CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK

 

PlaneBoy

So here’s something you may not know about me: I almost flunked woodshop? Yep, back in junior high (what they call “middle school” these days). I was excited when I first walked into woodshop. Instead of a desk, everyone got to sit at a little workbench. Cool! And then you got to play with real tools—saws, hammers, screwdrivers and manly things like that. I was going to have a great time…until I got the “practice piece.”

The practice piece was a rectangular block of wood about six inches long, three inches wide and an inch thick. Everyone in the class had to complete an initial exercise with their practice piece before they could actually begin working on a real project. For me, things went downhill from there.

Everyone got their block of wood and a set of instructions. You had to plane and sand the block to very very very specific measurements. Then you had to put a bevel edge all around the top. When you completed the task, the teacher checked your finished product with a micrometer so he could see if your measurements were correct all the way around every edge…down to the millimeter!

This is the time I first began learning certain things about myself that my mother and father never told me.  They weren’t even mentioned in the operating manual they gave me when I was born. It seems I lacked certain mechanical skills. Odd! My father was an engineer, a draftsman who drew up blueprints in very very very specific detail. Wouldn’t you think I would have inherited some of those skills?

Anyway, I got to work on my practice piece and the first thing I noticed was how difficult it was to achieve the proper measurements consistently all around the block of wood. I’d get one side right, then screw up the other. To make a long story short, I went through at least a dozen or more practice pieces trying to get it right. I never did. Week after week I’d plane and sand, sand and plane; take a little off here, then oops, too much there.

Meanwhile all the other kids were busy working away at building birdhouses and bookcases and cool stuff like that. I kept planing and sanding, sanding and planing. The teacher finally passed one of my pieces with a “D” which was probably for “dimwitted.” But as far as I was concerned there was no doubt about it, the entire episode was child abuse, right out of the child abuse manual that my parents didn’t give me at birth.

I told you this story because it kind of explains how the kitchen got flooded last night.  I was attempting to remove the broken icemaker from the refrigerator and install a new one. Boy, you should have seen all the water.  It was like a firehose had opened up full blast.  Water was everywhere before we finally got to turn off the water main outside.  Then it took forever to sop it all up. Lucky thing I had a Wet Vac.  That sure helped.

For sure, it was an experience I will never forget…just like my practice piece in woodshop. I don’t need to bore you with the details of the great flood and how it all happened.  But it proved once more that by the time you reach my age one should accept what one is capable of doing…and not.  Nuff said.

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DECISIONS DECISIONS

theend

Well, here I go again looking at the door.

I know I’ve been down this road before.

Like the glass of water question posed

Is the door half open or half closed?

I have said most of what I have to say.

True, there’s always more another day.

But the words grow weary and unfulfilled.

The blog is stagnant, not what it was billed.

Write it and they will come is what I heard,

A premise I’ve found artificial and absurd.

Yet I’ve kept it going, though slowed its pace.

It’s not the elixir it was when I joined the race.

So what to do with it is what I’m wondering.

Taking a sabbatical may be worth pondering.

Or I could just walk away, actually call it quits?

Cut it outright or fade it out in little bits.

I just don’t know; I have such mixed emotion.

I never anticipated it causing me such commotion.

If I end it, should I take the time to say goodbye?

I don’t want some swan song sung if I let it die.

Maybe this is just some kind of passing phase

I’ll get over it, just give me a few more days.

I hate going through all this yin and yanging,

But for now I’ll just have to leave things hanging.

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MY ANNAPOLIS

Annap1So let me take this space to tell you briefly about my Annapolis, Maryland. Its famous, picturesque habor is displayed on a large lithograph that hangs on one of the walls in my house. Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay are my most favorite places on earth; have been since the 1970s when I first visited Maryland’s historic capital. I lived and worked in Washington, D.C. at the time, which is only an hour’s drive from the little colonial
seaport that is home to the United States Naval Academy. It has its main street, like all small towns. The one is Annapolis is called Fleet Street.   It is narrow and climbs a steep hill line with the usual shops and sights.

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There are a good number of restaurants. As you can imagine, they all feature fresh fish and blue crab specialties usually plucked the same day from the almost curbside Chesapeake Bay. Oysters are not to be forgotten either….hamburgers are. There are a collection of eclectic coffee shops and book stores, along with spaces filled with gift shops, hardware and boat supplies, homemade ice cream and handmade jewelry.

Most everyone, both native and visitor, eventually hangs around, at least for a while, at the city dock. “Quaint” and “charming” come to mind when I think of Annapolis. It’s a good feeling being there. Goods things happen there. Bad things don’t.

City Dock is a narrow slit made of concrete walls that cuts in from the inner harbor and slowly narrows to an abrupt end just short of a brick walkway and the landmark general marketplace. If you’ve come by boat and are a little lucky, you can find an empty slip to park your tug, but good luck on a summer weekend.

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Annapolis is a boater’s town, make no mistake about it, from the slave ships that arrived regularly up until the the Civil War, to today’s luxorious so-called raghaulers and stinkpotters that compete for their 30-to-40 feet of bay water and dock spaces that line the shorelines of hundreds of meandering tributaries and inlets. The annual fall boat show in October is so massive it’s divided into two weekends, one for powerboats and one for sail. When we lived in Washington the sailboat show was a major date that my wife and I held open each year, making sure we had it locked in with our employers as a vacation day as early as January.Maryland State Capitol is seen at dusk above Main Street Annapolis, Maryland

The Maryland State House, where the State’s legislature meets, was built in the 1700s. It’s white dome pokes up from the treetops, well above most everything else in sight. When I covered news events, I sat outside the State House one bitter cold winter morning waiting for newly re-elected governor Marvin Mandel to make his inaugural speech. He was inside being sworn in, which, as I remember it, took about three days—or at least it seemed that long because I was the coldest I’d ever been. At one point I picked up the recently poured cup of coffee that had been sitting on the table with my recording equipment and when it got to my lips I discovered the coffee was rock-solid frozen…just like I was.

I was to have much more exciting days in Annapolis a few years later when we owned a small sailboat. That’s when I fell in love with the Chesapeake Bay, its beauty and incredible pirate-infested history. It defies change and development, much of its panorama appearing as it must have hundreds of years ago.

There is a certain romance Old Sailboat On The Sea 3D Illustrationand exhilerating euphoria when one is on a sailboat motoring its way out of crowded Annapolis harbor until there is enough room to turn off the engine and raise the sail. The boat begins silently slicing through the water and one’s childhood imagination takes over as you embark on a day’s sailing, heading off to Maryland’s famed Eastern Shore in search of buried treasure once left there by none other than Blackbeard himself.

And now, I suppose it is difficult to exit Route 50 as you follow the signs to Annapolis, no longer sensing this same kind of excitement and fantasy in mind. No, that is all lost for now, and perhaps forever, thanks to the sad times in which we live. Times when the intentional mass murdering of innocent people is becoming far far far too familiar an occurrence.  Our beautiful country has become petty and politically divided,  Its infrastructure is decaying before our very eyes and the wonderment of anticipating the life it once promised for most of us–especially the respect for life–has all but vanished. It is difficult to set sail for the adventures to come…I sense more troubled waters ahead for all of us.

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MUDDLED BY A PUDDLE

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I have been away for over ten days. This trip was particularly challenging because of something I noticed shortly before I left. It would worry me endlessly even though my son was home to keep an eye on it. What it was, was this puddle outside my house. It was right where two water-related fixtures were located. One was the humity drain pipe from the air conditioner handler inside the house. The other was where the main waterline from the curb joins the main water line from the house. Both of these plumbing fixtures are located on the front side of the house in a row of hedges, the surface of which is covered with river rocks about the size of ping-pong balls.

A day or so before I left, I noticed the water level was not receding down under the rocks in a two-foot area. Having had a front lawn float away at one house and the water pressure drop to a drip at another, I was familiar with underground water leaks and what a surprise they can be. Meanwhile, the drip, drip, drip of the AC discharge pipe was supplying a good amount of water where the water table was suspiciously high.  That’s because we had a daily monsoon for the past six days. One thing that was consistent was the puddle. It rose to just before the point where it would spill out over the bed of river rock and then onto the driveway.

So, what could be the proper diagnosis, Dr. Plumber?

(A) a water table too high to absorb the discharge from the AC…or

(B) a slow leak underground were the main line came into the house.

I had a plane to catch so it was too late for any further study and too early for calling the shot, let alone calling the plumber who I knew would be chomping at the bit if he had to grab a shovel and start digging. I could hear the cha-ching ringing in my ears.

Consequently, all the while I was away, I had visions—and, oh yeah, an actual dream—of the house sinking into a big sinkhole, the roof barely peeking out over the edge of the driveway. The car, of course, was still in the garage, Bill The Dog was still in the kitchen and my cherished collection of antique tabletop radios were crumbled and crunched in the corner of my office.

“Science,” as they say, was the answer. I experimented when I got home. I put a bucket under the AC drainpipe to isolate its water supply. If the water level dropped beneath the rocks, then I could assume the water table was simply too high from all the rain and the constant dripping from the AC was enough to sustained the puddle in the rocks. If the puddle remained, then it was time to grab a shovel and start looking for the underground leak

I suppose I could let you hang and not disclose the answer, but if you’ve made it this far, then you deserve to know. It was the butler in the library with the–no, just kidding. It was a too high water table. Once I isolated the AC water the rocks surfaced and the puddle disappeared. I attached a four-foot tube to the AC drainpipe and “redistributed” its outflow to a more absorbent location. Lucky me, it only cost me few bucks for the tube and a clamp…plus ten days of fretting about the whole ordeal that made me, as Gabby Hayes used to say… plumb-tuckered out. Hmm, do many of you even know who Gabby Hayes was?

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Road Trip

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I am on the road, up north again in the state of Pennsylvania. We are attending a niece’s wedding. On Sunday we head for the town of Margate on the New Jersey shore. But for right now we are far, far away from the swaying palm trees and turquoise waters of South Florida.  We are in the small rural town of Carlisle, in lower central Pennsylvania, about twenty miles southwest of Pennsylvania’s capital of Harrisburg.

This is territory rich in American history, especially the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  And, yes, this is yet another location where Washington slept and it was a stop on the underground railroad that shuttled Southern Negros north to escape slavery.  Carlisle itself is a beautiful, quaint mini-metropolis plopped in the middle of farmlands, much of which are cultivated by Pennsylvania’s famous Amish population. The town features endless rows of business operations and residential properties.  There is little that is new here, except what has been renewed and updated.  Many of the buildings date back as long ago as the 1700s.  Some pictures…

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UPDATE ON MY “JUST DO IT!” BOOK

Today’s posting is about writing. If you are more interested in Mr. Rogers, I suggest you read Ron’s Omnibus. There’s a good piece there about the new Mr. Rogers documentary. Just look for the Ron’s Omnibus ad in the right-hand column and click on it.

Okay, back to the topic of writing for those who may play around with words as I do in hopes of arranging them in such a way that they actually tell a story that makes sense when you read it.

Last April I posted a story here on my blog explaining how I was brain dead on getting started on a new novel. The catalyst that motivated me to take on one more book was a picture I came across of a distant relative who appears close enough to be my twin if you compare pictures of us taken at about the same age. That’s Isaac on the left and me on the right. He died in 1955 when I was ten and he lived his entire life in Australia. The idea of running across a distant relative who is almost identical to you, I thought would make a great premise for a story. There was just one thing missing—the story! I just hadn’t come up with any details.

A year later I still hadn’t come up with the details. That’s when I posted my piece about “Just Do It” in which I explained I was going to sit down and stare at a blank page and begin writing whatever came to mind about the two pictures. It was going to be a pure wing-it novel with no preplanning, no outline, no nut’n. Then I was foolish enough to tell you I’d give you an update every now and then to let you know how it was going. I agree, I never thought I’d really have an update because I figured I’d still be staring at a blank piece of paper. But, hah! I do….so, here’s the update…

I have pounded out 13 chapters, a little under the half-way point. How do I know this? Well I decided to write about the older guy first—this turns out to be “Book I”…and the younger guy’s story will take up Book II. The concept has evolved that the two parts kind of mirror each other…like the photographs. The man in Book I dreams of things the man in Book II does and vice-versa. I don’t want to disclose any more at this point other than to note each has a love interest and each is very much his own being…or is one of them actually the other and the other, the other? Yeah, you gotta think about that for a moment.

It has turned out to be an interesting writing exercise that is totally alien to me. I just start a chapter where the last one left off and adlib the entire way through it, developing the story line as I go. Only now, after 13 chapters am I beginning to fold back into my normal writing pattern whereby I start each chapter with a list of items I need to cover, although the pathway remains obscure.

What has happened is surprising. Despite being so difficult to come up with a compelling concept for over a year, one actually pooped itself out right there in front of me once I got started. I now know where I am headed, I have the all pieces reasonably laid out on paper with a timeline and an actual ending? Uh-Uh…I never talk about the ending until you get there. I do have one in mind and I think it will result in an explosive “WOW!” on the part of the reader.

So the moral here is, if you are so hung up and you got nothin’ except a vague idea for a book, but you know you want to write it, then: JUST DO IT! Go sit down and simply start pounding out a few things about the main character or the setting where the story takes place. Then, BANG! Before you know it, you have a bunch of chapters that make sense and may be more robust than if you had planned them out in advance. Want a sample? Here goes…

“The kitchen was cramped with just barely enough room for a table and four chairs. Everything was strategically placed and functional to whatever role it played in the cooking and eating process. Cleanliness was not an issue. The old warped oak-slab floor gleamed with fresh varnish and every crevice in the room was dust-free, every surface scrubbed and shiny. But as impressive as the kitchen was, make no mistake about it, the most imposing item in the room at all times was Mrs. Richter.   She stood several inches taller than Isaac, and wider too. She reminded him of the women working the beer halls back home, the ones who could sling four or more tankards of ale on each arm while they flexed their hips to collect tips in their apron pockets. Her tightly braided hair was coiled and neatly stacked atop her head, defying gravity as she moved swiftly about the kitchen. A juggernaut of a women, thought Isaac.”

 So stay tuned to this channel for another update when I get to Book II. Unlike the feeling I had back in April, now I am confident I have plenty more to write about. Don’t you just love it when a non-plan comes together!

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EGADS! ANOTHER BOOK!

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So here’s what happened. I have a bunch of grandkids and several of them have grown up enough to go out and join the workforce of America. And as they put in their hours of hard labor they are beginning to bring work stories home…don’t we all! As I listen to these little employee-oriented stories I have come to the conclusion that nothing ever changes…including bad bosses.

There are so many bad bosses out there, it tells me that no progress has been made in the training area, that big business is still running their stores and services just as they always have. Don’t you think they would have gotten a little better at it by now?

The main observation I make is that these companies all do the same thing: they recruit their younger managers from their underlings, meaning if someone in the lower ranks does a good job, they eventually get elevated into a management position. The problem is, the company rarely offers any training to the newly minted managers and their reference as to how to act like a boss is modeled after those they’ve worked under—all of whom have come up the same way with no real training.

Just because an employee flips good hamburgers or sells a lot of socks doesn’t mean he or she will know how to run people and operations. Sometimes it actually works out; many times not.

So I got motivated to do my little bit to pay it forward. I wrote a book. Yeah, did it start-to-finish in three days. It’s titled New Boss…Ten Steps to Becoming a Good One.

It’s not a big book, only about 35 pages, but I wanted to make it a quick read..and it’s only $3.99! (If you are interested it’s available at amazon…click on the book’s cover at the top of the column to the right.)  If you are a new boss, or an established one who could use a few pointers, put the ten steps into practice and you’ll move up to CEO by Christmas…okay, for some it may take a little longer.

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SO YOU WANNA SELF-PUBLISH A BOOK –HOLD THAT THOUGHT!

As most of you know—and one quick glance at my blog will tell you—I am an author and publisher of books. No secret there. Most of you also know that I am self-published. The trendy, more sophisticated calling card reads “independent author/publisher.” It is not what I did before I retired and it is certainly not what I do to make money. My posting today is targeted to self-publishers, either wannabe’s or actual beginners. If anyone else is interested, welcome!

Traditionally, the book publishing industry looks at us guys as bottom feeders. We are unworthy of using a keyboard other than to make a shopping list or socialize on social media. But times have changed and some of their snootiness is beginning to disappear—it will be a while before, if ever, it goes away completely.

New technology has caused the industry of independent publishing to grow dramatically over the past decade. Previously, books were printed with a minimum number required by the printer. Consequently, authors, whether on their own or being published by a big publishing house like Simon & Schuster or Random House, would wind up with cartons of books warehoused in their garages, kitchens, bathrooms, wherever. And if they didn’t sell….well, read ‘em and weep because somebody had to pay for all those books—either the publisher or the author.

Nowadays, with handy-dandy word processing in just about every home, almost anyone can type out a story and have a company or themselves transition it into a book which is now printed copy-by-copy. It’s called P.O.D., or Print on Demand. Many of the books on amazon.com are P.O.D. If you order one of my books, ONE order is sent to the printer, the printer pulls up my file for the book and prints ONE copy and then it’s mailed to you. It’s that simple….and economical.

Unfortunately, like everything in our crazy little country, bad people like to exploit opportunities and scam good people. So my little independent publishing world is an easy target because a lot of wannabe authors can produce a manuscript, but they don’t know how to get it out of their computer and into a published book. There are companies that do this. I use one of them, minimally, because I have been able to teach myself the process of preparing my manuscripts directly for publication. I’ve even learned how to produce my own covers. I simply fill in some informational boxes and then upload my files. A day later there is a paperback book waiting for me.

But many new writers have to hire a company or someone to prepare their manuscript and cover so it can be produced into a book. Depending on the vendor, this can cost you a reasonable amount of money to fees that are in the stratosphere. I got an offer this morning from one self-publishing service that has three different publishing packages, each offering various levels of service involved in the publishing process. The fees ran from $949 to $1995. I’ve seen them still higher at other companies. That’s crazy.

If you have an itch to write a book and see it, hold it, give a copy to your mother and maybe—JUST maybe even sell a copy—you need to be careful about hiring someone to do the work for you. Right now, one respected self-publishing service called Book Baby has a good article on the scammers and what to look for. Check it out at bookbaby.com.

My advice is to be super realistic. If you think you will write a book and within months it’ll be on the best-seller list and you’ll be getting royalties for years to come, well think again. J.K. Rowling who pounded out Harry Potter novels and sold them faster than she could count her British pounds, is like a lottery winner. You could be too, but find a comfortable seat—this could take a while.

One final tip…I use a company called CreatSpace. It’s owned by amazon. You can buy their services to do the work you can’t do, or you can learn how to do it yourself and use their facilities for free. They offer lots of materials to read and aids to help you publish successfully. Now, how to sell your books successfully…that’s a whole other topic and I’m still trying to figure it out!

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HEY! DIDN’T I TELL YOU NOT TO BOTHER ME?

I think we have reached the saturation point…or else it’s another sign that my retirement, which is now in its unbelievable 12th year, has taken me out of the mainstream and numbed my senses. So what is it I’m trying to say here? I guess, and I am guessing because I am not sure how to express the point I am trying to make, but it’s a feeling I have that we’re all in a state of malaise right now.

The symptoms are things like apathy, laziness, unmotivated, lethargy…stuff like that. We’re in a daze. Nothing is like it used to be. We just went through a major holiday weekend and it was seemingly like any other weekend. True, there were sales at the stores, some parades in parts of the country where it wasn’t raining and the President spoke for hours at Arlington Cemetery. And, oh yeah, my annual posting discussing the loss of the meaning of Memorial Day ran in this blog space for the third year. But through the past three days, it seemed that there was no special awareness, no sense of excitement or out-of-the-norm alertness that something was different about this weekend. Did anyone take a moment to think about all the dead soldiers who paid the ultimate price so we could enjoy the stupor we’re in?

I’m convinced, the country is swingin’ gently in a hammock, not giving a hoot about what’s going on in the world, not giving much of a damn about anything really. The media has overwhelmed us with so much breaking news that it’s broken are spirit. It has turned our give-a-damn juices that once ran like racing rivers into sludge that burps up an occasional bubble in our bloodstreams.

Oh look, there’s another natural disaster with video of the devastation; oh something inappropriate and scary has occurred at the white house again; oh some major group of the population is marching and has developed a slogan about the oppression they’ve been through—they even have a nifty logo; oh there go Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer—what is it you say they all do? Oh, and did you hear there’s been another nutcase running around with a high-powered rifle shooting students and teachers in some school. Did you miss any of that? Not to worry. It’s all rolling in an endless loop on our media channels and if there is anything breaking about it, it’s us that it’s broken.

We have grown numb, brain dead, pissed off, uncaring….tired. Turn off that news stuff. Hey, put on that reality show that really isn’t. That should be funny…or would you rather says yes to the dress, no to the bachelorette or maybe watch Andy Griffith reruns? Tell me what is it that you want? How can I get us started again. How do we reignite the spark. Anybody see the torch we’re supposed to be running with from town to town?

The country, I sense, is in time-out. Please do not disturb. We need a break because we are breaking, disintegrating…melting. Hey, did you know there’s a new Gong Show coming on and they’re also reviving Deal or No Deal with Howie Mandel? Which suitcase do you think has the million bucks in it? Yeah, I agree, now this is exciting…and isn’t it great that Howie can hug people now!

 

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MY ANNUAL POSTING… THERE’S NO “HAPPY” IN MEMORIAL DAY

American cemetery in Normandy,France.

Many Americans routinely spend their three-day holiday weekends with family, sometimes traveling or just gathering for a special meal or picnic. Many others go shopping because retailers looovvvvveee  to run sales during a holiday weekend.  Such are the activities of many Americans this weekend as we honor Memorial day.  Notice I said “honor” Memorial Day, not “celebrate.”    “Celebrate” is not the correct term for this particular holiday.   Few Americans understand that.

Each year at this time, I hop up on my soapbox to remind many in the younger generations, and I’m sorry to say some of my peers too, why “Happy Memorial Day” is simply not the proper greeting to use for this holiday. With that in mind, here again for 2018 is my annual posting for Memorial Day…

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I am a traditionalist.  You remember the song, Tradition, from Fiddler on the Roof, don’t you?  “And how…

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