Friday, November 25, 2011


After more than 50 times around the old Carousel of Time, it's just one of those days where, as Paul Simon says, I "hung one more year on the line".  Got the paper in while the computer was warming up.  Syd the cat was checking in a new consignment of dried leaves that blew in the door.  And then, I went to my desk, and my computer was full to overflowing, a cornucopia of birthday greetings!.  

From all over the world, and I mean - all. over.  the. world., my gang of friends - those crazy people that I quack together with every day in Facebook,  Twitter, and emails.  We share thoughts, greetings, events, we help one another find the humor in our common experiences.  Social media friends are different than other people you run into.  They are there only because they want to be there. 
From Germany (GMT+1) came the first one, arrived when it was still yesterday here (GMT-6).  And they just kept coming - Texas, Birmingham, DC, Kansas, Washington, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Watertown, Muskego, even some from right down the street in Milwaukee.  Overwhelming!  

Thank you all, my friends - Love You All!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving - Grinding Guts for Grandma

Ah, the Norman Rockwell feast, "Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother's House!".  Only, during Thanksgiving week, we kids would try to sneak over the river on the 4th Street bridge, and try to get past Grandma's house without detection.  But, it was no use, Grandma knew when we got off of school, and would be waiting there to holler out the screen door as we snuck by, for us to come and "visit" her.  
Oh, yeah, Grandma, like we don't know what you're up to.  Having time off of school around Thanksgiving meant only one thing:  Free slave labor for Grandma.  The Holiday Season brought all kinds of new, wonderful "little jobs" Grandma would have lined up for us kids:

Bringing up the turkey from the "cold room".  There was not much refrigeration at Grandma's.  The refrigerator upstairs was always full, so that was no help.  The refrigerator in the basement had Grandpa's beer in it, and he'd have to take that out so we could crowd things in there, things like the ring molds.  There was always some Jello mixed with cabbage, lots of cabbage.  But then once the basement refrigerator was full, there was only the "cold room"  - a basement room built under the garage, and it was somewhat cold in there, but surely would not meet modern standards of food hygiene.  And yet none of us got sick,  accidentally, that is. The "cold room" was where refrigerator surplus and leftovers were stored, including things we didn't want to ask about, such as a pig head peeking out from a towel in a roasting pan.

The turkey would start thawing on Monday, so by Tuesday night Grandma could make the dressing, with our help.  The inside of the turkey had to be picked clean of the greasy little boogery things that clung in there.  From the inside of the turkey we'd extract the giblets - neck, gizzard, heart, and liver, a slimy wax paper packet that had to be run through a cast-iron grinder, for the dressing, as they called the turkey stuffing.  It made a ripping noise as it passed through the grinder, a sound that a foley artist would welcome into his library for his next horror film.  The same sound your finger would make if you cranked it through the grinder. The smell was overpowering, and the ground-up guts formed a quivering pile of . . . well. ... guts - a stinking miasma that had to be scraped up and plopped into the mixing bowl.   Then the onions and celery.  Nothing like having the greasy guts slime on your hands, and then peeling onions and grinding them.  So, your eyes were watering but you sure didn't want to touch them, not until a few weeks from now.  And then some dried bread crumbs, and don't get them all over!  I broke off the moldy parts before putting them in the grinder. Finally, "the dressing" was done.  The whole slimy mess mixed in a huge crock mixing bowl.   Whew! We're done!  Guess again!

Now the iron grinder has to be taken apart and washed.  The grinding process stuffs all the guts and onions into the remotest corners of each and every cast-iron part.  So, scraping off what I could, I'd put the rest in the sink.  Greasy pans and utensils stacked high on both sides of the sink.  The water was cold, and there was stuff floating on top of it in a cold greasy slick.  And, I dassn't  change the water for some nice hot soapy water - Grandma was watching, and you know how kids like to waste water!.  The dishrag and scouring pad were both encrusted with the same slime that covered the grinder.  How was I to get this clean?   More soap!    

By "soap", Grandma meant a bar of homemade lye soap that Aunt Meta had made.  The whole extended family saved all their cooking grease in coffee cans for Aunt Meta. Meta would render the grease into soap, and sell it back to the family members.  Well, hooray for the planet, for recycling, for a sense of family community, for homemade knowhow passed on from generation to generation.  But there is one truth that must be faced:  The lye soap didn't work that well, and only made the cold greasy mess more sliimy -- if that were possible.

And finally, St. Beverly the Liberator arrived!  The front doorbell rang, and in breezed Aunt Bev, or Aunt Bumpie as she was called back in the days when she married her sailor.  She had been married a few years now, and the two of them had a kid, a mere toddler who, fortunately for him, couldn't reach the sink.   Your day is coming, Bobby Boy!  

Well, Aunt Bumpy walked over to the sink, and said.  "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"   "He just started," Grandma snapped. "BUT THAT WATER IS SO DIRTY, AND I BET IT ISN'T EVEN HOT ANYMORE!"  

Aunt Bumpy could do anything she wanted to do in her mother's house. She was Grandpa's little girl, and she always got her way.  Aunt Bumpy made me drain the sink and start over with hot, soapy water!  Real soap!  Thrill Dish Liquid!  And the hot water was so -- pure and cleansing. Bless you, Aunt Bumpy, wherever you are! Thanks for the Thrill!

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gathering the Nuts for Winter

I hesitate to say this, because I know what happens when I brag about it.  I've got most of the winter stuff done. Like a squirrel gathering his nuts, I've got all the summer things ready for winter.  Patio decorations on the deck we never had time to use this year, all put away.  
Planters stripped and put away, except for a set of die-hard marigold pots that just won't quit.  I don't want to spoil the party, so I left them alone - Bloom away, little Orange Dudes.. Nobody told the marigolds that it was almost winter.    Also, I've gathered enough marigold seeds to foliate the entire neighborhood next spring.
The leaves are all swept up, and I shake my tiny fist at the heavens at the injustice of this.  In our entire empire, we do not have a lawn, much less a tree.  It's all concrete and blacktop, and we like it that way! And yet, last night I swooped up four cubic yards of the neighbors' leaves from our grounds.   The neighbors didn't want the leaves back, but the leaves have to be removed, because otherwise they turn my snow blower into a high-velocity compost shredder spreader.
Down in "the pit", there's a valve i have to deploy that drains the external water pipes, so the pipes won't break when it freezes.  I take a ladder over the wall, then lower the ladder into the pit, until i'm 2-1/2 stories below the wall.  Turn the valve, reverse, repeat.  Over the wall!
Boilers all tested, expansion tanks drained.  New filters in the forced-air furnaces, new batteries in all the thermostats.

The gooey sump pump project is done at last.  I never wanted to take a camera down there, so trust me on this. Suffice it to say that whenever I was working in this area, my wife wouldn't let me in the house without immediately changing clothes.  I thought I had if fixed once, but the new pump was of such a light construction that the weight of the water column caused it to tip over, and then it would sit on its floaty thing so it wouldn't shut off and it would go BWAAAAAAAA! in the middle of the night.  I restrained it with rigid PVC connections, and finally got all the fittings adapted to the various diameters to connect it with the sewer.  Stinky Tinker Toys..
And so, Happy Fall!  Keep warm!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


He's Gone  
Ghandi left us, today.
After an extended illness, Ghandi had deteriorated from 16 lbs to a mere 5 pounds, and was having great difficulty with all his basic activities, walking, eating, drinking, everything.

We are grateful, each of us in our own way for the time Ghandi spent with us.

Joyce will miss her constant companion who followed her around and watched her every move.

I will miss him for his disgraceful un-catlike degree of affection.  And I'll miss the intelligent way he always looked down on me. 
You miss someone the most when you remember happy moments that you experienced with them, or because of them.   Here are some links from the Life of Ghandi, aka Gondi, aka The Boy, aka The Puss, aka Mama's Liddle Snookums, etc. etc.
The Declining Years
Award-Winning Cat
The Truth Comes Out

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How the Pilgrims Almost Killed Thanksgiving

Why is so much left out of the traditional account of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving? A different story altogether would be discovered if we go right to the journal of Governor Bradford, written as events happened.  Things which somehow have been forgotten in the school textbooks and re-enactments we see on TV. 

Before it achieved a prosperity worthy of a Thanksgiving celebration, the Plymouth colony almost collapsed and died due to -- a failed experiment in Socialism. Anything in quotes in the following account comes directly from Governor Bradford's journal, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620 - 1647.
Winter of 1620-21. Agricultural plans for the 1621 growing season were underway for the sustainability of the Plymouth colony. It was a meticulously planned new communal social order. Here, there will be NO private property and NO division of labor. All will share equally in the duties of the fields of the Plymouth Plantation. And the resulting harvest will be shared by all. Fairly and equally. 

Bradford writes, "all profits and benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means" were given to the common stock of the colony. And, now for the sharing! "All such persons as are of this colony are to have their meat, drink, apparel and all provisions out of the common stock."

In other words, we all put in all that we are able to, and we take only what we need. But, how the grand plan worked out in practice is told by Governor Bradford, in his own words:

"Young men that are most able and fit for labor and service" complained about being forced to "spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children."

"And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, etc., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it." The young ones, the strong ones, the ones doing most of the work, "had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak." (this paragraph in Bradford's original spelling)

And so, as it has always been, the slothful and the schemers gave greatly unto themselves. And the able workers, to their credit, got tired of the giving of themselves unto others without a just return on their labors. They would outright refuse to work any more than was minimally required.

And food was stolen. Bradford: "The crops were small because much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable". To each according to his needs? Or every man for himself? Father, Son, Holy Ghost - He that grabs the fastest gets the most!

The harvest of 1621 was minimal. Although the Pilgrims held a harvest feast with the Indians, it was not associated with an official declaration of thanksgiving. The harvest of 1622 was meager. The pilgrims survived the winter by doing chores for the Indians in exchange for food.

The colony was in the final phases of starving into oblivion. And in 1623, Bradford established a new order of things, and that new order was -- private property. The colony was divided up into individual private plots. The common storehouse idea was abolished. Each family would now be on their own land, producing their own food. Whatever they produced on their land, they were allowed to keep for their own use. Note in the following quotes how this changed things:

Bradford writes: "They began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop, that they might not still thus languish in misery...And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of the number, for that end, only for present use . . . and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use"

Resentment was replaced by contentment.

And - behold, a miracle! - Those who had formerly been too weak - those who proclaimed themselves "disabled" - rose from their rest and worked.

Bradford says: "The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; "

And so, Plymouth Colony prospered. In 1623 the colony declared a Feast of Thanksgiving. Under the new private land-use system, and in spite of the drought that had plagued the summer, the pilgrims held a feast of thanksgiving.

Within a few years, the colony would have so much surplus corn that it became an export item. Prosperity is the reward of personal labor.

Bradford sums up the failure of the socialist experiment: "The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community it was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort."

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. And thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Vignettes, 20th Century

Going through some old boxes in the basement tonight, I came across some first drafts of letters I wrote to people around 1990, back in the 20th Century.  I used to draft letters on whatever small scraps of paper I could find, and then copy the finished letter onto a readable sheet of stationery.  Back then, when you sent out a letter, you didn't have a floppy disk, or an extra file copy on your printer, because you were the printer.   You printed it on paper, with a Bic 19 cent stick pen.  So, I'm glad I saved some of these notes from the past, but I can't imagine where I got so much energy 20 years ago.  (sigh!) Life in Milwaukee. 

Carl's South Shore Fruit
... slow, it must be something they put in the water, here in Bedford Falls, I mean Milwaukee's South Side.  It's a bit strange over here; they've got McDonald's but the hamburgers are still 39 cents.  At Carl's South Shore Fruit, they don't sell fruit any more Carl says "... these people come in and shop all morning for one banana.  And, sure enough, he had a box of bananas, but they were all pulled apart, that is, no two bananas were attached to one another.  And, the bananas looked somehow, tired, and, shop-worn.  

Carl sells sweatshirts now that say "Hug Me, I'm Polish".  and other authentic "Polish Imports", and he does quite a business renting U-Hauls.  Lots of folks moving (in? out?).

The South Shore Water Frolics
A few hours at the South Shore Water Frolics, and you're never quite the same.  "A Rock and Roll Extravaganza"  played by the Milwaukee Police Band.  1989 was the year they electrified the accordions, and they had to unplug the air pump on the 30-foot tall Spuds MacKenzie balloon, so there'd be enough power to polka.  Without power, Spuds kind of leaned over toward the stage, limply bowing to the musicians.

And Miss South Shore Auto Body did her Hawaiian Dance number, as part of the Water Frolics Beauty Contest.  But the stage was so hot from the sun, they had to start the dance over.  She did the whole thing on a throw rug because that was more authentic than doing it with her shoes on.

3285 - Happy Food
I've still got my cat, 3285 Unwanted (that was her name on the Humane Society cage, and we kind of stuck with it - friends call her '32 for short.)  She's still as stupid as ever, only now she's more blind, which doesn't bother her much unless I rearrange the furniture.  And as little as I run the TV, she heard that ad for Happy Food, you know that plastic jar with the snap top lid, and that's the only food there is now, because it keeps fresh in there, as she explains to me.

Single Unrequited Love Bird
This bird one day decides to fly down to the floor and manage the house.  He's been strutting around ever since.  He follows 3285 around, and he likes Happy Food now, too.  Sometimes he lets the cat have some, but not the catnip mouse - that's his love.   He bit off the bell, and pulled her eyes out (the catnip mouse, not 3285), and Miss Mousie is his main squeeze now.  3285 doesn't mind letting him have her catnip mouse, because when The Bird is spending quality time with Miss Mousie, he's not eating her food, and biting her ears.  He's learning how to use 3285 for transportation by standing on her back, but he's having a little trouble steering her, because she's blind.

Playing Accordion for The Salvation Army
The "Home for the Holidays Tour" at the Grand Avenue was only in its third day of fund-raising when I booked a job with the manager of Boston Store, chasing old ladies up and down the escalators with Santa Claus and my accordion at the Senior Citizen sales event.  Who could refuse a job like that?  And Norman came in from Madison to do some jobs with me on Friday or Saturday.  We've always talked about doing something like this, and it's at the Grand Avenue -- where Christmas originates!.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom!

My mom died ten days after her 47th birthday, in 1974.  After devoting her entire life to raising my brothers and sisters, and me, she never got to see how well her efforts have paid off.  Five, normal, healthy, unusually happy lives.  She instilled in each of us a strong work ethic, a love of music, a wry sense of humor, and so much more.

Please take the time to thank those who have devoted large portions of their lives to your well-being.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

When a Bachelor Bird Gets Lonely

A bird lives under the canopy in front of our studio.  He stays year-round inside an aluminum support, a spacious ultra-modern birdie-condo.  But sometimes, he gets lonely.  So, whenever a car is parked in front of his canopy, he comes down and gets real sociable with the passenger's side-view mirror.  Sometimes, he gets carried away, so, it's not a good idea to park cars in that spot if they're a dark color.... This was filmed on Oct 22, 2011.

The musical background is a composition of mine, entitled Lydia.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.