Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Silence

Our train left Union Station in Chicago on time, 8:10 p.m. on Sunday night.  The Amtrak Hiawatha bringing its weary cargo to Milwaukee.  We had been to a trade show.  The usual assortment of shoppers, backpacking overnight visitors from all walks of life filled the train cars to about half-capacity.  

The unseasonably warm weather had turned much cooler, it was clear.  As we cleared the train yards and industrial zones of Chicago, we could see that the moon was out, and some bright planet I should know the name of was very bright, within a few degrees of the moon.  By the light of the overhead fluorescents, and the mini-spot reading lamps over the seats, I went over the purchases of the day with my wife - she runs a women's apparel shop in Milwaukee, and we had just finished the stocking orders for Fall.

And then the lights went out.  All the lights in the entire train, except for a two dim battery-operated emergency lights in each car. There was an unexpected sudden breathless silence. The train kept rolling, but all we could hear was the rolling of the wheels on the track.  No engine - thankfully the horn still worked, as we approached the Sturtevant station - one of the scheduled stops.  And then the train stopped.  The air was not filled with gasps of panic.  There was no frantic buzz of texting, and outgoing cell phone calls from jaded travelers pretending to be indignant about the inconvenience that railroad menials had caused them.  The passengers just sat still in the dark, silent, sealed car.  Very still.  It was so very quiet in that car, A whispered conversation from the other end of the car could be clearly understood.   Without the engine and fans going, it was an experience I can only compare with walking up the stairs of an escalator that isn't moving. 

After what seemed an eternity, a cell phone broke the silence - a hip-hop song fragment, and someone began speaking on it, in Spanish.  Under this cover, everybody else with a cell phone started calling someone.   It always seems that people with cell phones never speak to the people they are with, only to people who are elsewhere.   Shortly after the resumption of breathing, a PA announcement - (the PA must be on the same emergency power as the horn), explaining that there were plans to resume our trip as soon as the engine could be restarted.  And, a smelly half-hour later, the rail service resumed, the lights and fans came on, the engine started and the train resumed its route.  

Altogether, we were about 45 minutes late in arriving at Milwaukee.  I'll always remember that silence.  For a brief, uncertain moment, everybody in that car was faced with the possibility, and it remained only a possibility, that they might be expected to participate in personal social interaction.  Think about what you would say if the lights go out. 

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

News from Milwaukee, March 1993

extracted from a letter I wrote dated March 27, 1993

YIKES! IT'S BEEN OVER TWO WEEKS!  There's been a lot going on around here. Right after I got back from the Convention, I contracted a good case of Flu #1, the “I can't remember swallowing that axe” variety. So that took a week, and when our hero woke up, he found that everyone else in Milwaukee was in the bathroom. Can you say “Cryptosporidium?”

You've probably heard all about it on the news. I think it was kind an adventure that helps you appreciate “Life in the Big City”.  Something out of Batman. “While Gotham City's water supply is being held hostage by Crypto-man, the Joker's henchmen are hijacking truckloads of bottled water...”

The grocery stores were like disaster relief setups by the military; people calling to find out when the next water shipment would come in. Grocery stores wouldn't even unpack the pallets of bottled water, as they came in; the cases were just dumped in the aisles and emptied within the hour. I cooked my own, although, the water wasn't really affecting me that much. Oh, sure, there was at times a certain, ahem, urgency, but certainly not the cramps, fever, etc. that was keeping everybody home.

A fistfight broke out in a Bay View pharmacy over the last bottle of Pepto Bismol on the shelf. Chippewa Springs of Chippewa Falls donated a truckload of bottled water to Second Harvesters, and Second Harvesters turned over 1000 cases to the Milwaukee Aids Project, for the exclusive use of AIDS patients.  Miller Brewery, in a brilliant public relations move, started turning out bottled water. Miller's water, because of purity standards, is more pure than anything the city could ever spew out. OK, everybody, it's Miller Time.

I tried to do a little research, but, in the reference section of my library, all the encyclopedia volumes containing “Cr” had been removed from the shelves. I didn't check into that, I got distracted by something else, but I was hoping to see a picture of the little bugger. Perhaps the appearance of the Cryptosporidium protozoan was so hideous, that people would have rioted in the streets, had they but seen its face. “Commissioner — to the Bat Phone!!!...”

This city must really look wacky, to an outsider. Just since I've lived here, we've had Lawrencia Bembenek's Weekly Made-for-TV Drama,  Michael McGee and his Poisoned Bratwurst, and speaking of home cooking, it's time now for Jeffrey Dahmer's Kitchen, mmm.. smells good, Jeff. Must be today's guest, Konerak Sinthasimphone...just a few things Jeff picked up at the Grand Avenue. Kinda makes you a little hesitant to point a finger at the Branch Davidians in Wacko, Texas.

extracted from a letter I wrote dated March 27, 1993

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

without a net

"My ass hurts!"  -------------------------- "WHAT?"
A week after I began my 29th year of service to my present employer (known on Excelsior as 'the Day Job'), we had an all-employee meeting at which they announced that in three weeks there would no longer be company-provided health insurance. I've always been pro-business, but this is a little different from a typical cynical comparison of my salary to a living wage. It is contrary to the original agreement I made in 1984.  There were no guarantees of wages beyond the starting salary, but there was an agreement that health insurance was included as a term of employment.

Through the years, I've availed myself little of the insurance - I've always prided myself on my exemplary health.  It's been over three years since I last saw a doctor, in fact the last doctor I visited has since retired.  Yet, still, the phrase "without a net" keeps going through my head.

Due to my already reduced hours, the job won't support any of the "alternative" plans presented by the exiting insurance carrier.  And I'm not going to divert any of my other income or assets to fund this.  So, my plan is to replace the day-job, rather than to deploy some expensive health-insurance patch job.  Until then, well,
"Through the air on the flying trapeze, his mind hummed. Amusing it was, astoundingly funny. A trapeze to God, or to nothing, a flying trapeze to some sort of eternity; he prayed objectively for strength to make the flight with grace." - William Saroyan 
Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Iframe - Window to Anywhere

I stumbled upon an interesting HTML gadget today.  I was looking through a Quote of the Day web site  that I use on my Google page, and they offered a way to "take it with you", like an HTML Doggy Bag

the code is this, copy it into your web page - I couldn't quote the code in a cut-and-paste format, because the Blogger keeps interpreting the code and erring out, so here's a picture, or go to the source code of this page or to

it looks like the following when you preview the page.  (i hope it's the same on your browser) And this is not just an image, it is a live link to the page - it will change as the remote web page changes. So, the next time you read this, the examples will have all changed, if the destination web pages have changed.

now, using the same code, substitute some other web address for the sre= attribute.  Use ANY web address, and it will come up in a little window with a scroll bar, sort of like a window into another web site.

oops, i just noticed that I didn't put up the current concert calendar! That will change when I get home today.

And, we can "phone home"

check out the Old Dry Goods Store

or visit your neighbors:  (hope Lydia doesn't mind) Hi, Lydia!

Have fun!

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

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Paint Country

More from the Found Floppies
At the time this was written, I was living in an upper duplex on Milwaukee's South Side, recovering from a disastrous dysfunctional relationship mistake.

June 23, 1993

It's been one of those months of contentment that you look back on, 10 years down the line, as the Good Old Days. I've been painting and remodelling, moving into my latest version of life. Sorry I didn't write since April. I'm like, coloring my world, man! 

The colors of Gare-World 1993: Whipped Cream (ivory) everywhere. Spearmint in the bathroom and in my tiny bed room. And the kitchen is peach with powder blue cupboard doors, and shamelessly gaudy curtains from Goldmann's. I've got out my Grandma's old dime-store china, and by taking $10 to a rummage sale, I got a complete set of baking pans, a step stool, a quadrasonic amplifier (late 70's -- remember quadrasonic?), a C-language compiler, and an old version of Microsoft Quick Basic. Actually, the C-compiler wouldn't work unless I feed it into my computer; it doesn't do much in the kitchen. Then my friend from church, Norma, found a shelf unit on the curb; bless her.  Guess what?  I painted it!.  Norma has been helping me paint once in awhile, simply because she likes to paint.

It don't get no better than this... Paint is the cheapest form of remodeling there is. You can completely change the look and feel of a room by changing the color. You can give an old familiar color scheme a newness by applying a second coat. You can take junky old furniture and make it look “country”. I've resigned myself to having a “country” decorating scheme, because all I had was junky old furniture out of the basement and the attic, and plenty o' paint. 


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

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

“The Biggest Meteor Shower of the Century”

I found an old 3” floppy disk in a box of obsolete software in the basement.  It contained a collection of documents created long ago in Ventura Publisher version 4, with a Windows 95 operating system.  Some letters, lots of memories.  I couldn’t get Ventura Publisher 4 to run on XP, so I had to extract the text from the formatting manually.   Here’s some.

August 12, 1993

I can't believe I fell for it again. “The biggest meteor shower of the century”  “Hundreds of meteors will streak across the sky each and every minute”   I took the word of the people who sold me Kohoutek back in the 70s (surely you remember the Comet Of The Century? It lit up the night sky in an apocolyptic glory whose brightness would on some nights rival that of the moon. Halley's Comet would be a mere Christmas tree bulb in comparison...)  

So last night I went down to the lake, because the best view would be in the northeast corner of the sky, a view of the sky which Milwaukee's lakefront specializes in. I hurried to get down to the lakefront by sunset, because that is the time when the spectacular spectacle would be at its most dazzling. 

It was the usual crowd at the South Shore lakefront; people fishing, launching and landing boats, people feeding the ducks and seagulls. Winds were calm, the sky was clear. A few people looked like they couldn't account for their being there—those were people like ME who rushed down to the lakefront to see the celestial spectacular promised by the Illuminated Ones; and we saw .... 


I felt kind of foolish for awhile; too agitated to pretend that I'd just come down there for fresh air and a nice walk. I didn't want to go home right away, because, well, you know then they would know what I had been down at the lakefront for.  “Yeah, can you believe it, he came down to see the MEEEEteors! Look, Gary! Over there! Up in the sky! Oops, it's only an airplane! What a sap! Hey, Meteor Boy, look at this! Oh, wait, that's my flash light. Haw Haw, made you look!

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