it I found myself sauntering down the cereal aisle when out of the corner of my eye, what did I spy? CLUSTERS!!!! YES!!!!! HONEY NUT CLUSTERS!!!!!! GENERAL MILLS' HONEY NUT CLUSTERS!!!!!!! YES!!!!!!!! And much to my surprise, they were packaged as of old - the original happy yellow and blue box with the little squirrel near the top, not the more recent grown up sensible, and yes, handsome, brown and goldish box.

I had all but given up the search and assumed that if only one store in the city was carrying it, that Clusters would soon disappear altogether. But no! I mean Meijer is a pretty big whup, you know? I'd like to think my campaign here at Indy Boomer was the catalyst that forced Meijer to once again stock my beloved tasteless brown flakes and sort of nutty globs - er clusters - but I don't know. I've had no meaningful feedback. I do know that about 40% of all those who have dropped by here during the past several months have been searching Honey Nut Clusters on the net. Who knows? Maybe I did make a difference. Ah, but I must remain humble.

Now I know they still don't carry Clusters at our nearby Kroger store, and the other major, but local grocer, Marsh hasn't carried them for a couple of years. But now, I feel renewed. I'll check out Walmart and maybe Target. If I find them at either of those places, then perhaps I'll have the ammunition I need to cajole the Kroger and Marsh people to jump on the Clusters band wagon.

Life may be actually worth living once again. Power to the people! Could you pass me the milk and a couple packs of Equal?


Friday, September 18, 2009


Folk singer Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary fame died Tuesday, owing to side effects from leukemia therapies. She was 72.

I have been a Peter, Paul and Mary fan almost from the moment they released their first self-titled album back in the early 1960s. They brought folk music into the mainstream owing to their superior harmonies, intricate arrangements, and the deft artistry of both Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey on guitar. They took the more rough-hewn recordings of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and others, mainly from the American folk tradition, and added elements of musicianship and, yes, a bit of polish to the proceedings.

While I later became a Dylan fan, at first I was put off by his almost atonal performances. Dylan owes a good deal to Peter, Paul and Mary. His great songs might well have lingered in relative obscurity had PP&M among others not reincarnated them more pleasingly to the ear.

I have had four separate encounters with Mary Travers - all many years ago. They were all simply moments, nothing substantive, but in each case coming face to face with her towering personage (she stood at or near 6 feet) - with someone who to me was an icon - left a definite impression on me.

PP&M performed at the Indiana University Auditorium on a Saturday evening back in the fall of 1964. I bought tickets, and actually had a date, who didn't give a rat's ass about me, but was willing to go through what was likely for her an otherwise excruciating evening for the opportunity to see and hear them in concert.

The Friday before, I was in the IU Bookstore shopping for I don't remember what exactly, when, rounding a rack of books, I ran headlong into Ms. Travers coming the other way around. The force of our collision caused us both to drop whatever we were carrying. I stood for a beat, likely with my jaw dropping to the floor, as recognition set in. I was totally flummoxed. We both knelt down to retrieve our respective books, notepads and whatnot; me, with what I'm sure was a large, stupid grin on my face, doubtless mumbling something unintelligible. As we stood, I believe I did manage to utter some sort of apology, as did she, and we went our separate ways. I'm sure my heart rate took a good deal longer to return to some semblance of normalcy than did hers. I had me a tale to tell back at the dorm.

The next afternoon my dormitory's social committee had managed to entice Peter Yarrow to attend a kind of fireside chat, mainly concerning the whoop-te-do that was then being made over the lyrics of their hit song, "Puff the Magic Dragon," with charges by some that they were an allusion to smoking that evil weed, marijuana. At the appointed time about fifteen or twenty students gathered with Peter in the main lounge of the dorm. A while after the discussion started, Mary suddenly appeared and sat down outside the circle of us spread around Peter. Of course a bunch of us jumped up, again in a fumbling, rather spastic manner, imploring her to take a more central seat. She demurred, saying that she preferred just to listen, which she did, only interjecting a comment here and there. At one point our eyes met, and I felt an immediate flush of embarrassment, but she showed no signs of recognition. She just smiled and flipped her great blond hair back from her eyes.

By the way, Mary Travers was a very good-looking woman at that time. Most younger people know her, if at all, only from photos and videos taken in her later years. Not that she had become unattractive, but she had - as so many of us have - gained a good deal of weight. That, coupled with her fight against the leukemia, and just the effects of aging had taken a toll.

A few years later, yours truly found himself working for TWA (aka Teenie Weenie Airlines) at the Indianapolis airport. As I was pretty much a dud on the ticket counter, I was often consigned to "Baggage Services," the airline euphemism for lost and (occasionally) found.

One evening, while sitting at my desk in the tiny office set aside for Baggage Services, the door was flung open with a bang, and I looked up startled to once again see Mary Travers standing before me. She was quite addled. The airline had managed to lose one of her bags. (No, really!) She was, I must admit, rather beside herself and made only minimal sense while shouting out a plethora of colorful and generally denigrating metaphors to voice her displeasure at me, TWA, and pretty much the whole world, which, she assured me, had let her down all too often.

Fortunately, our PR guy soon appeared, took her in hand, and thankfully, out of my office. At that time it was widely believed that Mary, along with all people to the left of Joe McCarthy, were dopers. I suppose she may have had some kind of stash in the bag in question, I don't know. Keep in mind, this was back around 1970. The very first plane hijackings had only recently taken place. There were no airport security checks, no x-rays or luggage searches, no drug dogs. People could, and doubtless often did, fly about the country with their favorite recreational drugs stowed securely in their Samsonites and American Touristers. But again, I have no idea whether that was the case. I don't recall how it was resolved, but we all managed to survive into the next day, happily including Mary Travers with or without her wayward bag.

A year or so later I was living in the Big Apple where, among other endeavors, I drove a cab for about a year. One evening I had a fare from Manhattan out to the Pan Am Terminal at Kennedy Airport. I generally didn't like taking fares to any of the three NYC airports, as I usually wound up driving back into the city empty. But in this instance, I had just dropped off my fare when the rear door popped open and in slid two breathless people with luggage in hand. I only got a glimpse of one of them in my rear view mirror - a guy. Their destination: The Plaza Hotel. Yes!

I was aware the other passenger was a woman, but I could only manage to see a small slice of her head in the mirror without obviously craning my neck. I was generally not all that interested in checking out my fares anyhow, given the natural or acquired New Yorker proclivity for anonymity. After a while they all just became one faceless fare after another. But a few minutes into the ride back to Manhattan, the woman began conversing with her fellow passenger - who, I suppose, could have been her husband. Simply hearing her speak a few words, her voice was unmistakable. I craned my neck. Indeed it was she. Mary Travers was a passenger in my cab. Woohoo!

They settled in, and her companion was soon dozing, but she became chatty during the approximately half hour drive to the Plaza. I mentioned our run-in at the IU Bookstore a few years before and the subsequent discussion with Peter the next day. She had no memory of either. I admit I was rather crestfallen. I was so sure I had made an indelible impression on her. Alas, no. I had the good sense not to bring up the Indy airport encounter.

During the course of my couple of years living in NYC, I encountered a number of luminaries. Frankly, it would be unusual for anyone spending more than a few days in the city not to bump into or at least spot someone of note. But driving Mary Travers to the Plaza was perhaps my most memorable brush with the rich and famous. Even though she had no recollection of our bookish encounter, during her ride to the Plaza she was very talkative, funny, gracious, and, in the end, a good tipper.

I haven't brought myself to start playing PP&M albums just yet, but I'll probably slip one or two into my CD player in a day or so to hear Mary's plaintive voice once again.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Feeling a Little Mortal?

Several weeks ago I began noticing, for want of a better term, a bit of pressure in my forehead, no pain, just a kind of pressure. I also noticed that along with the pressure came fleeting bouts of a kind of dizziness. If I turned my head quickly, it was like the scene before me kept moving a split second or so after my head stopped. I found that not just a little disconcerting.

These bouts have persisted and become somewhat more pronounced over the past few weeks. The pressure comes and goes, but often lasting a couple of hours or more, usually early in the day. These bouts make me tired, and all I want to do is lie down. Needless to say, this has been really disturbing. I kept my own council about this as the family - my wife, Jo and both of our kids - have enough problems to deal with without worrying about the old man.

About ten days ago I finally got in to see my doctor at the VA, and I apprised her of what had been happening. I'll take this moment to give kudos to both the VA and my primary care doctor out there, Dr. Rashida Shah. Dr. Shah didn't hem and haw, didn't hesitate. My visit with her was on a Friday. I had an MRI done the following Tuesday morning. Not bad.

I hadn't heard anything for a couple of days after the MRI, so I called the VA last Thursday and was first told that they didn't have the results. (The MRI had been outsourced.) However, within an hour, Dr. Shah called me back with the news that the MRI results indicated a "spot" on my frontal lobe. Not the news I was hoping to hear. The written report did say that it was not definitive and could in fact be an anomaly. Maybe I belched at the wrong moment, or, uh, something.

Nevertheless, Dr. Shah ordered yet another MRI, only this time using "contrast." Friday afternoon I was back getting my head examined magnetically once again. Last week-end was one of the longer ones I have ever spent. I didn't actually get the results until yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon when, again, I called the VA. I got the same song and dance that the results were not back yet, but again, Dr. Shah called me soon after, and in her words "you have absolutely nothing going on in your head."

Well, that's been suggested to me on many occasions - more than I would like to admit - but this was one time that I was glad to hear it. There are no masses, no lesions, no aneurysms, no "spots." The first reading was apparently a hiccup. Woohoo! Relief was just a phone call away. Of course, that still leaves me with this pressure, the dizziness, and the tiredness. What now?

Dr. Shah thinks that it might be a sinus problem. She has prescribed some kind of steriod nasal spray. She has also ordered an appointment for me with an opthalmologist to see if it could be something with my eyes. I hope to figure out what the hell is going on soon.

As the title of this piece suggests, I have been feeling quite mortal over the past few weeks. Brain thingys are not to be sneezed at; just ask the surviving Kennedys. My wife, Jo's oldest cousin succumbed to a brain tumor in about 6 months from diagnosis. She was in her mid 40s. So, too, did a fellow about my age who lived down the street from us a couple of years ago.

Of course, when I had been set up with the first MRI, I told Jo all about it. As of this writing, all my kids know is that I haven't been feeling well, and I'd been to the doctor. I know I'm not out of the woods yet. I suppose that the MRIs could have missed something. But, at least the reported results made feel less like I have one foot in the grave. I had about convinced myself that I did.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Cosmos

Just a few more Cosmos. A little closer this time.


All god's chillin got Cosmos! You got your white, you got your purple, you got your orange, and if you look close in the bottom photo, you got your pink.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Sky is Falling!

Early Wednesday morning I was having trouble sleeping, which is unfortunately all too normal for me. Sometime after 3 AM I decided, what the hell, I'm going outside to check out the Perseid meteor shower. I slipped on a jacket and put on my old grass-cutting shoes and headed out into the darkness.

Well, it wasn't quite "dark." Unfortunately, high in the eastern sky was a nearly full moon which tends to wash out the view of most of the stars or anything else that one might care to see in the night sky, including meteors. Also, we live on the suburban south side of Indianapolis. While we are some five miles from downtown, there remains a great deal of ambient light from numerous sources which has the effect of washing out the sky even more.

Undaunted, I got a lawn chair and moved around to find a spot affording the broadest view of the sky while blocking out the moon as much as possible. So oriented, I sat watching for nearly half an hour, spotting nothing meteoric.

My first experience with the Perseids goes back to the mid-1960s (yeah, I'm kind of an old fart) on a clear, moonless night, spooning with a young lady out in northern Minnesota lake country in my dad's black and canary yellow 1965 Pontiac Bonneville (it was pretty cool, by the way). I didn't know of such things – meteors, that is. We stopped our "spoonin'" and watched amazed as literally dozens of the damn things whisked across the pitch-black sky. Hell, I thought we were being invaded. "War of the Worlds!"

Since that wondrous night, I have tried numerous times to catch more such glimpses of the Perseids and a number of the other yearly meteor showers with generally disappointing results. Oft times an overcast sky obviated even the possibility.

A few years ago local weather forecasters predicted that that particular year's Perseid shower would likely be the best in many a year – that at its peak, one might see as many as a thousand or more meteors every minute! Well, maybe not a thousand. More like three or four, but still... There was to be no moon.

I was ready, by God! I put on sweatpants and a sweatshirt, and brought a light blanket and a thermos of fresh coffee, as it was a rather uncharacteristically chilly and damp night for mid-August. I grabbed a lawn chair from the patio and, following the weather forecaster's instructions, set it up facing east and slightly to the north. I was comfortably ensconsed by about 1 AM - primed for checking out prodigious hordes of meteorites, or shooting stars, or "St. Lawrence's tears" as some refer to them.

I sat there for over an hour. Nothing. Nada. I then remembered the weather prognosticators had said that viewing would likely be best at around four to five AM. I was frustrated, but not defeated. Anyhow, I needed to pee. So, I went back inside, tinkled, then hunkered down in bed and caught a few Z's. I actually managed to wake up a little before five. Groggy, and somewhat less eager, I nevertheless toddled back outside and retook my seat, adjusting it to enable a view more directly overhead and to the west as per those afore-mentioned instructions.

There I sat. By a little before six dawn was definitely creeping up on the eastern horizon. The western sky remained dark, but, once again, nothing. Not one goddamn meteor! What a crock! The next evening's weather segments included ardent testimonials of those who had spent a glorious night being dazzled by literally dozens – nay, hundreds – of fantastic streaking meteors, a veritable light show. What the hell?! Were they watching the same sky I was?

Well, I digress. It appeared that my experience this time round was destined to mirror that of a few years ago. But, after a hapless half hour or so, and having shifted my position a number of times, I suddenly caught sight of a white streak directly overhead. Yippee! Then, just a few seconds later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw another, then one more. Holy Comet Tails, Batman! I moved my chair out further from the house, sat down and leaned back. Over the next fifteen minutes or so, I was treated to about a dozen more fiery streaks through the night sky. None of them was particularly dramatic or unusually spectacular. But they did make me smile.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mixed Bag

July 1st was our 37th anniversary. On the same day Stephanie, one of my wife's nieces downed a few pills, slit her wrists and shuffled off this mortal coil lying on her bed. She was about 40 years old and the oldest child of one of my brothers in-law.

Her body was discovered by her 16 year old son. He called his dad and asked if he could come live with him. He was pretty sure his mom was dead because there was blood and she wouldn't wake up. He is a distrubed and disturbing child, but that's another story.

My wife, Jo and I went out to dinner that nite. What else was there for us to do? We celebrated our relationship which is ongoing and strong. We celebrated our love. We celebrated our kids. These observances allow us to pause and reflect on the ups and downs of our lives together over a good meal.

The obit for Stephanie, the now departed niece, was perhaps the briefest such notice I've ever seen. It stated her name, her age, the date of her death, and that services were pending.
Short shrift.

I knew little of Stephanie. I have known her since before Jo and I married. But in thinking back, I doubt that I have exchanged a hundred words with her in that time - mostly just "Hi. How are ya?" We rarely paused for the answer.

She and her husband had divorced a couple of years before. Her health had been bad as I now have been informed. She nearly died owing to complications in the birth of her 16 year old. She suffered from Lupus. She had a number of bad vertebrae which caused her significant pain. She had suffered at least three strokes. She had recently been informed of a spot on a breast. Shortly after her divorce she took to drinking heavily. She had a continually stormy relationship with her father. She was in a word, depressed. She was in a downward spiral into a black hole. With all that, her opting out seems almost inevitable.

Some are angry with her for committing the deed in such a way that it was almost certain that her son would be the one to discover her. That is unfortunate. Perhaps the "hole" was so black and so deep that she couldn't see beyond it.

Pointed fingers and recriminations are now being tossed back and forth between her father, her mother (the two divorced several years ago,) her ex, her siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. The bottom line is that everyone missed the signs, whatever they may have been. She tumbled away between the cracks.

What did her life count for? Consider the ongoing 24/7 coverage of Michael Jackson's death. Weigh the two. It's strange isn't it that two people, both born in Indiana, about a decade apart could have such disparate lives? Jackson's life and death will continue to be scrutinized for weeks to come. Stephanie got a line in the obit section. I suppose one could note that millions of people have lived and died without even that. Stephanie will receive the standard treatment - visitation Sunday evening at a well appointed neighborhood funeral home, a catholic mass and burial amongst other's in the family who have gone before. The family and her smattering of friends will take note of her loss. Prayers will be uttered. Some tears will be shed. That is in the end more than many will ever get.

My wife and I are now working on our 38th year.

Stephanie lived. Now she is gone.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Susan Boyle

I've got to write about Susan Boyle. I imagine that about everybody on the planet has heard about her by now and that at least half of the world's denizens have watched at least one of the gazillion YouTube videos of her performance on Brits Got Talent. If we're not all tired of hearing about her yet, I suppose many will be in short order. No matter.

I have watched her performance maybe a couple dozen times since I first heard of her on CNN's AC360 a couple of nights ago. I fell in love with Susan the moment she walked out on stage, but I must admit, I honestly did not expect what followed when she began singing. It was a moment. A moment to behold. Everybody in the theatre and those who were watching the program live on Brit TV were treated to something special. That totally unexpected moment of victory for the underdog.

It's not only that she nailed the song, that she made it her own, that she could well have been Fontyn for those 2 or 3 minutes. "The Moment" came in the wake of her opening phrase and the responses from the 3 judges and then the entire audience. It was that magic moment that few of us ever have the opportunity, the privilege, to witness.

Some complain that those who prejudged her simply from her looks - her heavily browed face, her rather frizzy hair, her weight, her age, her "cheekiness" - were despicable. And so they were. And so most of us were. That's often the way of it.

Nevertheless, a star was born. What next? It may be that she will not be able to live up to expectations now. How can she top that first moment? It is likely that she can't. She may well wind up winning the competition, but where she goes from there is anybody's guess. Ultimately, the glow may dim. She may, in the end be a hard sell. This sudden attention may tear her life apart. Fame has its really bad side as most of us know.

I truly hope not. I hope that someone will step in if need be to help her cope with the changes that have already begun in her life. I hope somebody kisses her.

I tear up every time I watch. I sing enough myself that I can relate to what she did, to what it takes to pull off that kind of performance.

Ms. Boyle, I'm pulling for you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you have more great moments that you can share with the rest of us. Thank you. It was a joy.

And, for your further listening enjoyment and more of Ms. Boyle's vocal acumen click on this.

Terry S.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hey, All You Honey Nut Clusters Fans!

I've noticed that a whole bunch of people have been stopping by having an apparent interest in the availability of General Mills "Honey Nut Clusters" cereal. As I've noted in two previous posts, I've had a difficult time finding 'Clusters' in local Indy stores. To date, I have found them only at a Safeway store on the north side of town. I have written emails to General Mills about 'Clusters.' This was about a year ago. At that time I was told that 'Clusters' was still being produced, but that a number of stores had opted to pull them in favor of other, apparently better selling cereals.

If you are having similar problems, but still have a hankering for a bowl of "Honey Nut Clusters" give General Mills a jingle, or send them an email. Let them know that you want your 'Clusters' back. Let's get a campaign going. Hey, it worked for the TV show "Jericho" - for a season, anyhow. Why not for 'Clusters?'

It also might help if you start a barrage of emails, calls, letters, sit-ins, or whatever at your local grocery stores. In Indy, the major super markets are Krogers, Marsh, Meijer and Wall Mart. None carry 'Clusters.' All did so at one time.

If any of you choose to take up the gauntlet, let me know; especially if you have any success. I'd love to hear from you.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hey Kids! What Day Is It?

Hey everybody! Have yourselves a really great Square Root Day - 3/3/09. They only come 9 times a century. Grab all the gusto!


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Filmdom's Old Blue Eyes - Paul Newman

I'm sitting here and watching the Oscars. They just went through all the folks in the film industry who shuffled off their mortal coils during the past year.

I still can't believe this guy is gone.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Are Homeowners Really the Bad Guys?

Yes, as it has been charged by many, various arms of the government did push mortgage lenders toward providing more people the opportunity to seek homeownership. However, many characterize it as "strong-arming" which is, in my opinion, misleading. It's difficult to envision the American banking system being "strong-armed" by anyone, even the Feds.

Mortgage lenders resisted until they discovered that they could make huge profits from such lending. It is the lenders who threw out all of the long standing protocols for processing and approving mortgage loans. It is they who dropped the ball in performing proper diligence in verifying borrower employment, income, credit standing, etc. It is the lenders who largely discarded appraisals, opting instead for "desk top" valuations and the use of AVMs or Automated Valuation Models which are often wildly inaccurate.

As to blaming the borrowers, while it's true that a few understood what was going on and took advantage of the situation to sate their greed, that is NOT true of most of the people who got caught up in this mess.

Most were and are young, expecting or at least hoping to be "upwardly mobile" and wanting to purchase a home - the supposed great American dream.


Hubby and Wifey test the waters only to find that their bank and/or some of the more traditional lenders to which they apply, deny them their quest. Something about a weak credit score. However, someone advises them to seek out a mortgage broker (the bane of our existence,) who can shop around for a lender who will, perhaps, approve their application.

The mortgage broker, Bobby Slick of 'We Saw Ya Comin Mortgage Services,' smiles broadly and invites them to have a seat. He takes their application, sometimes suggesting ways in which to "tweak" some numbers here and there. This may make the potential mortgagors a bit nervous, but Bobby just laughs it off, reassuring them that to do so presents no problem. He does it all the time. Keep in mind that nothing is said to these people about anything called "sub-prime" mortgages.

Bobby puts all of this "data" together, sends it off into cyberspace and then waits like a bluehaired grandmother playing nickel slots at a riverboat casino, until some lender bites. It's a rare occurance if not even one takes the bait. There are usually 3 or 4.

Bobby calls his marks, or, er his clients with the good news: Welendtoanybodywithapulse Mortgage is more than happy to take on their loan request. Woohoo!

Now a few days or weeks pass and periodically the broker contacts the clueless applicants with questions to answer, papers to sign, changes to make here and there - further "tweaks" to help grease the slide.

Our 'wannabe homeowners' are informed that with a convenient 'adjustable' mortgage having an up front low interest rate and consequent low payment, they can step into a lot more house than they originally believed. They don' gotta mess aroun' with that stinkin' 40 year old 1200 square foot, 3 bedroom ranch they been lookin at. Instead, they can go for the big enchilada, and get that glorious new, 2 story, 3000 square foot, 4 bedroom box in "Vinyl Village Estates" they were dreaming about. None of that "starter home" crap for them, by god!

Bobby may suggest to them that the mortgage payment will likely go up in a few years, but that shouldn't be a problem because they will no doubt be making a lot more money by that time as the buyer's "upward mobility" should be kicking in:

Bobby: "Am I right?"

H&W: "Uh, yeah, sure, we guess so."

Bobby: "Of course I'm right! Gotta keep the faith. You'll be king of the world by then!" Right? Right! You know I'm right!

Again, Hubby and Wifey are nervous about all this, and may ask a few questions, but further reassurances from 'The Slickster' and their own giddiness overcome all that. They are gonna grab the American dream by the goddamn throat!

Eventually, the processing gets done. The How Much Do You Need? appraisal company came in with a good figure. They've been approved! It's a go.

A few days later everybody involved in the transaction comes together to sit around a long table in some conference room at a title insurance company or some law firm and watch as these gullible folks sign their lives away. The new mortgagors are happy, a little squeamish, perhaps, but happy. But even happier are those walking out with big checks tucked securely in their wallets. Partay tonite!

Fast forward: Three or five or maybe seven years down the road our happy homeowners get the bad news. Their 4% mortgage has now crept up to 7% or 8% or more. They knew it was coming, but still. The reality is alarming. In the meantime, Hubby hasn't gotten quite the boost in income he had anticipated, and Wifey has not been working owing to the arrival of a couple of little critters. But they're struggling by. She gives piano lessons to a few kids each week, and he's been moonlighting at a convenience store. It's a little rough, but they'll get through it. It's only temporary.

Then, the shit hits the fan. Hubby gets his pink slip. His company has decided to "go in a different direction." His services are no longer required. "Here's a couple months severence. Clean out your desk NOW!!, have a nice life, and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out."

Ohmigod! Hubby looks up only to realize that about half or more of the houses in Vinyl Village are sitting empty because their former occupants got pretty much the same news in the weeks and months before his own comuppance. What the hell are they going to do?

Attempts to find another job paying anything similar to what Hubby had been making have been fruitless. He's even been turned down for lesser employment because he's "overqualified." Wifey has started cashiering part time at the local Giganto Mart while Hubby stays home and changes diapers and does the laundry.

The severance runs out all too soon and their income is only a quarter of what they need. They miss a mortgage payment or two because they don't really have enough to pay it, and they needed to pay the utility bills so they'd at least have some light and heat.

They avoid answering the phone. Caller ID informs them that the mortgage company is calling 8 or 10 times a day. Yesterday, their 2 year old Subaru Forester got repossessed. They are left with the rusting 14 year old Mercury Grand Marquis with the bad muffler and the electric windows that don't go up or down that they inherited from grandma's estate last year. It currently gets around 9 miles to the gallon and leaves a huge puddle of oil in the driveway, but, oh well. It's wheels.

Finally, these once proud, happy homeowners are informed that they have 24 hours to vacate the property before the county sheriff comes to evict them. They borrow Uncle Floyd's old pick-up and stuff it and the Grand Marquis hauling out what they can fit into them, leaving the rest. They are reduced to living in his father and mother's partly finished basement. Their American dream is history.

End of Scenario.

Were these people at fault for their own mess? In part, yes. They were not necessarily greedy, but more likely just naive. They wanted a home. They trustingly bought into the bullshit that Bobby Slick and perhaps the builder or a realtor fed them. Their desire to own a piece of the rock blinded them to the possibility that it could all blow up in their faces. Nevertheless, it did.

Commerce largely depends upon the naivete' of the buying public. When it comes down to it, the vast majority of products and services provided to the American market place are things we don't particularly need. Therefore, advertisers are burdened with the task of convincing us to the contrary.

Hubby and Wifey did not NEED to buy a home. They certainly did not NEED to purchase a 3000 square foot monolith for more than they could realistically afford. But, they were enticed into believing that they did in fact need it, and that given the prediction of a rosey future, they came to believe that they could afford it. They were wrong.

Those who lay the blame at the feet of people like my ficticious couple believe unswervingly in caveat emptor - let the buyer beware. Granted, we all need at least a modicum of such caution. But most of us don't assume that well established banks, lending institutions, realtors, etc. - the bulwark of our economy - should be equated with snake oil salesmen. When going after the American dream, we want to believe that the rose colored glasses through which we observe the world is not a distortion. Sadly, we often learn in our despair that the hue is not rose, but rather, simply the tarnish of lies and opportunism.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Just Another Day

I inspected this little bungalow yesterday during what turned out to be about a four inch snow fall. To many, 4 inches of snow is no big deal. It normally isn't here in Indy either.
However, this snow fell atop approximately 12 inches we had received a few days prior. Also, it fell in a relatively short time and during our morning rush hour. Visiblilty was bad. A 30+ car pile up on an interstate north of the city took 3 lives.
My problem was, in addition to driving the 20 or so miles from my home to this property, physically measuring around this nearly 6000 square foot monster. The land slopes away and down at the rear making the footing even more precarious. But, I did it. I did all the measuring, taking of photos without doing myself harm. I spent nearly an hour inside completing the floor plan, taking notes, photos, etc. Upon completing my work, I bid the homeowner fairwell, walked out the door, down the walkway. Approximately 6 feet from my car sitting in the driveway I stepped into a bit of snow only to discover that beneath was solid ice. I went down like a sack of potatoes. The full force of my fall centered on my right arm and shoulder. What a crock!
I'm not sure just what damage I did, but I cannot lift my arm more than an inch or two without considerable pain. I don't believe I broke any bones, or dislocated anything. I'm fairly certain that I tore some tendons, ligaments or even some muscle. Have I gone to a doctor? No. What could they do?
I keep telling myself that I am entering my "Golden Years." - My ass!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

This is a link to a very nice little story (just a couple of pages) that appears in the latest issue of the New York Times Magazine written by a friend of my son, Karen Russell. She is a writer living in NYC who has published one book of short stories and has a novel about ready to hit the market. She is one of my son's favorite people.

Read it, you'll like it.


Friday, January 30, 2009

"The Shack"

The photos here are of a small building measuring about 4'x6' resting in the back yard of the place where I grew up on the east side of Indianapolis. It's a fairly innocuous little structure, too small to really be useful as a workspace or for serious storage or much of anything else except for it's original intended use: a playhouse.

My father built it for me when I was about eight or nine-years-old. My childhood friends and I had spent a number of damp, itchy, nights in small, smelly canvas pup tents and had built a number of makeshift structures in our backyards out of whatever we could get our hands on including a hodgepodge of wood for framing, cardboard boxes, and even on occasion old scatter rugs, which really got funky when rained on.

I voiced my desire for some kind of a clubhouse or "fort" to my dad, who at first dismissed the idea. Undaunted, I drew up plans for what would have been, if built, larger than some of the neighborhood houses. I conceived a structure which would be large enough to house around four fold-down cots, at least a couple of chairs, a table, a cook stove, and a ladder leading up to what would have been a small cupola for a "lookout." Dad informed me I was nuts.

A week or so later I spied my Dad pulling into the garage one evening with the trunk of the car ajar, the lid tied down with sisal twine. Protruding out the rear were four or five wood pallets he brought from his business.

My father was a partner in a small printing company. Paper was delivered to them on wood pallets. These pallets had well made 'two by' frames and the tops were solid 1'x8' pine wood planks unlike most skeletal type rough hewn pallets one usually sees today. Over the next couple of weeks, Dad appeared with more of these pallets, odds and ends of wood, and other paraphernalia. Through it all, he remained mute regarding his intended use for all this stuff.

One Saturday morning I arose to the sound of hammering coming from the back yard. I threw on some clothes and sauntered out to see what was up. My dad had laid out two of the pallets now braced together with three 2x6s vertically affixed underneath. This was the base and floor of my "fort."

Over the course of the next several days — evenings after dad came home from work and a couple more weekends — what ultimately became known as "the shack" took shape. Other pallets were fashioned into the walls and roof.

Small as it is, dad included a lot of detail. The structure has a nicely gabled roof and there are several windows. At the front there is a small window built into the narrow door and a fairly large window to its right. Additionally, there are two smaller windows on either side and two at the rear. The six windows on the sides and rear were hinged and could be opened. They were all screened. They even had outwardly-angled sills to insure proper runoff of rainwater.

If you look closely, you'll see there are two small hatches, front and rear, near the apex of the roof, which could also be opened to encourage some airflow. These were also screened. Gotta keep those bugs out. The interior walls were never "finished" but the floor was ultimately covered with linoleum.

As I noted, my father partnered in a small offset printing firm. All of the exterior "siding" is actually old litho printing plates Dad brought from work and then tacked on over the roof and all of the exterior walls. These "plates" are approximately 3’x3’ aluminum and zink squares - the kind of thing you can shake to make "thunder" sounds with, and the mishandling of which can slice you up pretty good. The only exposed wood is the door and the window frames.

You may also note that there is now a rather large, gaping hole near the bottom of the door. Time, and perhaps some abuse, has apparently taken its toll. Other than this, though, the shack appears to be pretty much as I remember it. There may have been a couple coats of paint added, but the damn thing is still there and apparently in tact after some 50 years, more or less. (I'm a fairly old fart.)

At first I was rather dismayed at the downsized version of my planned "fort," or whatever it was that I had determined it would be called. But my neighborhood friends and I quickly took to it and made good use of it for a number of years. We had several campouts.

Owing to its spacial limits, no more than three of us could sleep in it at a time, but that was quite enough. Usually, it would just be me and one other pre-pubescent neighborhood goof ball.

Dad even ran an electric extension into the shack from the adjacent garage so as to provide some light. We would sometimes plug a radio into it as well and listen to Dick Summer's Summertime, an evening rock and roll program on WIBC radio.

This show came to us "live" from Merrill's High Decker, a local Indy drive-in hamburger joint on 38th St. across from the State Fair Grounds. Summer broadcast from a small glass booth atop the restaurant spinning his 45 rpm golden wax. I remember feeling betrayed when he left Indy and wound up having pretty much the same gig on WBZ in Boston.

During those campouts we would eat whatever passed for junk food in those days and play cards or games or various versions of grab ass as young boys are want to do. On one particularly hot summer night, Dad appeared out of the darkness with an ancient, small, black electric fan that he mounted inside at the highest point on the front wall over the door. It felt great.

At other times, we would variously use the shack when playing cowboys, army, cops and robbers, or whatever. During humid midsummer days it was usually far too hot to really spend any time in it despite having the windows and vents open and the fan going. It was best used during the evening and overnight. Needless to say, there was no heat.

Of course, as we got older, the shack fell out of favor. It ultimately came to be used as storage space for perhaps a bicycle, a lawn mower, a birdbath, and a lawn chair or two.

My father died in 1978. My mother lived on until 1999, dying at age 92. She sold the house and the shack along with it in the early 1990s. A young couple purchased it, the girl expecting their first child. Apparently they separated and divorced a couple of years later. She moved away and the guy stayed. He lived alone in the house for a few years, but then contracted some type of disease or condition that ultimately killed him - or so said a neighbor we occasionally heard from.
Afterward, the house sat empty for a year or more. For a while it was apparently owned by an investor who rented it out, but then, he (or she) too, lost it. It once again sat fallow for several months. Happily, the home is now occupied. I don't know if by the owner or more tenants.

There's no magical ending to this tale. I've sometimes thought of inquiring about purchasing the shack and moving it to my home, but the logistics have always seemed too daunting. I imagine the thing weighs a bloody ton. At any rate, I've never had the money to spend on such an indulgence, and I'm not really sure what I'd do with it. I doubt that I would have any campouts.

The view I had of it the other day when I drove by and took the pictures was not close enough to really discern its condition. Obviously, the door needs work and another coat of paint appears to be in order, but otherwise it does look pretty much the same. I do hope that over the intervening years, some other kids have had a few campouts eating junk food, playing cards, games, and grab ass.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Fresh Hell Is This?

Do you see that? -->
Is General Mills screwing with our minds?
On the left in the photo is the box we Honey Nut Clusters devotees have all come to know and love.
The box on the right?
Where's the bright blue, the sunny yellow? Where's the damn squirrel?
It's a new box. It's sensible. It's staid. It's "adult."
It's boring! How did they manage to juxtapose the words "Honey," "Nut" and "Clusters" with sensible, staid and adult? It is obviously an insidious plot to do away with our beloved morning munch. This is tantamount to a knife in the very heart of Honey Nut Clusters and those who live for that magic blend of bland, more or less tasteless multi-grain flakes and small globs of nut crumbs.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the one and only store I have found in Indy that still carries Clusters. I scanned the cereal aisle looking for the blue and yellow box with uh, "Clusty" - yeah, that's it, Clusty - Clusty the Squirrel, but alas. I looked left and right, up and down. No! No bright blue. No sunny yellow. No squirrel.
I started shuffling back toward the front of the store deflated, defeated and dejected. The last bastion of HNCs gone. But then, something caught my eye. In my peripheral vision on the bottom shelf I spied that magic word: Clusters! I turned only to see in sensible (but admittedly not unattractive) earth tone colors "Honey Nut Clusters!!" Yes!!! I lunged forward and grabbed one, then two boxes with spittal suddenly running down my grizzled chin. I looked about with fright and suspicion, ready to strike out at anyone getting too close. (Back! Back I say!) I made my way like a launched arrow to the check out nervously expecting a mob of other HNC crazies to attack in a mad frenzy over the check out ripping my two humble boxes of Clusters to shreds in their desparation. But no. I was handed my never to decompose plastic bag and briskly headed to the door, out into the parking lot and hot footed it to my car, constantly on the alert. Nervously fumbling with my keys, I finally made it into my old Buick unmolested. I immediately locked the doors and looked around seeing no one who appeared to be aware of me or my Clusters. Were they trying to put me off my guard? I wouldn't put it past them. We Clusters fanatics are a wiley bunch. Suddenly I glanced up into my rear view mirror believing I caught some movement in the back seat. I spun around only to see just the unmoving pile of coats, boots, shoes, gloves, hats and other crap I keep on hand in case of a dire emergency.
Before I started the car, I grabbed a towel out of the mess in the back to wipe the flop sweat off my brow, my face, my hands and my pits. I left the damp nether regions for a more private moment. Suffice it to say, I made it home without incident. I ate my Clusters with glee, but with the troubling fear that something is afoot.
What is General Mills up to? I'm telling you, it's a death knell. It's only a matter of time.

Friday, January 9, 2009


If you've got some time to kill and you like Pink Floyd settle back and watch "The Wall." Yeah, the whole thing!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

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