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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Trees at Stake

Well, I find myself at loggerheads with persons unknown, either with the City of Jefferson or the city school system, over a landscaping matter. Based on the facts, I’m right and they’re wrong, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Let me explain.

Jefferson is a small town with a school system to match. This year, student enrollment in all grades is only about 4,000 students.

On the other hand, a cafeteria is a cafeteria, and a gym is a gym, which means that even small schools occupy a fair amount of physical space.

It’s also a fact that the grounds require attention. There are lawns to cut, hedges to trim, plants to water. Grounds maintenance is a universal task at schools everywhere.

The Jefferson Public Works Department handles the maintenance of all city-owned property, including the schools. Every day, you see city guys out there getting the job done.

And so, a couple of years ago, when 20-odd new trees were planted beside the tennis courts at Jefferson Middle School, I figured — no doubt correctly — that it was a routine beautification project by the city.

To my untrained eye, it seemed nicely done, with the added touch of several new benches. The trees themselves were young, so each was supported by stakes and canvas straps. It seemed to be evidence that the people responsible knew what they were doing.

As time passed, however, I became less sure of that.

On Saturdays and Sundays, Jake and I typically go walking at one of the Jefferson schools. No one is there, and the grounds are ideal for a stroll — large, green, manicured, quiet, and pleasant. Hence, we passed the new trees at the tennis courts regularly.

And finally, sometime last winter, the thought coalesced in my brain that, although the trees had been growing for a couple of years, they still were supported by the stakes and straps. That didn’t seem right.

Curious and a bit concerned, I took a closer look.

In practically every case, the canvas straps were super-taut because of the growth of the trees. Further, where the straps wrapped around the trunks, many had become embedded in the wood. A bad situation.

I knew full well what was going on. After the project was completed, the trees were out of sight and out of mind. The city moved on to other projects. Other than periodic watering, the trees probably get no care.

If they live, fine. If they die, they get replaced.

The fate of the trees wasn’t my problem, but it was unlikely anyone else was going to step up. I decided to take action.

First, I took this photo.

Stake-1

Then I went to see a friend who manages a plant nursery, a certified landscaping guy. I showed him the photo and described the embedded straps.

“I think those trees are big enough to stand on their own,” I said. “And I think those straps need to go.”

He agreed. “But where the straps are ingrown, don’t pull them out of the trunks,” he said. “That will do more damage. Just cut the straps flush with the wood.”

I learned that freeing 20 staked-out trees isn’t easy. The canvas straps were tough, much harder to cut than I expected. But eventually, after two lengthy sessions, the deed was done. The trees were free at last.

In retrospect, I could have done a neater job. Here, for example, is one of the liberated trees, where I simply cut the straps and walked away.

Stake-2

I should have tidied up instead of leaving a mess, but I was focused on helping the poor trees. And honestly, I didn’t think anyone would notice or care.

It seems I was wrong.

One recent Sunday morning, six months after the Great Liberation, Jake and I went walking at Jefferson Middle School.

When we reached the tennis courts, I did a double-take. The trees in question had been re-staked and re-strapped.

Someone at the school or the city took notice. Maybe they were indignant that some impudent vandal had the audacity to mess with their trees. Maybe they honestly think the trees still need the support. Maybe both.

I didn’t doubt the word of my friend the landscape expert, but I went online to learn more about the staking out of young trees. I found this pertinent bit of advice:

Generally, remove the stake the next growing season. If you add a stake in spring, remove in fall. If you stake in fall, remove in spring. Otherwise, the tree will depend on the stake and won’t stand on its own.

Ha! I was right, and those unknown city people, whoever they are, whatever the rationale for their actions, are knuckleheads.

Did I cut the new straps and liberate the trees a second time? No.

I’m no fool. Those trees could be under special surveillance by security cameras. Or the Jefferson cops might be in the woods on a stakeout (bada-boom), waiting for the perpetrator to strike again.

But no matter. The trees are okay for now. The straps won’t become embedded in the trunks again for a year or so.

Time is on my side.

Stake-3

Actions have consequences. So do inactions.

 

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The Questions…

1. What is the smallest planet in the solar system?

2. The four carvings on Mt. Rushmore depict Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. Why those four?

3. “Koala bear” is an inaccurate term because the animal isn’t a bear. What is a koala?

4. Milk is a source of calcium and protein, and cow’s milk is the most widely-consumed milk in North America. But another kind of milk is more popular in the rest of the world. What is it?

5. Lego bricks, the plastic construction toys, were created in 1932 by Ole Christiansen, a Danish carpenter. In 2015, Lego was named the “world’s most powerful brand.” Over 600 billion Lego bricks have been manufactured. What is the origin of the word “Lego”?

The Answers…

1. It depends. Of the eight big-league planets, Mercury is the smallest, being about 38 percent the size of Earth. Pluto was the smallest until it was demoted to “dwarf planet.” Of the five dwarf planets we officially recognize these days, the smallest is Ceres at 600 miles in diameter.

2. Gutzon Borglum, the monument’s creator, said Washington represented the birth of the nation, Jefferson the growth, Lincoln the preservation, and Roosevelt the development.

3. The koala is a marsupial. Specifically, an arboreal herbivorous marsupial whose closest relative is the wombat.

4. Goat’s milk.

5. Lego comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well.”

Mercury et al

Legos

 

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Last week, I stopped at a local antique store to look at some very cool brass number plates with — well, this requires some background.

In the 1960s, the University of Georgia renovated Sanford Stadium, and most of the seating was replaced. Apparently, a fellow who worked on the project was enterprising enough to unscrew the number plates from the old seats and save them. God knows how many brass plates the guy snatched up. Hundreds, maybe thousands.

I have no idea how the seats were numbered back then (although I probably should, since I was a student at UGA in the 1960s), but the plate numbers seem to go no higher than 30. Maybe that was the maximum length of a single row.

Decades later, as a retiree, the man decided to start selling the plates. Every month or so, he would deburr and polish up a bunch and take them to the antique store, where he had them for sale on a revolving rack. His price: a modest $3.50 per plate.

The number plates were a hit, and sales were steady enough to keep the guy busy polishing and restocking.

He died last year, and his widow is handling the project now.

The plates are oval and two inches long. They are handsome, downright elegant little things. I carry one on the keychain to my RV.

Keys

I chose the number 26 because my birthday is January 26, and 26 is how many times I’ve been to Grand Canyon.

So, why did I go to the antique store last week to look at number plates? Because I just made reservations for a trip to Grand Canyon in September. When I return, I’ll need a 27 plate to replace the 26.

Okay, all that may be interesting, but it isn’t the reason I sat down to write this post. I sat down to write about Sadie, the antique store’s resident cat.

Sadie has been the store cat for eight years. To my eye, she is a rather homely, scruffy little thing with a drab gray coat — but then, I’m a dog person.

For a long time, a hand-lettered sign reading “DON’T LET THE CAT OUT” greeted you at the entrance. We regulars learned to enter the store quickly and shut the door before Sadie could zip past us. At times, it was a challenge. She always seemed to be looming near the entrance.

The sign notwithstanding, Sadie managed to get out regularly. To everyone’s relief, she never wandered far. And, when the spirit moved her, she simply followed a customer back inside the shop. Ultimately, the staff relaxed and took down the sign.

Last week, when I arrived at the store and got out of the car, I saw Sadie in the distance, approaching at a trot.

When I opened the front door, she was only a few yards behind me, closing fast. I stuck my head inside and said, “Hey, is it okay to let the cat in?”

The woman behind the counter looked out the window, whooped, and yelled, “Sadie’s back! Sadie’s back! Thank you, Jesus! Yes, please let her in!”

I stepped aside. Sadie sashayed into the store and went behind the counter to check her food bowl.

The woman scooped up the cat, hugged her to her bosom, and administered joyous kisses.

“She’s been missing for five days!” she said. “We thought she was gone for good — run over — killed by dogs — stolen! This is wonderful! Oh, thank you, Jesus!”

I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.

“I’ve got to call Donna,” she suddenly announced, dropping the cat and picking up her cell phone. “Donna owns the shop. She’ll be so happy.”

Moments later, Donna answered, and her face appeared on the phone. “Donna!” the lady yelled, “Sadie’s back! She’s home!”

“WHAT!” Donna screamed. “Oh, thank God! Thank God!”

“This man saw her outside and let her back in!” said the other lady.

“What man?”

The lady aimed the phone at me.

“Hey, that’s Rocky!” said Donna. “I know Rocky! He’s my Grand Canyon guy! Rocky, bless you for bringing Sadie back!”

I tried to explain that I had nothing to do with it, but they were too excited to hear me.

For several minutes, the two of them reveled in this wonderful turn of events, their elation bringing them close to tears. Meanwhile, Sadie had curled up on a pet pad behind the counter for a snooze.

Soon, the adrenaline subsided, and the phone call ended. The woman composed herself and collapsed with a sigh into her chair. She sat there, looking at Sadie with a contented smile.

With normalcy restored, I turned my attention to the brass number plates dangling from the rack on the counter. The stock was low. They were out of 27s. Bummer.

I told the counter lady why I wanted a 27.

She said not to worry, the widow lady does “special requests” all the time. The store will ask her to polish up a 27 for me and drop it off the next time she restocks.

Two days later, the store called and said my number plate was ready.

Thank you, Jesus.

Sadie

Sadie the store cat. Note that she has been ear-tipped, which usually identifies a feral cat that has been caught, sterilized, and released.

 

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On the website of the magazine Psychology Today, I found a pretty good definition of psychoanalysis. It’s a bit intricate, but you can handle it.

Freud pioneered the idea that unconscious forces influence overt behavior and personality. He believed that childhood events and unconscious conflict, often pertaining to sexual urges and aggression, shape a person’s experience in adulthood.

Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis created the framework for psychoanalytic therapy, a deep, individualized form of talk therapy. Psychoanalytic therapy encompasses an open conversation that aims to uncover ideas and memories long buried in the unconscious mind.

Psychoanalysts employ specific techniques, such as spontaneous word association, dream analysis, and transference analysis. Identifying patterns in the client’s speech and reactions can help the individual better understand their thoughts, behaviors, and relationships as a prelude to changing what is dysfunctional.

As the final sentence explains, the goal of psychoanalytic therapy is to help the patient understand the subconscious causes of dysfunctional behaviors in hopes of changing them.

A few decades ago, I spent a year in psychoanalysis. I met regularly with a psychiatrist, and we explored what makes me tick.

It was a unique and, in many ways, strange experience. All that effort and professional firepower focused solely on me, my thoughts, my beliefs. Having my innermost self under a microscope was surreal and a little spooky.

How I ended up seeing a shrink is an interesting story.

Deanna and I got divorced in 1989. I’ve mentioned the split occasionally on this blog, including here and here, but never in much detail.

I don’t intend to elaborate now, except to say that, when she handed me the divorce papers, a part of me was surprised, but another was not. There had been signs.

She and I began to have disagreements, but all along, I thought they were transient and fixable. I never believed they were significant enough to end the marriage.

Deanna saw it otherwise. It’s a fact that the only person you can understand with even remote accuracy is yourself. And even that is an iffy proposition.

Several years before the divorce, she expressed an interest in seeing a therapist. I took it as a positive thing. If issues are bugging you, it’s good to try to understand and deal with them. She ended up going to a psychiatrist affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta.

Immediately, the doctor proposed seeing both of us, in separate sessions, to facilitate Deanna’s analysis. She said sessions with both marital partners is always advisable.

To be clear, I’m a believer. Freud had some nutty ideas, but his central belief that (1) experiences in childhood affect behaviors in adulthood, and (2) it pays to understand them — that makes sense to me. I certainly don’t object to the concept of therapy.

Nevertheless, I was hesitant. I felt no need to undergo analysis. I was confident no sinister, malignant demons lurked inside me. All my demons are minor and benign.

Further, there was the cost. For one patient, $70 or $80 per session was brutal. For two, it would be crippling.

On the other hand, two facts were clear. First, the doctor might be right that understanding me would help her understand Deanna. And second, if I declined, I would be seen as an obstacle and a villain.

I agreed to undergo analysis.

The sessions were casual and calm. No couch was involved. The doctor and I got along well, and, session by session, she went about the task of sizing me up.

At the same time, I got to know the doctor and her methods. Often, I could see where she was taking the conversation.

For example, she showed interest in how my dad was affected by his World War II experiences. (He was a bomber pilot, was shot down, became a POW.)

After the war, Dad suffered significant anxiety and flashback problems. He struggled with PTSD for many years until, late in life, he finally fought it to a truce.

The doctor wanted to understand how Dad’s condition affected the rest of the family, and me in particular, which I freely admit it did. It was the topic we spent the most time talking about.

In those days, Deanna was a stay-at-home mom. My modest salary sustained us. Under those circumstances, the cost of therapy was a significant financial burden.

To her credit, the doctor arranged a generous payment schedule that I could manage.

And ultimately, also to her credit, she announced that she had seen enough. She said continuing my therapy sessions was not worth the time and expense. We were done.

In effect, she concluded I was acceptably normal and stable and did not require her services. It was a veritable thumbs-up for my mental health, a seal of approval from a professional. I was shrink-certified.

I wasn’t surprised. And it was supremely satisfying.

Mic drop

I don’t recall how long Deanna continued therapy. I never learned anything about her sessions, whether they were fruitful, or how they ended. I never asked.

But I well remember sending checks to the doctor every month, slowly paying down the tab.

Then one day, long after Deanna’s therapy ended, a letter arrived from the doctor.

She informed me that a fire had swept through her office building, and many financial records had been destroyed, mine among them.

She and her accountant decided to declare my debt absolved. Roughly $1,000 was being forgiven and, I assume, written off on her taxes.

I mean no disrespect to Freud or his disciples, but that gesture did more for my mental health than all of the therapy sessions combined.

Lucy

Freud-S

 

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(Note: I chose “We Will Rock You” as a Tune o’ the Day because I heard a toddler belting it out in the Jefferson Kroger recently. That kid, he rocked.)

After a concert in 1977, guitarist Brian May of Queen wondered what audiences can do in confined spaces to express themselves. He concluded “They can clap their hands, they can stomp their feet, and they can sing.”

May decided Queen needed a song, something simple and catchy and rousing, that would cause audiences to get involved.

He said he woke up the next morning with the idea for “We Will Rock You” in his head, including the famous STOMP-STOMP-CLAP beat.

The song’s lyrics are a “three ages of man” story. In the first stanza, a boy on the streets dreams of a better life. In the second stanza, as a young man, he still struggles to make something of himself. In the third, he is a defeated old man whose life went nowhere.

(I tried to figure out what the energetic “we will rock you” chorus has to do with the three verses, but I gave up.)

Queen recorded the song in an empty London church because the band liked the acoustics. May said he found some old boards under the stairs that “just seemed ideal to stomp on.”

The stomping was done separately in a studio as the band, the staff, and the recording engineers all joined in to create and record the distinctive STOMP-STOMP-CLAP. No actual drums were used.

Creating a classic rock anthem is a lot of work.

Queen

We Will Rock You

By Queen, 1977
Written by Brian May

Buddy, you’re a boy,
Make a big noise,
Playing in the street,
Gonna be a big man someday.

You got mud on your face, You big disgrace,
Kickin’ your can all over the place, singin’

We will, we will rock you.
We will, we will rock you.

Buddy, you’re a young man,
Hard man,
Shouting in the street,
Gonna take on the world someday.

You got blood on your face, you big disgrace,
Waving your banner all over the place.

We will, we will rock you.
Sing it!
We will, we will rock you.

Buddy, you’re an old man,
Poor man,
Pleading with your eyes,
Gonna make you some peace someday.

You got mud on your face, big disgrace,
Somebody better put you back into your place.

We will, we will rock you.
Sing it!
We will, we will rock you.
Everybody!
We will, we will rock you.
Hmm
We will, we will rock you.

Alright.

 

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Last week in the Jefferson Kroger, I was met by a curious sight: approaching me in the aisle was a woman pushing a grocery cart in which was seated a toddler, a boy, who had both arms in the air and was bobbing his head rhythmically.

The sight became curiouser when the child burst into song.

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

His head bobbed to the beat. He pumped his upraised fists in time to the music playing in his head.

Frankly, he looked barely old enough to talk, much less sing rock songs. But there he was, belting out a tune nicely on key.

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

By then, our carts had passed in the aisle, and they were behind me. Even after I turned down the next aisle, I could still hear the boy singing heartily.

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

Eventually, the refrain ceased. Either he was too far away to be heard or his mom shut him up.

Oddly, the mom seemed focused on her shopping and oblivious to the boy’s performance. I wondered briefly if she might be hearing-impaired, but decided that was improbable.

Anyway, the child was truly in the zone, and I was happy for him. It’s good to, you know, let it all hang out.

Keep on rockin’ while you can, kid. The inhibitions, insecurity, and self-consciousness will bubble up soon enough.

We Will Wock You

Wocking the Jefferson Kroger.

The Queen classic We Will Rock You is an interesting song for various reasons, which I will address in my next post, a Tune o’ the Day.

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Shellac is used as a wood primer/sealant and also as a waxy coating on food. Jelly beans are coated with shellac to seal them and make them shiny. It’s also a fact that shellac is a natural substance, not a manufactured material.

Shellac is secreted by female lac bugs (Kerria lacca) in India and Thailand. The insects leave tunnel-like tubes on tree branches. The tubes are scraped off, refined to get rid of bark and stuff, and turned into commercial shellac to coat your jelly beans.

The rhinoceros family has five living species: white rhinos, black rhinos, Sumatran rhinos, Indian rhinos, and Javan rhinos. The first three have two horns, and the last two have one horn.

The Hudson River flows 315 miles from upstate New York south to the Atlantic Ocean. However, the lower Hudson is a tidal estuary, so its direction of flow depends on the tide. On the incoming tide, the Hudson flows back upstream about 160 miles.

The closest living relative of the elephant is the hyrax, a small, rotund mammal native to Africa. Hyraxes resemble plump rabbits with short ears and no tail. Manatees also are related to elephants, but hyraxes are closer kin.

Hyrax

The E Street Band has been Bruce Springsteen’s backing band since 1972. It is so named because the mother of keyboardist David Sancious allowed the band to rehearse in her garage at 1107 E Street in Belmar, New Jersey.

The U.S. two-dollar bill was introduced in 1862 and, in spite of chronic lack of demand, remained in circulation until 1966. It was brought back in 1976 for the Bicentennial and remains in circulation today, even though the public still largely ignores it. Two-dollar bills account for one percent of the U.S. currency in circulation.

The legend of Atlantis, the island nation that fell out of favor with the gods and sank into the sea, originated with Plato. The Greek philosopher used the story as an allegory about the hubris of nations. He said Atlantis began as an advanced utopian society, but the people became greedy and petty, and they paid the price in “one terrible night of fire and earthquakes.”

During its century as a British colony, Barbados had a flag that featured an image of Britannia (the female personification of Britain) holding a trident. When Barbados gained its independence in 1966, it adopted a flag that symbolized the break by depicting only the head of the trident.

Flags

The U.S. Navy decommissioned its last battleship in 1992. Currently, the Navy has 283 ships in active service: 10 aircraft carriers, 9 amphibious assault ships, 22 cruisers, 3 near-shore combat ships, 62 destroyers, 17 frigates, 71 submarines, and 89 support vessels. Oh, and 3,700 aircraft.

The Outerbridge Crossing is one of three vehicular bridges between New Jersey and Staten Island. Opened in 1928, it is named for Eugenius H. Outerbridge, the first chairman of the port authority. It is called a “crossing” because the “Outerbridge Bridge” sounds ridiculous. Most people just call it “the Outerbridge.”

Nebraska native Thurl Ravenscroft (1914-2005) was an accomplished bass singer and voice actor who did his first voice-over as Monstro the whale in the 1940 film Pinocchio. You know Ravenscroft as the voice of Tony the Tiger and for singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

The Labrador Retriever originated in the 1500s in Newfoundland, not Labrador. Labs are a cross between the Newfoundland breed and the St. Johns water dog. They were called Labradors, I assume, because we already had Newfoundlands.

Labs

 

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