Thursday, December 24, 2009

Rudolph - The Rest of the Story

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Now, A.L. Williams and One Lane Bridge give you


(a new song by A.L., debut on 12.19.2009 at Music on KK in Milwaukee)

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

The song "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" was always very low on my Christmas hit parade. It was a big-band ditty that was always delivered with more than a hint of seedy sleaziness. A pick-up theme, delivered with a leer by a Sinatra-hardened bar-room tenor.

That has all changed now. This past weekend, I heard the song as if for the first time, at a concert in Milwaukee. It's delivered by Julie Alonzo-Calteaux, a mezzo-soprano who performs with local opera companies (and she also sang at my wedding). Accompanied by Bette Larson on piano, who used to travel with USO shows to entertain our servicemen. (and she played piano at my wedding, too). I thank them for allowing me to broadcast their performance.

Julie and Bette take the song to a whole new level, with a vulnerability that takes you back to a time when love was new. Enjoy!

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Brief apologies: Sorry for all the writer's block, holiday funk, misplaced priorities, building emergencies, outrageous timetables, etc. that kept me from posting since the beginning of December.

It's almost Christmas. Whether you're a believer or not, the Church has a tradition that they are presently only paying lip-service to - the season of Advent. Advent is an essential part of the holiday - the brief journey out alone into the middle of a snow-covered field of silence.

Away for a minute from all the door-buster sales, pre-holiday clearances, overindulgences, contrived and meaningless traditions, and frantic grasping at the appearance rather than the essence of the upcoming holiday. Away from all the selfishness, falseness, away from the bullying relatives, the commercialized churches, and the evil shopping centers, where even Santa Claus's time is bought and sold.

The holiday is Christmas, and if the word is taken back to its roots, it becomes a non-denominational necessity. Do you wish to maintain your sanity in this media-driven frenzy of a world? The word "Christmas" means "mas=coming, arrival" "Christ=the anointed, or chosen one". So, literally, it means "the arrival of the chosen one". You are the chosen one, (or Christ in you, if you insist, don't hammer me with doctrines, you don't know the answer, and neither do I). It's a homecoming after being away from - away from everything. Away from all the frozen-smiled head-bobbing falseness, away from all the noisy baby-boomers trying to force-feed you all of their childhood memories at once, as if buying things is going to bring back Rosebud for them. Clear it all out - get away - get out into the starry silent night - listen to - to the silence, to the absence of all the contrivance, breathe in the cold starry darkness, the crystal-clear absence of the noise, free of all the repetitious nonsense that is merely a noisy sales pitch that promises by appearance that which it can't possibly deliver.

Returning to the world that you must inevitably return to, after your personal Advent, you are transformed. You'll be fine, now. You are above the noise at a safe distance where you can make up your own mind. With cleared senses, you can now differentiate between the necessary truth and the false silliness. Your priorities return to their righteous order - love, peace and goodwill to all unconditionally.

Reclaim your Christmas, Discover your Chaunakkah light, Ramaden, Solstice, call it whatever you want - just DO IT! Time is running out. Advent by whatever name you call it is a dire necessity, if you are going to get anything out of this holiday. Else, content yourself with the crabby deafness that so many tragically mistake for the true holiday experience.

Peace on earth, goodwill to all.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

First Night on Board the MS Arlene

Pt.18 - Meet the Captain

Link to Pt.1 of this series

Meet Him, Greet Him, But Not a Word of English
And there was the captain, shaking hands with everyone — so glad to meet us all. Meanwhile Andre and another of the Captain’s henchmen, a guy with no lips that reminded me of the concierge back in Paris, handed out the glasses of champagne. We took a love-seat, to complete a circle around one of the small tables. There was a small plate of salty pastry shells on the table. We had some. We had some more. The group of ladies around the table were all talking — to each other — in German. I understood some, pretended to understand more, laughed at the right times, but could not engage them in conversation. They passed us the pastry plate — I said “Gerne”, and “Danke” but they knew we were not of their group, and respected our privacy whether we wanted them to or not. I wished one of them would talk to us, so I could impress them with my German.

We found out that the national makeup of the passenger list (about 150 people) as 70% German, 10% French, and 20% English. Two of the English passengers were Americans. We talked amongst ourselves, and the half-hour went fairly fast in people-watching. It didn’t seem to be the time to get up and mingle.

And Now Ve Vill Talk About Ze Tours
The announcements began. Our unofficial “cruise director” was a German lady named “Lisa-Beth”. She conducted the shore excursions at the ports, usually bus tours, and when she was on the ship and the ship was underway, she provided commentary over the PA system, always in English, German, and French, so you always got to listen to it in two foreign languages, as well as her heavily German English. Her shore excursions usually cost at least $30.00 per person, and we were to pay her directly, not to pay the ship — that ees ze arrangement. We came to refer to her as “Frau Helga”, the prison matron. Her authoritative manner seemed to go with the Sitzbank and mandatory Vivaldi cabin music combination.

Peter, Frank & Jack

At 8:30, we were invited to proceed to the dining room, for seating assignments and dinner. Tables were assigned by language, arbitrarily. Since we were some of the last ones to get down into the dining room, our table assignment was right at the bottom of the stairs leading to the dining room. We met our assigned table companions for the trip. Peter Finch is a retired engineer from Oxford. Frank is a retired lithographer from Bristol. Peter and Frank were companions since before grade school. They were constantly ribbing one another. There is a mental block, here. The more I try to remember actual dialog, the more it eludes me. Jack Mahoney, from Scotland rounded out the table. He is a retired professor of Ethics.

Now Fressen Sie!
The meals are always superb. Ultimate flavor, and picture-perfect presentation were always the order of the day. There were six servers, and they served the entire room more or less simultaneously. Servers were in their early twenties. I never learned any of their names, and they all waited on everybody, rather than having territorial tables. Some looked like waitresses. There was a Cambodian girl who always looked very happy. One was a walking embodiment of grace and beauty, more on her, later. The servers never engaged in conversation with the diners, but were always there whenever someone needed something.

Listening to Peter and Frank was like listening to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Peter always described things in minute detail and complete sentences, in a complete monotone. Frank, on the other hand, was full of exclamations and animations. Frank was married, but left his wife behind, because she didn’t like to travel. She encouraged him to take the trip with his companion Peter. Peter had lost his wife within the past year, and was adjusting to life on his own. He was also prone to some sort of arthritic inflammation, and was sometimes in great pain. When he was hurting, he sat more quietly with his head lowered. His arthritis bothered him particularly in the mornings.

Professor Jack was always eager to distract Peter into a private conversation about ancient civilazations. Our trip included many sites which Jack wanted to see, places that he had not yet seen, although he had travelled the world extensively. Tomorrow’s shore excursion, the Camargue was one of these places. When we indicated that we weren’t planning on taking the bus tour, he told us about the Coliseum at Arles, which sounded like something we wanted to see. That day, he had seen the Palace of the Popes in Avignon. We decided to try and see that the following day, when we returned to Avignon.

Back to Der Sitzbank - Gute Nacht
After dinner, we were still exhausted. Upon returning, we found that the room had cooled down some, and that we could cool it down even further, now, by opening the window. There was no insect problem with opening the window, so we left it open. In the distance the dark spectre of Spectacles was lit by only a few feeble lights coming from the upper deck. A cruise boat was navigating up and down the river. On the side of the boat, there were lights mounted of searchlight intensity. Apparently, night river tours have the capability of illuminating their own scenery as they go along. It was like a searchlight in our windows, but we were in bed anyway, and the boat was on the other side of the river. We slept like stones.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's a number I rehearsed for this year's Thanksgiving show (11/28/9). It's from the '30s.

Dedicated to good friends. They always seem to pop up just when you need them the most, offering a word of encouragement, and keeping you from taking yourself too seriously.

(hope this works - new vid ed software)

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pt.17 - Der Sitzbank und Spectacles

Link to Pt.1 of this series

Pt.17 - Der Sitzbank und Spectacles

I sat down on the bed, and started to read a brochure put out by the cruise line, about the cruise ship. I found that we were not fully utilizing all of the amenities in our stateroom. For example, there was a steel plate on the wall with a black four-position knob on it. By turning the knob, we were serenaded with either British short-wave broadcasts, or Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. With the strains of the string quartet shivering into “Winter”, it seemed a lot cooler in the room. And, I discovered that by huddling in the corner, right next to the air conditioner, it was just a little cooler than the rest of the room, which, in addition to the window radiation, was also radiating heat from the deck above.

We sat and read the book about our stateroom, which was written only in German. What we thought were merely narrow bunk beds were actually the latest high-tech device in comfortable accommodation. These amazing beds were referred to as “Sitzbanks” in the manual. They were not only narrow hard beds at night — by day they were very uncomfortable sofas. While sitting on the sitzbank contemplating the view of the river (our room was on the river side of the boat), our feet dangled off the sides of the sitzbank, not reaching the floor.

While we were reading, the Four Seasons reached its inevitable end, and, just like the real Four Seasons, the music started out again — from the beginning. Was this an all-Vivaldi channel? Still, it was the only music, and I hadn’t heard the Four Seasons in a while. I got up to further explore the room, perhaps to discover some amenity I had missed. I discovered that our bathroom had not been supplied with washcloths. So, I went to the desk again, and told Andre that there were no washcloths in our bathroom. He told me “There are none on board”, and, I could tell just from his tone of voice, that the matter was closed.

I returned to the room to further contemplate our fate. From out of our window, through the shimmering heat, I could see the Rhone river. It was just a wide river, not quite as wide as the Mississippi here at Avignon. To the front of the boat, there was a bridge crossing the river. I was once again thankful that we hadn’t had to take a side trip across the bridge to discover that our boat was on This side of the river. We just wouldn’t have made it.

Across the river, there was a black boat with white lettering on its side “Spectacles”. We would note later that, although there was activity on board the “Spectacles”, the ship never left the port. Examining it more closely, it looked kind of seedy and run-down. Maybe someone was just living there, and the ship never left its port. Joyce speculated that maybe they have a telephoto lens, and sell “surveillance” footage to porn distributors based on what they could see through the stateroom windows of visiting ships.

It was now nearing six o’clock, and nearing time for our “welcome cocktail with the captain”. This warm welcome would take place at 7:00 p.m., with dinner to follow in the dining room. We sat back on our Sitzbank, and looked forward to the experience of actually meeting a real ship captain, and then actually having him buy us a drink. Maybe we could ask to use his washcloth. . . Vivaldi kept flailing away, our third time through the Four Seasons. Still, we were where we were going to be for the next week, and that alone felt good. No more schlepping the baggage around for awhile. At the very worst, we could sleep all week, and it would feel good.

We had a drink of our own, to bolster our curage for our upcoming meeting with the Captain. I went down to the ice machine and got six more tiny cubes for Joyce’s martini, and I had some good lukewarm American Whiskey — Old Crow. By 7:00, we were dressed again, and ready to go. Andre told us that, no, the Captain’s reception wasn’t until 7:30. We went back to our room and stared back at Spectacles some more, all the while tapping our toes to the lilt of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

At 7:30, we headed for the Salon. Andre, once again struck with amnesia, asked us, if he could help us. We told him that we were there for the Captain’s reception. “That is at 8:00", Andre told us. Back to the cabin. We poured ourself another small drink, and had some more Vivaldi. I wondered if the Four Seasons would be playing when we got back later. It would be.

At 8:00, they finally decided to greet the new passengers. We entered the salon, a pleasantly furnished room with groups of living-room chairs arranged around small coffee tables. A bar was at one end, a dance floor in the center, with a piano against one wall near the dance floor. At last, we’ll be able to hear some real French Jazz, from the country that gave us the Hot Club. Entertainment was piped over the house PA system, light classical music. Joyce broke into a sweat from Vivaldi-deprivation. I hummed some in her ear to snap her out of it.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bach No More - God's I-Pod Part 2

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Grade School - I was the little fat kid who played the hymns on the piano for the class to sing. Most of the elementary teachers couldn't play piano worth a dam, one finger with lots of mistakes was typical - they were all too glad to have me in their class. I could sight-read those suckers. For morning devotions, and right after lunch, I'd have to pick out a hymn - there were 660 of them in the Lutheran Hymnal to choose from. I'd write it on the chalk board, and walk over to the piano to lead the hymn.

In a past post, I've told you about the "Bringing In the Sheaves" incident - how Pastor Kay took me in his office and told me that God didn't like that sort of thing - He preferred the hymns in the Lutheran book, and things written by Bach and Buxtehude. I kind of liked the strong march tempo for a recessional - getting everyone out of the church as fast and efficiently as possible. But Pastor Kay assured me that any organist who liked his position would play something that God liked.

But then as we got into High School in those '60s, God had a change of heart. For awhile, I continued to lead the hymns for the teenage Youth League gatherings, until one fateful day. Somehow, in a way I to this day do not understand, God descends to the level of a stoned hippie. The Synod required the pastors to attend retreats focusing on How To Reach Our Youth - as if The Youth were some foreign species. Prayers have to be crude, halting, self-indulgent. The Service, re-done for Youth, is stripped of all elements of tradition, the chants, responses, hymns -- all scrapped. Rows of chairs? Too straight for God. Let's arrange them in a circle - now we've got God surrounded! Or, let's just dispense with chairs altogether- what the hell, let's sit on the floor. And of course, of the 660 hymns we had all practiced all our lives - none of them is appropriate for Youth Worship.

And, the music! Oy, how God has changed his mind about His musical tastes. Now music must only have two chords, and one of them has to be E minor. Acceptable instrumentation is a badly-played guitar -- that open-string E minor is still whanging in the back of my head whenever I think of Youth Music. No more joy. No more praising God in a major key with an ever-changing palette of chords and intricate harmonies. It's all Kum Ba Ya from here on out. Now we're singing Negro Spirituals, calling on the Lord as we did back when we worked in the cotton fields. (ironically, at the same time, blacks had moved on to Gospel music based on the more traditional hymn forms.)

Well, in the end, I was Kum Ba Ya'd out of a piano playing job. After many discussions with the minister, and failed attempts to indoctrinate me, I was left as an incurable curmudgeon at the age of 17, which I remain to this day.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pt.16 Arrival at the M.S. Arlene

Pt.16 Arrival at the MS Arlene

Link to Pt.1 of this series

A Familiar Theme - Death March of the Luggage
We were both kind of numb from dragging our suitcases across a gravel expanse in the hot sun, and then dodging four lanes of near-freeway traffic. to cross the road, and then balancing the luggage between the highway and a ditch on a narrow strip of grass..

There. The boat was in sight - Our boat was named the "Cezanne", right? No, it was the "MS Arlene" Oops. There’s another boat further down the road. Let’s go there. Down through gravel and grass, along the side of the road. A deep ditch separates the river from the highway. The next boat down the river was the MS Arlene, but we were still on the other side of the ditch. A rickety ramp crossed the ditch. We hopped the baggage across this, and up the ten-foot hill.

A Mirage - or just a Bad Dream?
The MS Arlene was there, just like the picture — looks like a floating barracks, white sides, two rows of windows, and a rail on the top deck. Nothing impressive on the outside. A man in a suit introduced himself — Andre? He came out to help us in with our baggage. We had boarded the MS Arlene. Nothing to do now, but get waited on hand and foot in the air-conditioned splendor of our luxurious stateroom.

We were in the lobby of the MS Arlene, It was cool, air conditioned, clean. It was like a motel lobby, with a reception desk, a tan marble floor. We presented our boarding papers, and Andre showed us to our stateroom. It was a hot, very small room. The orange curtains were open, letting the sun in. A picture window about four feet long and three feet wide let in the afternoon sun, which we could feel radiating without regard for the air conditioner, which, even turned to its maximum setting emitted a barely detectable disturbance to the air directly in front of the vent. The vent was cool, but none of that coolness was allowed to work its way into the room. As expected, there were two small single beds. One was permanently mounted into the wall on one side of the room. On the other side of the room, other was presently locked upright. A set of cabinets. During the day, the first bed surved as a sofa, with movable bolster cushions against the wall, and an orange furniture cover placed over the entire bed.

Ha Ha Monseur, Ou e la Frommage?
When we opened both of our suitcases, there was no room to walk. The room was equipped with a small desk, an even smaller closet, with fixed hangers. There was a set of cabinets above the movable bed. A bathroom held a small shower stall with sliding doors, a small sink, and a toilet.
A notice posted in the bathroom informed us in French, English,and German about how expensive towel service was, and if we really didn’t need to change our towels every day, we could leave them on the towel bars to dry out, but if we wanted new towels, we were to leave them on the bathroom floor.

Unlimited Ice!
While we unpacked, I asked Andre at the desk if there were any ice available, as the tap water was quite tepid. He showed me an ice machine at the end of the hall. I took our two glasses to the machine, opened it up, expecting to fill them both and take them back to the room. The entire inventory of the ice machine was four cubes floating in about ½” of water. I took all four of them, and returned to the room. I gave Joyce the four cubes, and drank my water warm. I figured there were enough things going wrong, what with the hanger situation being what it was and all. There would be no room for whining about ice.

We continued to unpack. I went back to the desk, and asked Andre about getting a few more hangers. He said that some would be brought to the room. I managed with two hangers, folding the rest of my clothes to fit in the cabinet. Joyce got the remainder of the hangers, the floor of the closet, the desk drawers, and the other cabinet for her clothes. Joyce began to pine for the comfort of the Nikko.

What more could possibly go wrong?
So, we were in a foreign country in a small hot room, no hope of getting out until the end of the week. We speculated — maybe the meals, the fantastic French cooking, would compensate for all the momentary discomfort, and the lounge would feature a spectacular floor show every night, perhaps even better than the Gil Seville show on the Dolphin cruise ship the year before. (Please see the writeup of the New York Cruise of 1997 which I didn’t write last year) The hangers arrived. Joyce was finishing her unpacking.

What could possibly go wrong? heh heh hehThanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thanksgiving Thoughts - Corn Shocks and Thanksgiving Hymns

I grew up in Watertown, Wisconsin. It was a healthy and growing community. When I was a kid, the north end of town, where I lived, was still emerging from farming to residential. I remember up on Spaulding Street, there was an entire city block owned by Walter Griep, and there he grew corn. He had a farm further out, but that was by God his corn field and he was going to by God grow his corn there. Each fall, he would stack up his corn stalks into shocks, arranged in rows. Over the years, this became an increasingly precious link to our heritage and our community's past. I have my mother to thank for pointing out the wonder in things around us - she always pointed out those corn shocks as we drove past. Sometime in the early '70s, Walter died, and the corn shocks were no more. I always think of those corn shocks this time of year.

Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. We got off of school, we celebrated the day with family and friends - eating to oblivion and then going out visiting one another. And the Thanksgiving hymns - I loved singing those - "Come Ye Thankful People" "We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing", "Now Thank We All Our God", and so many others.

The teachers always encouraged us to sing loudly, even when we sat with our parents in church.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Extra-Curricular Pep Talk

When I was in high school, I didn't join many extra-curricular school activities - that was for people who didn't have anything better to do with their time. I was busy. I had my after-school job at Woolworth's, and worked with a church group, and the church library. Every night I did homework, piano practice. I was building (mostly taking apart) radios in the basement, and then there were the tape recorders....

My mother loved to recall her high school days (back in the good old days before us kids, when life was great). In high school was very "outgoing". She had "gone out" for nearly everything she could possibly join - cheerleading, chorus, drama, and still had a part-time job at Bremser's grocery store. At her funeral, I met so many people who had known her, based on organizations she had joined in high school.

Well, one day my mother took me aside to have a talk with me about my "sedate" lifestyle.

"You know, you're old enough, now. If you wanted to - once in awhile - just 'go out', you don't always have to tell us exactly where you're going." (Was that a little twinkle in her eye?) "Just be home in time to get some sleep. You should have some fun, how can you know exactly where you're going to go when you're out with your friends? You're old enough to take care of yourself." Bless her, I wasn't being 'devilish' enough for her!

I somewhat made up for that excess tranquility in college and afterwards, but I'll always remember that talk with her.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pt.15 Avignon - Ou e La River Boat?

Pt.15 - Newly Arrived in Avignon - Heading for the River Boat

Link to Pt.1 of this series

You think asking for directions will help? HAHAHAHA!
We reached Avignon station. The train disembarked on the left side, and we got our bags off, and then the next challenge would be getting out of there. The station “sortie” was above us. We shared a very narrow elevator with an Englishman and our baggage. Emerging into the exit area, I waited with the bags, because Joyce wanted to get directions to the center of town, to the tourist bureau, and to the river port where our ship would be waiting. She returned, pointed toward town, and we headed that way. An ancient building had a sign having the word “tourisme” in it, and it was closed because today was Saturday, and they were only open until noon. We went on, looking for alternatives, and Joyce didn’t think that the old building matched the directions she had gotten at the train station. She was right. We hadn’t gone far enough to reach the real tourism office. We rolled our suitcases into a large area looking like a town square, but half the area was taken up by a parking lot. On the opposite side of the square was a large building with numerous storefronts. The tourist office was supposed to be on the right-hand side. Not wanting to take all of the suitcases down and back again, Joyce stayed with the luggage, and I went down the side of the building. It was like a strip mall, most of the stores were closed. At the end of the strip was a sex shop, which looked open. I didn’t check.

We find the Tourisme in spite of the directions
Returning, we let Joyce try her hand at “hide the tourisme”, and she came upon the office, in a large building that looked like a bank. She went in, while I stayed outside with the bags. We were in Avignon. It was a busy village. Across the street was a large open outdoor cafe. European disco music was coming from the cafe, and the occupants were having a boisterous good time. Down the street, I could see other stores, a building that said “Monoprix” on a sign hanging from the second floor. We never got to explore that one.

Highlighter! Now we know where we're going!
Joyce emerged with a map, with our proposed route to the ship outlined with a highlighter. Joyce is against maps, because, who can read them. But with pink highlighter on it, a map is ok, as long as the directions are spelled out in terms of going right and left, instead of north and south. Following her directions, we decided to walk the six blocks, rather than take a taxi or bus. She really would have liked to take the bus, but I just wasn’t up for the adventure. Well, well, we soon learn, that adventures are not optional things — you would have them when the time came. There was no choice.

SSDD - Jolly Times in Avignon!
The sidewalks began to narrow, and the pavement to get rougher. All sidewalks started to go uphill. There are relatively few streets in Avignon, compared to Paris, but it still seemed like we were lost when we got to the Rue Victor Hugo. It seemed like we had gone too far — we turned back a few times, and re-traced our steps. Then we asked someone at a sidewalk cafe for directions, and found that we were within sight of the river port. We were still a long way off. The city is walled, and to get to the river, one had to go through a gate.

Jay Walking on the Freeway

Once through the gate, there is an almost-freeway between you and the river, with only one crossing. We didn’t find the crossing. We dragged the suitcases through a gravel parking lot, causing the wheels to seize up. We pulled like oxen, got to the road. Since there was no marked crossing in sight, we took our chances at some dangerous jay-walking. First one lane, then along the median until crossing and we’ll be at that boat that looked like the one in the picture.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gondi and the Chicken Suit - A Tale of Evil and Retribution

Once Upon a Time, shortly after the end of the reign of the Wicked Felina, Gondi came into our lives. He was just a kitten, and Little Fatso took him under her wing and nurtured him, teaching him everything he needed to know, on a need-to-know basis.

But, soon, Gondi became a vain and arrogant bully, and he turned on Little Fatso, terrorizing her every chance he got. He would steal the spots she had warmed up for himself, he would jump on her when she was napping, and he wouldn't let her at the food dish until he had finished eating.

He grew into a fat and useless little tyrant, and led a life of hedonistic self-indulgence.

Fatso grew old and withered away. Then, along came Syd, who found that he was expected to do all the cat work in the entire household. He had to move all the rubber bands, lick all the cardboard boxes, and hide things from the desk all by himself, with no help from Gondi.

Then, one day, there was a Halloween Sale at Target. Joyce found a cute little chicken hat. How humiliating for a cat to have to wear a chicken hat. Syd did not care for it. "What shall we do? Syd will not wear the chicken hat!" Then it occurred to us -- why not try it on that useless cat that just lies around all day, anyway? What a great idea! And so, Gondi got to wear the chicken hat for the holiday picture.That night, a terrible thing happened to the paper roll in the bathroom.

Who has fashioned our lovely white tissue roll into a useless shredded piano roll? The cats were both certain that they had not seen who committed this heinous act.

Now, where is that shipping tape?

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pt.14 Passage to Avignon

Pt.14 - Passage to Avignon - this adventures starts here.

At this point in the narrative, a train is hurtling from Paris to Avignon with Our Heroes (Gary & Joyce) barely aboard.

Through the Metal Door, There Lies...
At the front of the car, was an aluminum door which slid to one side, to admit people between cars. Combined with the silence of the passengers, being separated from Joyce, the hot, stifling air, the foul odor of decaying bodies, and the general sullenness of the backpackers, the opening of that door seemed sinister. Usually it was other passengers, coming through the door, but now and then an official in a uniform would come through. Somehow, it made me feel guilty, as if I would be discovered and detained. It was movie-like. The passengers would come through the door, stink their way down to the end of the car, where I sat, walk into the baggage area, discover that this was the last car, then they would walk back down the narrow aisle and exit back to the car before ours. I think they were looking for the bathroom. It gave me some satisfaction to see the jaded know-it-alls not finding their damn bathroom, because they had been ‘way too “cool” to ask a conductor for directions.

I got up and walked back to the stairway area. Now that there was time to look around, I saw that each car has a luggage compartment, which consisted of large shelves, where the passengers could store their suitcases. I stored one of ours, there was no room for the other, so I left it in the hallway— there were others there, including the damn green backpack sprawled over half of the usable area. Returning to my seat, I retreated into my book, Kinky Friedman’s “Elvis, Jesus, & Coca-Cola.” The author’s way of making you feel paranoia, sadness, and humor at the same time was very appropriate for my present surroundings.

Lunch Time for the Gray Suit
About a half-hour into the trip, the businessman next to me got up, I let him into the aisle. He went into the baggage compartment, folded down a seat next to the door, opened his briefcase, pulled out a sandwich and an apple, and ate lunch. This was an experienced traveler. I decided to make my way up to Joyce’s seat, to see how she was doing. I hoped that the authorities wouldn’t question what I was doing. She was enjoying herself, almost communicating with her seat-mates. At her end of the car, the seats faced the opposite direction. She had been trying to signal to me, but I hadn’t been looking for any signals of hope. I returned to my seat. She walked up to my end of the car about half an hour later. I showed her to my “livingroom” in the doorway/luggage room. She was wondering about lunch, and wasn’t I hungry. No, even dehydrated I didn’t feel safe about eating when I didn’t know where my next bathroom would be.

France at 80 MPH - That's 128 Kilometers, Monseur
We opened my carry-on, and got out one of my beignets that I still hadn’t eaten from this morning, seemed like a year ago. She had a beignet, and some water, and a peach. We watched the countryside go by for awhile. The land was getting more hilly, and occasionally, the train took tunnels through hills. The cruising speed of the train was in excess of 80 miles per hour. The track at times ran parallel to freeways, and we were passing cars by exceeding their speed by at least 30 mph. This train, too was located next to a track which carried trains in the opposite direction. When the trains passed, now the combined speed was almost 200 mph, and it seemed like the vacuum between the trains would suck them together. The weather was getting more sunny.

We passed through small towns without stopping. The buildings were usually two-or three story brick structures, at least near the railroad. We saw occasional subdivisions with more modern subdivision-looking houses.

The French Countryside - Are We in Illinois Yet?
One distinctive feature of many of the buildings was that they had awnings drawn over well over 90% of the windows. We would find this to be quite common in France — they have windows, but they cover them. Perhaps it was just because of the hot weather, that an un-airconditioned building stayed cooler if the awnings were closed.

Rural areas had some very inferior-looking cows, usually white, and they looked kind of anemic. They would never be furnishing any satisfactory milk or meat, at least by American standards. The area we were traveling through now was definitely very mountainous, tunnels became more frequent. Then, suddenly the mountains stopped. The land assumed a flat farmland-type of contour typical of Wisconsin and Illinois. We returned to our assigned seats for the rest of the trip.

Don't Throw Me Off the Train, Monseur - It is Traveling So Fast!
The conductor came by to punch our tickets. I don’t know how Joyce got by without a ticket; I never asked her. I knew there would be trouble. He looked at my ticket, then he said something to me in French. I gave him everything else, showing him the ticket for the train we had missed, pointing from one to the other, hoping he would get the idea.

“You didn’t get these tickets z;xckvj” I made him repeat what he wanted, knowing full well I wouldn’t understand him the second time either. Then, miraculously, he went on to the next passenger. I don’t know the magnitude of the grace I had just been extended. Maybe he saw something in my tickets that he was looking for.

Shortly after that, about two and a half hours into the trip, the train began to slow down. It traveled at a reduced speed for at least twenty minutes. Joyce and I huddled in the baggage compartment, ready to disembark, and get our suitcases off the train, just in case they tried to pull a “metro” on us and drive off with a train full of our baggage. For almost ten minutes, we traveled through what looked like train platforms. It looked like we were there long before we actually were. The train slowed even further. Other passengers were getting ready to jump off as soon as the train landed. There were doors on either side of the train, and we didn’t know whether the station would be on the port or starboard side of the train. If the station was to the left, Joyce’s suitcase would be blocking the exit, in which case, we’d be ready to hop hers off, and then to get mine off the rack and off the train instantly, so as not to impede others from getting off. I wanted so much not to be an Ugly American, but they always seemed to do their best to make us feel that we were.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pt.13 Getting on the Train to Avignon

Pt.13 - Getting on the Train is Half the Trip

Pardon Moi Monseur, Zees is Not Ze Chattanooga Choo Choo
Trains have assigned departure tracks — like the Metro, if you get on the right track, in the right direction, you’ll get where your ticket says. I returned to Joyce, with 10 minutes to get to our track. There were at least 20 tracks at Gare de Lyon, so it was going to be a search. I honestly don’t remember how we got to the track — we must have automatically followed escalators, conveyors, and stairways to get to the right track. Once out on the platform, our train was already boarding. The cars were numbered. The number series of the cars, as we ran past them didn’t seem to match.

Right Track, Yes, But....
Finally, we found our car, #8, and got on. I showed the ticket to a conductor, and asked him where we take our baggage. Less than four minutes to departure. He said, in English “you are on the wrong train.” “But this is track #8" “Yes, but the other train— ” He pointed way back down the track to where we had first entered the platform. It looked very far away. With two minutes to departure, I wondered, how could this be possible? Then I saw it. When the trains park at the track, they park end-to-end, without any space between them. The next train looked exactly like the one we had just been kicked off of, and it looked like a continuation of it.

We found the new car #8. As we got into the boarding stairway, I asked the conductor where the baggage goes. He said something to the effect of “as long as it’s inside the train...” The train began to move. We found Joyce’s seat. Then I found mine — on the other end of the car, and just crashed down into it.

French Air Conditioning - Can't Say Enough About It
It was about 90 degrees outside, and just slightly hotter inside, with that famous French air conditioning. I had been traveling at nearly a dead run with one to two hundred pounds of baggage, had tumbled it up the stairway into the aisle of the little stairway room at the end of the car. I was once again drenched in sweat. My suitcoat was soaking through in places. My shirt was clinging to me— I could have wrung it out. My tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. I was out of breath. I was separated from Joyce — Lord knows what she was going through. Well, at least she was in the right seat.

I sat there in a soggy heap, just appreciating being able to breathe without carrying all of that luggage. My carry-on bag had a bottle of water that I had brought from the hotel. Although it was no longer cold, I unscrewed the cap, and drank some. I did this more than once in the next fifteen minutes, just a little at a time, so my body could absorb it.

Rollin Out of Town - What Smells like France in Here?
The train was moving very slowly through an industrial section of Paris. Everything looked foreign. Next to me, there sat a small gray-haired man in a charcoal business suit. He was busy with his newspaper, and since I knew such an embarrasingly little amount of French, I let well enough alone. There was nobody I wanted to talk to. Looking at the rest of the car, it was the scraggly backpacker multiplied to infinity. One of them kept walking past me, jabbing his carry-on backpack into everyone’s face. He would head for the end of the car, and fool with his “luggage”, a bigger green backpack, that took up half of the hallway. Then he’d slink back to his seat. He was a fetid walking armpit. Surely, in all of Europe, there was a basin of water for this poor little Eurotrash wannabe.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Life of the World-Famous Painter

I needed to use my workbench this morning for wrapping an ebay package. Over the past few weeks, I had been accumulating the empty paint cans from the various projects. The city requires that the empty cans be dried out before they can be collected. There were nine cans emptied. I knew that i'd been doing a lot of painting lately, but didn't realilze exactly how much. Not boring, though - just look at the variety! There was primer, interior and exterior, oil paint that "matured" while i wasn't looking, exterior stain for the back railings, red enamel for the back stairs, deck paint for the basement of the rental, exterior "poop brown" for "enhancing" the grafitti on the brown building.
Now, USPS will be able to find us again. "Bring packages to the back of the building, top of red stairs". Yay! they're RED again!

the gray wall behind the lamp is one coat of Zinsser primer and two coats of S-W ProMar 200 semi-gloss. The new commercial tenant put up a wall around the stairway, and didn't need the iron railing, so suddenly I have 150 lbs of iron railing to store. Mrs. didn't have any suggestions, so I propped the sucker up and put it right in the front of her stage. I believe it enhances the performance space. I believe this very strongly. Because I don't have another place to keep it.

And there are still the raccoons. Hope I can get a good photo of them before I make their lives miserable by locking them out of my (their?) basement. I am in the process of methodically clearing out an undeveloped space full of soggy scrap lumber and other smelly stuff. Trying to stay under the city's "special pickup" radar on this project, so I just do a little each week. It's a dank and dark space, and somewhere within there are at least two raccoons living and stinking. Soon, the last of the lumber will be removed, and there will be nothing down there but raccoons. I've seen them entering through the hole in the stairway wall. They're bigger than Syd the cat, and I've heard they can be quite vicious if they perceive themselves to be cornered. I saw them up close the other day. They were just coming in from forage. Porky little things with fluffy-looking sleek coats and fluffy striped tails. Completely typical raccoon-looking with the dark band over their eyes. I can't stop up the vent hole until i'm sure there's nobody inside - it's the only way in.

And that's the news from the Janitor's Log for this week!

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pt.12 Masters of LaMetro, Joyless Jetset, Missing the Train

This is a story of our only trip to France. If you'd like to follow the exciting adventure from the beginning follow this link to PART ONE

Pt.12 - Masters of LaMetro, Joyless Jetset, Missing the Train

Day 4 — Saturday, August 22

Leaving our Beloved Concierge
We woke, I ordered hot water again, snuck the attendant another tip — 5 francs. Today we were leaving Paris. We looked at the over breakfast from the 27th floor. It was humid and hazy today. But, for some reason, I didn’t feel the need to eat anything. That dam fruit juice. It was so good, though. Probably did me good in the long run. By the end of today, we would be on the other side of France, boarding the Rhone river cruise boat.

We finished our packing with the suitcases we had not stored. This time, we had one overnight bag, Joyce’s suitcase, and mine, both with wheels. I put the extra bag on top of my suitcase, and wheeled the stack. We left with an hour to get to the train station. The train station Gare de Lyon is connected to the Gare de Lyon Metro station. We headed out, checked our key cards in at the desk, and wheeled our suitcases out into the street. We headed down the now-familiar route to the Charles Michel metro stop, and went down the stairs. We had a routine for whenever we encountered stairs instead of escalators: Joyce took the carry-on bag, and I grabbed the wheel units by their handles, and carried them up or down the stairs, and then, setting them upright, and re-engaging the push handles, we resumed our way.
Epiphany in La Metro
We bought tickets, told the clerk where we had to go. I asked the ticket clerk to confirm my planned route, because I was not sure, and with the train departure time less than an hour away, we could not afford any mis-steps. The clerk began to write something on a blue pad. Joyce, getting frantic, and thinking that he was selling us more tickets, said that we already had tickets, and we didn’t need any more. He looked at her, but kept on writing. She shook her head, saying, no, we already have tickets — finally heading for the turnstyles, urging me to do the same. Still, I hesitated. This guy was trying to help me. He saw what was going on, and began writing even more furiously on his blue pad. Just as I was about to bound out — the other choice being to figure out where Joyce had headed once she got through the turnstyles by herself.

The clerk handed me a form — a list. This little blue piece of paper turned out to be the most important paper of my whole vacation — the Metro Rosetta Stone. In five languages, there were instructions of which trains to take, with blanks left for the clerk to write in the trains and destinations. As if the clouds suddenly opened up, and the sun shone through — I came to the sudden realization that I had mastered the Metro. All the missing pieces of information fell into place. “De La Station” — from the station — here “Charles Michels” is filled in with a rubber stamp. That’s where we’re starting. Next step — the train. No choice here — there’s only one train at Charles Michels. But which way? There were two set of tracks. The next step on the Rosetta Stone — “Prenez la direction” Voila! The direction! Train directions are named after the last stop on the route. So, now when faced with the yellow 10— Boulogne or the yellow 10 — Austerlitz, I look at the blue page, and “prenez la direction” has the handwritten “Austerlitz”. We boarded, with confidence a yellow 10 train labelled “Austerlitz”. Because Gare Austerlitz is the last stop on the route. So, we’re going to Gare de Lyon— where do we transfer? The next line on the blue paper — “Changez a” — transfer at — he wrote “La Motte Picquet”. We checked the sign over the train door — we were headed in the right direction! At La Motte Picquet, we got out and transferred to “prenez la direction” “Creteil”. So, knowing that this list could be trusted, we did not board the purple “8" train that said “Balarde” because that was the wrong direction. We took “Creteil”, to “Concorde”, and followed the signs to the yellow number One train “Chateau de Vincennes”. I was not believing how well we were doing.

We heard an accordion getting closer in one of the long, endless tunnels leading to the yellow number one. The accordioniste was standing up against a wall, and was playing Strauss waltzes, and La Vie en Rose, his case open for tips. Joyce turned on her tape recorder, and wrapped it up in her throw. To quote the tape, “He wouldn’t even know I’m recording him.” I followed behind, with my suitcase, and stopped briefly to listen. From now on, only good things would happen to us. I threw a tip into his case — a 10-franc piece — Joyce would never know, until she asked me. There’s always music. The music coming at this point in the trip — the first music I had heard in all of Paris — it almost seemed staged. It was the second-best thing that had happened to date, next to the blue rosetta stone, which I kept in my sweaty suitcoat pocket.
How to Miss The Train
I always wore my suitcoat when we were moving camp, because of all the pockets. My billfold in one inside pocket, and, in the other — all the tickets, plane, train, and boat. My sunglasses in the lower pocket, because of the changing climate. It was hot, but it kept me organized.
We continued to the “Chateau de Vincennes” yellow one train at the Concorde station. Our next stop would be “sortez a” Gare de Lyon — exit at Gare de Lyon. Voila! You’re there. Well, voila we were there, all right, but we had about two minutes until the train was scheduled to depart for Lyon.

We went through a hallway which pointed to “the trains” — it was a long way — there were tunnels, conveyor sidewalks, and escalators — we emerged in what looked — and smelled — like a Greyhound station: the Eurail depot. It was past departure time. There were instructions for taking the train printed on the inside cover of the ticket book. “Arrive ½ hour before departure time” Well, I guess we didn’t do that one very well. “Find your train number and departure on the electronic board, to find out which gate your train will be departing from” We saw it briefly on the board — the train had already departed. The next time we looked at the board, the train was not even listed. The board had gone on to other things.

Homeless in Hell

So, I broke the news to Joyce. She always went into a trance-like state of shock when we were traveling the trains— if she just did as she was told, she would eventually arrive, she didn’t want to interfere, or get blamed for wrong choices. We wandered around aimlessly for awhile, deciding we’d have to do something that wasn’t on the schedule to get out of this giant, hot, sweating Greyhound station. There was no information booth in sight. With time at a premium — just maybe this one train was delayed, and we could get on . . . the closest thing I could find was the ticket booth.

A Smelly and Joyless Waste of Humanity
There were three booths, fed by a single line, the one in front of the line going to the next available window. Everyone in the line seemed sullen and humorless. This was going to be a revolting experience. Music, or rather, an insistent electronic drum beat, a slow repetitive cadence at about two beats per second, was coming from a huge olive-green backpack lying on the floor next to an olive-green-clad student-age boy with a scraggly red goatee. I hated him most of all. He was sullen, smelly, and indifferent.

Travellers with backpacks always seem to radiate an aura of indifferent superiority. The jaded attitude of a traveler, who, while he has not seen it all, has, at least seen more than you could ever possibly see, and has gotten no joy from it. Some jet-setter brat rebelling against his family. Someone who has scratched fleas off of his body at a youth hostel. Someone who has contracted a social disease from another jaded jet-setter “just backpacking across Europe”. Instead of being contented and carefree, they are jaded and indifferent. They pursue pleasure with a plodding sullenness, and devour it without any appreciation. What a waste.

Shoulda Learned French Words from the "Missing La Train" Chapter!
If that wasn’t enough to drive me ever deeper into hopeless despair, it was now about 10 minutes past the departure of our train, and one of the window signs, a digital red display over each window, which had read “billets” now read “ferme”. From “tickets” to “closed”. So now the line would move even slower. Finally, after endless announcements from the hollow overhead speaker, that, even if I could understand French I would not have been able to hear clearly. When your train has taken off, you imagine that all the announcements are about the departure of your train.

Now, I was at the front of the line, almost twenty minutes after my train’s departure. I had no idea how to convey my plight to the clerk, who spoke no English at all. I just pushed the ticket under the bulletproof glass of his cage, pointing to the departure time and shrugging my shoulders. He studied the ticket and asked me if I could make the 12:05. It was 11:55. I said I could, and he went to work fixing another ticket to replace the old one, at no charge.

With 10 minutes to go, how can we possibly find the right train, and get on it before departure? Or are we still there 10 years later? We'll find out next time..... HAHA it's a serial!

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pt.11 - Return from Montmartre - Photo Op at the T'ing

Pt.11 - Return from Montmartre - Photo Op at the T'ing

La Metro is Everywhere!
It was no cooler, as we resumed down the street some Rue or other in Montmartre. We agreed that it was time to head back to the hotel, how many cobblestones can you walk on? We found La Metro without any difficulty, got on one that looked like it was going our way. It was not the way we had come, but it headed to our destination anyway. We went through some unfamiliar-looking stops with familiar names. One transfer in particular was very small — only one track, which could only be boarded on one side, and very few people waiting in it. It was extremely quiet in between trains.

Then the station I have never figured out — Invalides. Something always happens here with the C route that I don’t understand. Through a station, you exit the turnstiles, but you don’t have to buy another ticket to re-board the train, just head up the escalator, and then, you must re-enter through another turnstyle. The tickets we had worked the turnstiles. We asked at an information booth that we had visited the day before, and this time he told us to take the C train, not this one, not the next one, but the third one, if we wanted to get to Charles Michel. We did as we were told, and got on a train heading through the familiar stops, Point d’Alma, Champ de Mars, what happened to Bir Hakem? That’s where we should have transferred — Kennedy/Radio France — That’s too far! That’s across the river1 WHOA! We been kidnapped, Joyce!

We got out at Bouganvillieres, the next stop, went up and over the tracks, coming down on the other side, boarded the next train, determined to get off at Bir Hakim. The next stop, Radio France again — next stop, Bir Hakim, right? Nope. It was Champs de Mars, again. We got off, resigned to walking. Champs de Mars had become our own private Via Dolorosa. This was where we had gotten off the first day, just before the hellish trek to the hotel. A security officer at Champs de Mars told us that Bir Hakim was the western half of the station, and Champs de Mars was the eastern half. But, we had SEEN the Bir Hakim station — it was a half-mile away from this station, and was not connected. Maybe it was some long underground half-mile long tunnel — we never found out.

“Take my picture next to the t’ing”
We got out exactly where we had gotten out the day before. Just for variety, we crossed the street at our first opportunity. Now we were tired, plodding along. A river walk along the Seine. Steps led up and down — we plodded up and down. We came upon a statue — some dam memorial to some victims or other. Joyce stopped, reached in her purse, handed me the camera.
“Take my picture next to the t’ing” she said tonelessly, indicating the statue. She sat down in front of it, I took the picture. It was all so dutiful, we laughed about it later.

C'est La Vie!
Continuing along on the walk behind the t’ing, we encountered two men in the center of a grassy knoll, just zipping up after some recreational romantical sport or other in the grass. We looked straight ahead, kept on walking. There was a balcony, if it had a great view or not, I don’t know, we were too tired to look. The important thing was, that there were no more pathways, and no more steps. We had to walk back past the queens, still at it, and got back down to the street level using the stairs by the T’ing. We could see our hotel, but had to turn back two blocks, go down the stairs, cross the street, retracing our path twenty feet lower on the street level.

In Spite of the Concierge...
Finally reaching the hotel, we checked into the procedures for storing bags, to be picked up Saturday when we returned to Paris. Tomorrow, we would be boarding the train to our river cruise. We checked the old familiar shopping bag, with its 30 pounds of cookware, and another of the carry-on bags, with dirty laundry and other weighty things we did not need, into storage. Joyce would want it mentioned, for the record, that there was no charge for this service.

Another Dinner in Paris
We made another trip to Monoprix that night. This time we purchased bottled water, fruit juice, some beignets (plain doughnuts with sugar on them), and some long braided dessert pastry. On the way home, we noticed the big rusty thing was all lit up, so we took turns taking each others picture with Tour Eiffel in the background, just a few blocks from our hotel.

We sat down to another fine dinner of yesterday’s bread — it was still good — butter, cheese, and cold peas (one of Joyce’s favorite vegetables) and lots of that fruit juice. It was made from “red fruits”, it said, including strawberries, currants, raspberries, cherries, and who knows what all else. It was so good. I was so thirsty. I almost drank the whole quart myself. We were weary — I don’t remember falling asleep. I woke up — too much fruit juice rouge, Monseur? Just the opposite of the problem I had been having — at least my headache was gone.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Labor Day on the Floor

This had been the worst internal demolition job ever, and at last it was over. The last tenant had destroyed and defiled as best he could when evicted by the previous owner. The broken furniture, fetid fast food remnants, dog feces, unspeakably filthy appliances, rotted bedding - all gone. Likewise the filthy shag carpet and the greasy linoleum beneath - all removed over the course of many weeks. Summer of '04. Thanks for the memories. All that remains is an expanse of mostly-intact 3/8" plywood floorboard, original from the 1940s. Since it was fairly complete and fairly level, I decided to leave it there.

So, it is Labor Day Weekend, looking forward to a weekend of relaxation. Next week, the flooring guy will be coming to install the vinyl tile floor. But, that's next week, for now it's time to breathe the clean dust-free air of Labor Day Weekend.

Things changed, as they often do.

The last layer of plywood now has to be removed because it would interfere with the leveling of the new underlayment. (or some such nonsense - i'm a church organist, not a contractor!). If the layer is not removed, the tile work can't start next week. All I could see was my Labor Day weekend swirling down the drain with a sickening sucking noise.

Early Saturday morning, i donned my grubs, grabbed the hammers, channel locks and crowbars, and hit it with a vengeance. perhaps Sunday and Monday could be rescued. No such luck - this floor was built to last, screwed, glued, and pounded. It was held down by pallet nails (the screw kind that don't let go) and screws, usually too deteriorated to be unscrewed. Filthy -- sixty years of accumulated dust and powdered adhesive rising up in a malevolent cloud. Most of the nails popped through the old wood, so they each had to be removed individually. Did I mention it was Labor Day Weekend? It was also very hot.

Saturday blurred into Sunday, a numbing routine of ripping, piling scraps up behind the building, and pulling nails and screws. My glasses were caked with sweat and debris, but what was there to see? The wooden floor at last all removed, i was left with a matrix of nails and screws, and they all had to be removed. Knee pads, crow bar, hot.

From directly behind me, I mean, directly, a loud high voice demanded: "What are you doing?" I turned around painfully, and there stood an Oriental girl about 3 feet tall. In the hot dirty dust-choked world I'd been living in, she stood out like an apparition. Then I realized that it was one of the children from the Chinese restaurant next door. "I'm pulling out the nails" "Why?" "So they can put in a new floor" "What kind of floor?" She never ran out of questions. Her name was Lani, and she was very smart and very bored. But Lani was different. Instead of running around getting dirty, as other children would, breaking things, or hurting herself, Lani was interested in the project.

She watched, fascinated as I used the crowbar and hammer various ways, depending on how the nails were embedded. "You missed one", she said, and pointed right at one that, sure enough I had missed. Well, soon she wanted to try one, and, hoping she would be careful, I let her try one. Soon, we were both pulling nails. Lani had to be more careful, because she didn't want to get her clothes dirty, and she didn't, but she was lots closer to the ground, so she got better leverage. Although she came from a house where only Chinese was spoken, Lani's English pronunciation was careful and precise.

Over the rest of the afternoon, she told me everything she had learned in school. She made me ask her addition problems, as we worked, all combinations of numbers up to 15, she wasn't allowed to go any higher. And multiplication up to nine. Lani knew 2nd grade math up one side and down the other. She worked until her father came to get her.

The next day, she came back. I was sweeping up the last of the dusty gray dreck that covered the floor. Again, the little voice. "you missed one!" I couldn't even see it, it was halfway across the room. But on closer observation, there was indeed another one. And she found another and another. She said to me, "How come you can't see all those?" I explained that my glasses were dirty, and I couldn't see that well to begin with. I reversed the question: "How come you can see all those nails so well?" She told me, without hesitation: "Because I'm better Looking than you!"

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pt.10 Wandering in Montmartre

This is a story of our only trip to France. If you'd like to follow the exciting adventure from the beginning follow this link to PART ONE

Pt.10 - Wandering in Montmartre

Continuing up the street (Coquiliere?) we came upon Rue Montmartre again. The particular four-block stretch of Montmartre we happened upon was loaded with cooking-supply places. My theory is that E.Dehillerin is the genuine article, and all the others are the imitations. The other cooking-supply places we checked out, although they looked like the merchandise might have been priced less, might have been a source of disappointment in the form of inferior quality. None of them had the — genuineness— of E.Dehillerin. They were more along the line of the “liquidation” places in the US.

Fancy a Truffle, dear?
Montmartre, according to Joyce’s homework, was the place to search for truffles. And, sure enough, there was an abundance of stores advertising truffles on their painted window signs. We entered one of the stores, which was primarily a coffee shop. The truffles are sold as brown lumps in a watery yellow liquid, in a very small jar. The jar has one lump, which is your truffle, or truffles? The jar is not full, just the lump, and the liquid at the bottom of the jar. The jars are kept in a glass case, and cost begins at about $30. We decided not to buy truffles, for now.
French Alleys
On Montmartre, I noticed for the first time— the alleys. They weren’t really alleys, they were courtyards. Through an entrance which sometimes had a gate, but usually was an archway going through the first-floor level of the block of buildings, the backs of all the buildings were accessible. The courtyards we saw were always very well-kept and clean, except for the ever-popular urine smell, but there was very little litter. Some of them served as parking lots for cars, some had private gardens, some were just open areas with balconies. Compared to Milwaukee’s alleys, these had more of a sense of — community. If you’re sharing the back-yard with a whole variety of neighbors, it’s gotta affect your conduct, the respect you have for your neighbor’s business and privacy. On the other hand, maybe they’re just putting on a show for the tourists.
The Metro is Everywhere
Continuing down Montmartre, then up another street, we realized, that, as long as we stayed in Paris, we could go anywhere we wanted, and when we got tired, get into the nearest Metro. Without the encumbrance of the luggage, only our 30-lb shopping bag of Mandoline parts, a few mis-steps on the Metro wouldn’t kill us, but only serve to make us stronger.
Everything is Foreign
A narrow street, we turned right. A woman’s accessory shop. The oriental woman at the counter wished us “Bon Jour”. I went in for awhile, but it was so hot - a man gets terribly hot in a ladies' shop. After nodding approvingly at a few purchases, I told Joyce I’d wait outside. Across the narrow street, there were a number of people working on the second floor, remodeling. Somehow, even the remodelling, hammering, sawing, etc. had a ‘foreign’ sound to it. A neatly-tied bundle of discarded insulation was laid in the street.

Carried away by the relaxation of it all, I sat down on a narrow ledge at the foot of the building, clanking my 30-pounder of cookware down next to me. A few moments later, I noticed that the urine smell seemed stronger here. I stood back up. Baaad dog! Was it the dogs, or, as Joyce’s brother later conjectured, was it the Parisians? Who was pissing all over these streets?

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When Syd Was the New Cat on the Block

One Sunday morning two years ago, we went to the Milwaukee Humane Society animal shelter. A volunteer who took our application recommended Jordan. We wanted an experienced cat that wouldn't be underfoot all the time. And, if possible, not too smart. I hated it when Fatso, our previous cat would always outsmart me. She was superior to us and never let us forget it. We looked into the shelter's glass-walled private cat cell, and there was "Jordan", posing on his pedestal. But as soon as the door was opened, Jordan calmly walked out into the common area, and headed for the door as if to show us where the rest of the paperwork could be gotten out of the way. I picked him up, he chirped a bit, and then resigned himself to going back into the cell. I could see no sense of superiority in his eyes. In fact, he looked as dumb as a box of hammers. We'd look at a few more cats that morning, but Jordan was the one. I could see that the volunteers had not gotten his name right - this cat should have been called Syd, and Syd he became.

Syd made no fuss being cooped up in the box on the way home, but, looking back with what we know now, it was a good thing he was not aware of the car trip. Syd was a stray when the Humane Society had gotten him - a declawed cat running around wild can have some really bad memories.

When we arrived at home and released him, Syd first introduced himself to Gondi, our other cat, (who is an over-indulged and useless sissy) and then went about methodically exploring the house. He showed no reaction to anything until he saw the toilet bowl in the bathroom. Excited, he put his paws up on the edge and tried to drink. Sadly, somehow he had come to associate toilet bowls with drinking water, either from his life abroad, or from previous owner neglect. I picked him up and took him to the water dish - this was so much better! Syd was excited. And food, too! This new place was a good place. We left him kind of on his own, as he found out where everything was. When I went to bed, he jumped up next to me and slammed himself against me - the good life!

The next morning, we were awakened by cold wet objects in the bed. Syd had done his best to bring us gifts. There were some tea bags from the garbage disposal, and, for me, his favorite new thing - a red sponge he found in the kitchen. Syd was careful to moisten all the new gifts in his water dish - that personal touch is SO important in a gift. The wake-up gifts continued for a few days, until he discovered that the other cat didn't have to bring gifts, so on the fourth day, the gifts stopped.

Syd spends a lot of time moving rubber bands around. He finds them on tables and desks, and takes them somewhere else. Sometimes he accumulates them in one spot, but mostly likes to move them to remote corners and leave them there. In Syd's mind he is earning his keep.

Syd soon found the paths of least resistance, the places where he could take the longest naps with the least disturbance. He knew when the food dishes were filled, so he didn't have to stand around waiting - just show up at dinner time, and there it was!
Syd and Gondi spent lots of time together, grooming one another and exchanging stories. Gondi told him about how Fatso had always been so surly and untrusting of the owners, and she had promised that one day they would both be abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Syd explained to Gondi that these were just Fatso's paranoid delusions - this truly was the place where the Good Life was lived.
Syd continues to this day to enjoy an unusally good life.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Blockbuster Battle - Part Two

Add Image

I recently terminated my subscription to Blockbuster home delivery, after they enacted new policies at the local level which resulted in my receiving NO deliveries. Details here.

I wrote to corporate headquarters, and last Friday, I received a reply.

If you have trouble focusing on the above image, basically, they acknowledged the problem, and have responded by adding a soon-to-be-implemented option to the delivery methods. The customer will be given a choice - fast delivery, or delivery of specific titles at the top of the queue, which may involve a longer wait. This is what customer service is about -- Listening to the customer, and fixing the problem.

I plan on re-instating my subscription to Blockbuster. In the interim, I found that my brief encounter with Netflix was trouble-free, but my sense of customer loyalty and fairness compels me to switch back to Blockbuster.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pt.9 Shopping in Martha Stewart's Footsteps

Pt.9 - Dehillerin Emporium de Cuisine Francais

Adventure begins (link to part one) here

To say that E.Dehillerin sells cooking tools is an understatement. E. Dehillerin has every quality cooking implement that can be imagined, or ever will be imagined. If you can prepare food with it, E. Dehillerin has it. From stockpots big enough to take a bath in to strange-looking julienne knives with six razor-sharp blades mounted parallel on the same handle. There was cast iron, enamel-ware, cast-iron enamelware, stainless steel, pottery, glass. It is all there.

The main floor is divided into two narrow wings. The building is located on an odd-shaped corner, and occupies most of the front of two blocks, but not the center of the block, hence the two narrow wings. From the creaky wooden floor to the high ceiling, the store is lined with ancient homemade. wooden shelves dating from the turn of the century at the very latest. Merchandise is stacked on the shelves, or arranged in wooden bins on either side of narrow aisles. Most of the light in the building comes from the windows lining the outside walls, and from ancient fluorescent fixtures mounted over the central office. Merchandise is not price-marked; the clerks will be happy to help you look up the stock numbers in the price catalogs mounted on the ends of the aisles.

Purchases are brought to a worn wooden workbench, where they are tallied by the clerk making the sale, then wrapped in paper dispensed from a roll on the wall, and held together by string and gummed paper tape. On the other side of a wooden desk, is an office, equipped with desks, one with a computer, manned by the office staff, which helps the clerks with difficult calculations, customs information for tourists, and special orders. While Joyce was comparing cutlery, I snuck downstairs, not for the love of cooking, but because I loved exploring the building. There were two more wings, not of overstock, but of other cooking stuff that they didn’t have upstairs. It was amazing trip down, through a narrow wooden winding stairway. Everything is so close together, that store patrons must proceed carefully.

Joyce met the “next available clerk”, Emille, at the door. He was very darked-skinned, and explained in his limited English that he could look up the price of anything we were interested in, and that he was our clerk. There must be a big dependence on commissions among the E.Dehillerin clerks. Emille was very good at playing ‘em and reeling ‘em in. Joyce had heard of the Mandoline on Martha Stewart’s show, so she had to see that. It is a precision-manufactured slicing apparatus, like a sauerkraut cutter with exposed razor blades. It has a straight blade, a julienne blade which looks very menacing, a crinkle-cut blade, and, most important of all, for another $40, a safety guard, which holds the intended food in the track for the blade, and the unintended food, such as fingertips and knuckles, safely on the other side of the handle. Having paid my dues at the Candle Glow restaurant years ago with the wooden potato/sauerkraut cutting board, I recognized the value of a safety guide, and strongly recommended the extra investment. Without the safety, the unit cost $100.00, but is a precision instrument that will last a lifetime, well worth it.

Then started the dickering. Over a certain minimum, Emille told us, our purchase would qualify for a tax refund, after it passed through customs. The refund would be mailed to us. However, we were about 100 francs short of making the minimum for refund. We just had to buy a little more. Joyce liked a cast (aluminum or steel?) sauce pan. She had run out of the francs from the traveler’s checks she had cashed at the hotel. I loaned her some of mine. The opportunity for a customs-tax refund this sizeable comes but once in a lifetime. It was well over the 100 francs, especially with the lid, which was extra.

But then Emille added it up again, and it was still short. How much more do we have to spend? Suddenly the English is a little less plentiful, but a very small purchase would get us up to the required refund amount. A cheese cutter had caught Joyce’s eye— it is a blade with a built-in server. It looks so much like a spatula I used to have, but had broken while scraping the stuck material off of the bottom of my cast-iron fry pan, long, long ago. We got the cheese cutter. Emille said that it was still not enough, but we had noticed a pattern of salesmanship. Emille was quite the huckster— he’d do ok demonstrating cutlery at a USA State Fair. Still, we were purchasing good quality cookware, and maybe we hadn’t understood him right, so we didn’t really get angry at him.

I write this in September, though, and we have still not received our refund in the mail from this August visit. But, at that point, we gave orders for the final wrap-up. We got detailed instructions of how to properly get the form processed by customs as we left the country. So with a shopping bag holding a 30-pound tightly-wrapped package, we continued up the street.
Satisfied with all her new purchases, Joyce thought it would be a good time to stop at a sidewalk cafe for a soda, or a coffee. Wouldn’t you know it — not a cafe in sight! One of the things I will always remember about Paris: I was always hot and thirsty. And now, I would be carrying a 30-lb package for the rest of the day.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52