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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Mementos

Over time, I have developed two noticeable habits: I have allowed assorted collections of things to accumulate and proliferate, and I have taken to placing esteemed items on display around my house.

Re the former, I have assembled a number of disparate collections, as detailed in the 25 Random Things post elsewhere on this blog. Re the latter, I display individual treasures on every available flat surface because the items please me and evoke nice memories.

Walk around my house, and you will see family photos, enlargements of scenic shots from my travels, works by folk artists, favorite pottery pieces and sculptures, and assorted knick-knacks that I enjoy having around.

The truth is, my house looks like an antique shop or a thrift store. Every table, wall and counter is adorned with… stuff. Lots of eclectic stuff.

I do this because I can. I’m divorced and living alone, so no one is here to dissuade me. It’s a bit quirky, I admit, but harmless.

However, one aspect of all this, I have come to realize, is a bit sad. Let me explain.

Most of my mementos are self-explanatory. Their value is unambiguous — more or less obvious at a glance.

For example, I bought this foot-tall figurine at an art show in the 1990s. It’s a replica of a pre-columbian statue, possibly Mayan.

The figurine is simply an interesting $50 reproduction, and I enjoy it as such. As would anyone.

Likewise, I bought this sculpture several years ago at an art gallery in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s a raven by Oregon artist Steve Eichenberger. His crows and ravens are handsome and wonderfully expressive. Look him up.

You get the point: the value of most of my treasures is in their beauty or uniqueness and usually is self-evident.

On the other hand, many items in my possession have significance for other reasons — reasons often known only to me.

Take, for example, this three-inch tall carving that you would conclude, correctly, to be an Eskimo. When my dad was stationed at Thule AFB in Greenland in the 1950s, he purchased it from an Inuit man who carved it from walrus tusk.

You would have no way of knowing that.

Nor would you know that these glasses belonged to my grandfather, Walter Anthony Smith, Sr.

Nor would you know that this railroad spike is a souvenir from my first dayhike — literally my first hike ever — in the summer of 1979.

Nor would you know that this cheeky ring holder was a gift from a friend during my Air Force years.

A fellow lieutenant brought it back from the Philippines and gave it to me as a joke. It has been on my bedroom dresser for half a century and counting.

Another memento with special meaning is this paring knife, which belonged to my Savannah grandmother, Stella Smith.

I watched her use it countless times when we visited Savannah, starting when I was a little kid and continuing until I was an adult. In my mind’s eye, I can still see her hands as she peeled potatoes and sliced carrots in the kitchen sink. She would slice, rinse the knife, and slice some more, often humming to herself.

Long after my grandmother died, my aunt continued using the knife. A few years ago, when the house was finally sold, I claimed the knife. I use it almost daily.

I’m fully aware that the subject of my special treasures is trivial. Everyone has had experiences similar to mine, and we all have equally treasured possessions.

But it’s an unfortunate fact that when we’re gone, all of those small, intimate memories are lost, as well.

Like tears in rain.

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The Questions…

1. Before they formed the Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were members of what group?

2. In olden times, what was Ethiopia called?

3. What do former presidential candidates Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton have in common?

4. On a standard keyboard, all of the vowels except one are on the top row. Which one is not? No fair peeking.

5. A male donkey is called a jack. What is a female donkey called?

The Answers…

1. The Quarrymen.

2. Abyssinia.

3. All four won the popular vote, but lost in the Electoral College.

4. The letter A is the leftmost key on the second row.

5. A jenny.

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Sins and Virtues

In olden times, all religions had a seriously Old Testament mindset, and the masses were lectured vigorously about the basics: behaviors to avoid and behaviors to emulate.

To codify the message for easier consumption, two handy lists evolved: the “Seven Deadly Sins” and their mirror image, the “Seven Heavenly Virtues.”

Neither list is mentioned in the Bible, but over the centuries, they nonetheless became well known and influential, and they remain so today, dear to the hearts of religious conservatives.

To refresh your memory, the Seven Deadly Sins are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

The Seven Heavenly Virtues are humility, charity, patience, kindness, chastity, temperance, and diligence.

I certainly agree that greed, gluttony, and all that are negative behaviors, and that humility, kindness, etc. are solidly positive. I do not, however, find it necessary to sit people down and explain it to them. Everyone understands basic morality perfectly well by the time they are five.

On the other hand, if folks are not gathered in a group, you can’t pass the collection plate.

The Seven Deadly Sins,” attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1500.

Aerodynamics

The game of golf as we know it originated in Scotland in the 1500s. It probably evolved from either the Roman game of paganica or the Chinese game of chuiwan, both of which involved using a stick to knock a ball into a hole in the ground.

When the Scottish version arose, golf balls were fashioned by hand of beech wood. They were more or less round, but often were off-balance, making them maddeningly unpredictable in flight.

Sometime in the 1600s, a slight design improvement appeared: a leather ball stuffed with feathers. This version was better balanced and thus less erratic. But a dry ball did not behave like a wet one. Plus, the feathers had to be boiled and softened prior to stuffing, making the process labor-intensive and costly. And still, the balls were round in only a general sense.

In 1848, a Scottish clergyman discovered that the rubbery sap of the sapodilla tree could be heated, placed in a round mold, and allowed to harden into a sphere. With this “gutta percha” ball (translation: Sumatran latex), the mass manufacturing of cheap, reasonably aerodynamic golf balls finally was made possible.

Fifty years later, the sap was replaced by a core of tightly-wrapped rubber thread. Further, someone discovered that adding dimples to the ball improved control of the ball’s trajectory.

Fast forward to the present. The governing bodies of the game closely control the specifications and manufacturing of all golf equipment. Worldwide, an estimated 1.2 billion golf balls are manufactured each year.

Annually, in the US alone, some 300 million golf balls are lost.

Keep Calm

Keep Calm and Carry On is the perfect slogan to be corrupted into memes. I mean, it practically begs to be parodied.

Keep Calm and Carry. Keep Calm and Carry On My Wayward Son. Keep Calm and Carry Hand Sanitizer, Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake. Freak Out and Run.

The slogan originated in 1939 on a motivational poster created by the British Ministry of Information to boost public morale as World War II approached. The idea was to call upon the British self-image of remaining calm and resolute when facing adversity.

Actually, the government designed three posters and was poised to distribute millions of copies if a German attack came. Each poster featured the Tudor crown, a symbol of the state.

Immediately, the government was criticized for wasting money and patronizing the public. Very few of the posters were distributed, and the program soon was canceled. According to one historian, the effort was a “resounding failure” by clueless bureaucrats.

The posters essentially were forgotten until 2000, when copies were discovered in an English bookshop. Only a few original prints were know to have survived until Antiques Roadshow turned up a batch of 15 prints in 2012.

I think the criticism of the project was misplaced. Patronizing? Baloney. To me, the posters seem perfectly “stiff-upper-lip” British. Straight out of a Churchill speech.

The critics should have just, you know, kept calm.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The human nose has about six million scent receptors. A dog’s nose has about 300 million.

● In 1962, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors set the record for the most points scored by a player in a professional basketball game: 100 points against the New York Knicks.

In 1983, the Detroit Pistons defeated the Denver Nuggets 186-184 in triple overtime. The combined score of 370 points is the most points scored in a single pro game.

● If you drove your car straight up at 60 mph, you would reach “outer space” in about one hour.

● The water of Lake Hillier, a salt water lake on an island off the west coast of Australia, is the color of bubble gum. The cause is a red dye created when algae in the water combine with the salt. Other than the pink color, the water is normal and harmless.

● Gravity varies with mass, so a person weighing 200 pounds on Earth would weigh 505 pounds on Jupiter and 13 pounds on Pluto.

● John Quincy Adams, who was President from 1825 to 1829, kept a daily journal from age 12 until his death at 80. It revealed that during his term as President, he arose each morning between four and five AM, walked two miles around the city, and, when the weather was nice, went skinny-dipping in the Potomac River.

● In the mid-1960s, the CIA launched Project Acoustic Kitty, a plan to implant tiny microphones and transmitters in cats and train them to eavesdrop on the Soviets. After a few years, the agency decided the project was impractical and canceled it. The implants worked fine, but no one could train the cats.

● In the late 1880s, Gustave Eiffel proposed building the Eiffel Tower in Barcelona, Spain, and was told to get lost. He then approached Paris, and the city agreed to let him erect the tower for the 1889 World’s Fair.

The tower was not popular with Parisians, who considered it just plain ugly. One critic called it a “metal asparagus.” After the exposition, it was scheduled to be dismantled and sold for scrap, but it was spared because the French army found it useful as a communications tower.

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BEAVERTON, OREGON — A car thief who discovered a toddler in the back seat of the vehicle returned the child to the mother, chastised her for leaving the child unattended, and took off again with the car.

According to police, the woman went inside a meat market, leaving her four-year-old in the car with the engine running and the vehicle unlocked. While she was in the market, a young white male stole the car.

When the thief saw the toddler in the back seat, he immediately returned to the market. A police officer said, “He actually lectured the mother for leaving the child in the car and threatened to call the police on her.”

The vehicle was found later in Portland. Police are still searching for the thief.

CINCINNATI, OHIO — An Ohio man marked Lent by giving up solid foods and getting most of his nourishment from beer.

Lent is an observance among Christians leading up to Easter Sunday, during which believers pray, repent, and perform acts of denial and simple living.

Del Hall of Cincinnati said his Lent diet consisted only of beer, water, black coffee, and herbal tea. He said he drank three to five beers per day.

Hall completed Lent beer diets in 2019 and 2020 and lost about 50 pounds each time. He also said his blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved.

“The human body is an amazing thing,” Hall said. “We’re used to going through life as hunter-gatherers — feast and famine. The problem is we don’t go through the famine anymore.”

SAND LAKE, MICHIGAN — Milo, a springer spaniel who wandered away from home, was found 44 days later and 20 miles away at the bottom of an abandoned grain silo.

A Sand Lake resident told Kent County animal control officers he heard barking and feared a dog had fallen into the old silo. The officers responded and found Milo inside the 10-foot-deep structure.

The officers used a rope to lasso Milo and haul him to safety.

During his ordeal, Milo endured snow storms and frigid temperatures, and he suffered significant weight loss and dehydration. He was reunited with his family and has no permanent injuries.

Milo in the silo.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Final report on my recent RV trip to the Southwest.

———

Mansfield, Louisiana

Half the trip from Georgia to Arizona is crossing Texas, which takes a good two days. On April 5, returning eastbound, I finally left Texas behind and stopped for the night in Mansfield, a forgettable little town in the middle of Louisiana. As usual, no campgrounds were nearby, but Mansfield had a Super 8.

Super 8 is owned by Wyndham now, so the chain is a bit nicer these days. The place actually was clean and comfortable.

After a decent supper at a Chinese place across the street, I retired to my room to watch a DVD movie on my laptop.

At some point, I opened the nightstand drawer and took out the phone book, the idea being to find a map and get oriented.

As I flipped through the pages of the phone book, a small piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. The notepad-size sheet had a Super 8 logo at the top and was covered with writing in longhand. I picked it up and read it.

It was a heart-breaking message written by someone in great emotional distress. And it was dated five years ago. Chances are, it had remained undetected in the phone book until I found it.

This is what the person wrote:

———

Tuesday

July 25, 2016

The Pain???????

Why do I always get hurt. I try and try to do my best. People just [want] me to do things for them

Lord I’m tired I cant keep Putting myself Down like dis Im hurting and hurting I feel like Im going to hurt myself if I Dont get sum help.

———

The slang usage — “like dis” and “get sum help” — suggests that the writer was young. The rest is a mystery.

The incident was especially distressing because, frankly, I can’t relate to inner pain and turmoil on this scale.

The fact is, I’ve been fortunate. I’m a stable, grounded person. Life is good. Other than being in my waning years and having to put up with arthritis and other annoyances, I have no real complaints.

Not so for the anonymous note-writer who stayed in room 104 of the Mansfield Super 8 in 2016.

I hope he or she is in a better place today.

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More about my recent RV trip to the Southwest.

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Abilene, Texas

Chili’s Grill & Bar is not one of my favorite eateries. In fact, until the first week in April, I hadn’t eaten at a Chili’s in a good 10 years. But it was getting late, and fatigue and circumstances led me to pull into the parking lot of the Chili’s in Abilene.

I grabbed a face mask, locked up the RV, and headed toward the entrance. Visions of quesadillas and burritos danced in my head.

As I approached the front door, a derelict lurched past me, mumbling to himself.

Derelict is the word that came immediately to mind when I saw him. He was probably in his 60s, rail-thin, with long, unruly white hair and a long, unruly white beard. He was clutching three or four white plastic bags that bulged with unknown possessions.

His clothes and shoes were shabby, and he wore neither hat nor socks. He looked like Gandalf, if Gandalf were dressed in rags, lurching, and mumbling.

Clearly, the old man occupied a world of his own. He didn’t look up, even though I had to step aside to let him pass.

My conclusion: he probably was mentally ill and homeless. I wondered how he survived from day to day.

Inside, perusing the menu, I abandoned thoughts of Mexican food and chose the Smokehouse Combo, featuring pulled pork BBQ, beef ribs, and corn on the cob. To be honest, every item on the plate turned out to be bland and disappointing. Which is why I am not a Chili’s person.

About halfway through the meal, a waitress appeared at a booth near me and ushered in — you guessed it — the derelict.

The old guy struggled to maneuver his plastic bags onto the table in front of him. He was a sad study in fumbling and wasted motion.

Moments later, the waitress appeared again and delivered a steaming cup of coffee. For the first time, the old man sat quietly and sipped his coffee.

Before long, he got up, collected his belongings, and shuffled off toward the men’s room. Five minutes later, he returned to the booth, stashed his stuff, and sat down again to sip his coffee.

Then the waitress returned and said something to him. The man immediately stood up and began collected his bags, this time with more urgency.

At that moment, my waiter walked by, and I flagged him down. “Are you throwing the old guy out?” I asked.

“Not at all,” the waiter told me. “He said he has to leave — has someplace he needs to be immediately.”

“Look,” I said, “Get the poor guy a hamburger or something. I’ll pay for it.”

“Oh, we already collected money and offered to buy his supper. But he insists he can’t stay.”

Meanwhile, the man had gathered his stuff and was making his way to the front door.

My original thoughts returned: the poor fellow no doubt was mentally ill and maybe homeless. I couldn’t imagine how he survives from day to day.

Dressed in rags, lurching, and mumbling.

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More about my recent RV trip to the Southwest.

———

Flagstaff, Arizona

I’ve rarely had vehicle problems on the road, but, well, life is like a box of chocolates.

The last time I drove west in the RV was in September 2019. On that trip, before heading east again, I had the RV checked out at the Pep Boys in Flagstaff. They changed the oil, looked for problems, and pronounced it good to go.

This spring, I stopped at Pep Boys again — but not for a routine once-over. Somewhere back in Texas, I discovered that I had no headlights or tail lights. The turn signals and brake lights worked, but that was it.

The mechanic found a burned-out headlight switch, replaced it, declared my battery on its last legs, replaced it, checked for other issues, and sent me on my way.

That was the morning of March 31. The rest of that day was spent as described in my previous post: driving to Tusayan, finding a massive traffic jam courtesy of the spring-break hordes, and retreating to Flagstaff.

I found a motel, proceeded to Beaver Street Brewery for supper (three-sausage pizza with mushrooms and caramelized onions, plus two pints of their very excellent Midnight Black IPA), and slept soundly.

The next morning, I was on the road early, eastbound on I-40. I planned to pick up I-25 south and drive down the Rio Grand Valley to Hatch, the “chile capital of the world.”

Over the next couple of hours, cruising at 75, I began to notice that the engine occasionally was skipping. Running slightly and uncharacteristically rough. It wasn’t extreme, but it was noticeable.

I had thoughts of the engine dying and leaving me stranded in the desert 50 miles from the nearest town.

But the engine didn’t die. I drove on with my fingers crossed.

Then, about 40 miles west of Gallup, my check engine light came on.

Oh, hell.

Stopping made no sense. I needed to reach Gallup and find a mechanic. Gallup probably had a Pep Boys, right?

So I slowed to 65 mph and drove on to Gallup, the check-engine light shining brightly, the engine still ominously sputtering every few seconds. On the way, I Googled Pep Boys, and the nearest shop was, thank God, at the first Gallup exit.

The store manager said he would take a look when time permitted, although repairs might take a day or so. I asked if any motels were within walking distance.

He pointed across the street to a handsome SpringHill Suites. “Newest in town,” he said.

Thus, instead of being marooned in the desert with a blown engine, I checked into a SpringHill Suites and took a nap while Pep Boys tended to my RV.

At about 3:00 pm, the Pep Boys manager called. He said the spark plug wiring harness was old, brittle, and in the process of self-destructing. They replaced the harness, and all was well again.

The next morning, I was on the road to Hatch and points east. That afternoon, I picked up a non-Interstate route that took me through a succession of smaller cities and towns and avoided all that nasty Interstate truck traffic.

The good news: the RV ran smooth as silk, all the way home. The bad news: between the repairs, the motels, and the price of gas, my wallet took a serious hit.

The view from behind the wheel. In springtime, the bugs are as troublesome as the college students.

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