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This Just In

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND — A man who was lost at sea after being knocked overboard in rough seas saved himself by using his trousers as a flotation device.

German brothers Arne and Helge Murke were delivering a yacht from New Zealand to Brazil when the boom unexpectedly swung and knocked Arne into the water. High winds prevented Helge from maneuvering the boat to reach his brother, and the current carried Arne out of sight.

Arne took off his trousers, made knots at the ends of the legs, and trapped air inside, creating an improvised life vest. A rescue helicopter located him about three hours after he was knocked overboard. He was unharmed.

Luckily, I knew the trick with the jeans,” he told the New Zealand Herald. “Without the jeans, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Life jacket

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — A Delta Air Lines flight from San Juan to New York was forced to return to the airport after an unruly passenger ran down the aisle shouting “I am God!”

Delta officials said the 30-year-old man was aggressive and tried to enter the cockpit. He claimed he was God and said San Juan was going to disappear the following day.

“I came to save the world!” he shouted. “I am going to end terrorism!”

The man was restrained by flight attendants and passengers. The case was turned over the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the flight continued after a two-hour delay.

Flight Disturbance

DEERFIELD BEACH, FLORIDA — Members of a Broward County family were awakened at 4:00 AM by a loud thud when something landed on the roof of their house. When they investigated, they found 15 pounds of frozen ham, pork chops, and Italian sausage.

The meat was wrapped in five packages. Two were found in the yard, and three were on the roof. The packages were addressed to William Land Service in Sarasota.

“I called them,” the homeowner said, “and the guy had no idea what I was talking about and probably thought I was crazy.”

No explanation of the incident has surfaced.

ODD Meat From The Sky

 

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I just got back from a satisfying road trip to the Southwest in my RV. I was on the road for 17 days, had good weather, no problems to speak of.

I went to Roswell, Hatch, and Gallup, New Mexico. Also Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Tuba City, Lees Ferry, and Page, Arizona.

I largely avoided the Interstates, which allowed me to pass through countless cites and towns that are their own little worlds.

As always, I came home with a nice batch of memories. To my surprise, one that stands out is not an experience, but an article I read in a promotional publication at Grand Canyon. It amounts to a fluff piece in a brochure for tourists, but it’s nicely done.

Maybe it clicked with me because I’ve been to Grand Canyon so often (this was my 27th trip), and I’m so familiar with the place, physically and operationally. When the writer describes a coyote at Lipan Point or the shuttle bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead, I have mental pictures.

The article is presented as the “untold story” of anonymous park employees and volunteers, but, inevitably, it also includes the experiences of visitors.

For the record, I forgive them for liberally taking artistic license — basically, making up hokey stuff to advance the story — because it gets the job done.

Here’s the article.

———

A Day in the Life of Grand Canyon National Park

(From “100 Years, One Million Lives, One Grand Canyon,” published by Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon Conservancy)

Much has been written about the beauty, geology, and history of Grand Canyon. But the canyon does have an untold story — the tales of the people who live and work there.

For a national park as immense and remote at Grand Canyon to operate smoothly, it requires an army of dedicated employees and volunteers.

They are on hand daily doing their jobs, and that simple act allows millions of visitors each year to experience one of the best of America’s natural crown jewels.

12:01 AM — A shooting star streaks across the sky, catching the eye of a coyote near Lipan Point. No one knows whether she made a wish.

Day-1

1:22 AM — A river guide assisting with a science trip wakes up and pushes the rafts farther out into the Colorado River because the water drops after the daily release from Glen Canyon Dam.

2:06 AM — Search and Rescue Dispatch takes a call from a distressed hiker on the South Kaibab Trail. Staff immediately respond to aid the struggling hiker.

2:18 AM — A Delaware North (note: a park concessionaire) plumber is roused from sleep when he is called out to respond to a broken toilet in a Yavapai Lodge guest room.

3:06 AM — Xanterra (note: also a concessionaire) mule packers arrive at work to begin grooming mules and packing supplies for Phantom Ranch.

4:00 AM — The Hiker’s Express shuttle leaves Bright Angel Lodge on its way to South Kaibab Trailhead.

5:34 AM — An excited Boy Scout troop starts a backpacking hike down Bright Angel Trail.

5:58 AM — Staff at Canyon Village Deli begin assembling breakfast burritos and bagel sandwiches.

6:03 AM — Shades of soft purple melt away, and the canyon’s terraced formations seem to glow as the first rays of light caress ancient stone. Dawn’s color wheel turns, saturating the sky with pink, gold, and bronze hues so astounding they do not yet have a name. The sun has risen at Grand Canyon.

6:08 AM — Bright Angel Bicycles & Café serves up the first cappuccinos and cinnamon rolls to visitors who were up early to witness the sunrise.

6:47 AM — Custodial staff finishes cleaning the restrooms at Yavapai Geology Museum.

7:38 AM — An Italian father wakes his sleepy son and carries him to the window of their North Rim cabin so the boy can see deer grazing just outside.

8:00 AM — Grand Canyon Visitor Center opens for the day.

9:00 AM — Morning briefing begins for the park’s emergency services personnel.

9:03 AM — Trail crew pushes wheelbarrows of dirt down South Kaibab Trail for maintenance work.

9:17 AM — At Desert View Watchtower, a Hopi painter and a Navajo silversmith work on their art and answer questions as part of the Desert View cultural demonstrator series.

Day-2

9:21 AM — An Oregon family pedals along Hermit Road after being carefully outfitted with bikes and helmets from Bright Angel Bicycles.

9:30 AM — Volunteer campground hosts begin rounds to ensure visitors are checked out and campfires are extinguished.

9:31 AM — An El Tovar Hotel bartender starts the three-hour preparations for a busy day and evening ahead, full of thirsty Grand Canyon guests.

10:04 AM — A visitor from Minnesota takes photos of her family as they ride mules to Phantom Ranch. She cannot remember the last time she’s seen her moody teenager wearing such a broad smile.

10:37 AM — Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute staff lead a group of new backpackers down Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden.

11:01 AM — Law enforcement rangers respond to people feeding squirrels near Bright Angel Lodge. They provide first aid for a bitten hand and instruct the visitor to get rabies shots as a precaution.

Day-3

Day-4

11:16 AM — In Desert View Watchtower, a young woman from Canada chats with Grand Canyon Conservancy staff. Amazed to discover the building and many other park structures were designed by Mary Colter, she purchases a book to learn more about the pioneering architect.

12:01 PM — A philanthropy manager from Grand Canyon Conservancy meets with prospective donors over lunch to discuss endowing the park’s trail maintenance program.

12:22 PM — While strolling along the Rim Trail, a Swedish couple stops to enjoy the playful cawing of a raven seemingly saying, “Come fly with me.”

12:41 PM — Fee collection staff at South Rim Entrance Station competes to see who can move vehicles through their lane the fastest.

1:13 PM — A Canyon Trail Rides mule packer leads visitors on a ride through the North Rim’s lush forests to Uncle Jim Point.

1:26 PM — Representatives from the park’s Traditionally Associated Tribes meet with park staff to give input on a new vision for the Desert View area that will include more tribal participation.

1:30 PM — A volunteer on summer break from college begins a guided tour of Tusayan Ruin.

1:43 PM — Custodial staff restocks Grand Canyon Visitor Center bathrooms with a pallet (48 cases) of toilet paper, which will last one week.

2:11 PM — Diners finishing a delicious meal on the patio of Grand Canyon Lodge strike up a conversation with the busboy, only to discover they once lived in the same small Idaho town.

2:38 PM — Wildlife staff work to move elk away from human drinking-water sources at South Kaibab Trailhead.

3:07 PM — Park rangers and emergency medical technicians administer CPR to revive a visitor who collapsed in the Market Plaza parking lot.

3:25 PM — A shaft of sunlight pierces the cloud cover, bathing Brahma Temple in a satiny glow while the surrounding formations are dappled by shadows. An Indiana man watches and wonders whether it is the single most beautiful sight he has ever seen.

3:36 PM — A couple from Missouri celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary sitting on the rim, eating ice cream cones from Bright Angel Fountain.

3:42 PM — A park ranger and her equestrian partner, Rio, stop to talk to a family about the desert bighorn sheep they can see from the rim. The kids pose for photos with Rio and give him lots of love.

3:51 PM — During a program on California condors, two of the impressive birds fly past. The park ranger conducting the program wisely takes credit for the visual aids.

Day-5

4:00 PM — A Phantom Ranch park ranger begins a program in the amphitheater about water conservation.

4:12 PM — A sudden monsoon drives visitors into Grand Canyon Visitor Center. The movie theater fills, and the line to the information desk backs up the length of the building.

4:23 PM — A park ranger roving the campground at Desert View tells visitors about the sunset talk happening that evening. At one stop he hears a Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake shaking its tail.

5:48 PM — As quickly as it began, the rain ends. The buildings in the Village nearly empty as everyone hurries to the rim to watch the shifting pattern of sun and clouds, light and shadows reinventing the canyon right before their eyes.

6:07 PM — A bartender at Yavapai Tavern pours another local Arizona beer for a guest.

6:30 PM — Employees from different departments of the park gather for a weekly volleyball game.

6:41 PM — Over plates of salmon tostadas at El Tovar Hotel, two old college friends compare aches and pains acquired from their backpacking trip to Horseshoe Mesa.

6:47 PM — A river guide serves a cake baked in a Dutch oven to visitors rafting the Colorado river.

7:11 PM — Although the sky is mostly clear, a few low-lying clouds linger. They seem to go up in flames as the sun slips below the horizon. Bands of red and orange streak the sky, dancing across the formations below. Spontaneous applause is heard from several viewpoints. The sun has set at Grand Canyon.

7:13 PM — With lavish sky and a color-streaked canyon as a backdrop, a young man from Wisconsin proposes to his girlfriend. She tearfully accepts, thus ensuring the couple an impressively romantic engagement story.

8:00 PM — A park ranger on the North Rim welcomes visitors to the evening program in the Grand Canyon Lodge auditorium.

8:26 PM — Wildlife staff net bats to determine if white-nose syndrome is in the park.

9:11 PM — Unable to sleep after an amazing Grand Canyon day, an aspiring 12-year-old poet scribbles in her notebook at Maswik Lodge.

9:39 PM — A family from Phoenix stands at Mather Point gazing skyward and for the very first time sees the Milky Way.

10:06 PM — The musician at Bright Angel Lounge launches into an obscure Bob Dylan tune, and without a word two friends at the front table smile and clink their glasses.

11:59 PM — A coyote lopes across bare stone, pausing near the rim to sniff the breeze wafting out of the canyon. She glances at a slice of moon, yips twice, and trots off.

No one knows what she said.

Day-6

Not bad for a fluff piece.

 

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Tune o’ the Day

Richard Lester, the director of the second Beatles movie “Help!” said he wanted to make a film in the vein of the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup.” He delivered a madcap story about members of a sinister cult chasing Ringo because a sacred ring needed to perform sacrifices was stuck on his finger.

The working title of the 1965 film was “Eight Arms to Hold You.” According to a cousin, Lennon came home one night and said, “God! They’ve changed the title of the film. It’s going to be called ‘Help!’ now. So I’ve had to write a new song with the title called ‘Help!'”

Paul McCartney gets credit as co-writer, but he acknowledged that the song was Lennon’s baby.

Lennon elaborated in 1980. “I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help.

“So it was my fat Elvis period. You see the movie: he — I — is very fat, very insecure, and he’s completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was.”

Amazing. Lennon was asked to conjure up a usable song with the title “Help!” and he delivered something this good.

Help

Help!

By The Beatles, 1965

Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Help! I need somebody.
Help! Not just anybody.
Help! You know I need someone.
Help!

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now, these days are gone, and I’m not so self-assured.
Now I find I’ve changed my mind. I’ve opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down.
And I do appreciate you being ’round.
Help me get my feet back on the ground.
Won’t you please, please help me?

And now my life has changed in oh, so many ways.
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then, I feel so insecure.
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down.
And I do appreciate you being ’round.
Help me get my feet back on the ground.
Won’t you please, please help me?

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now, these days are gone, and I’m not so self-assured.
Now I find I’ve changed my mind. I’ve opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down.
And I do appreciate you being ’round.
Help me get my feet back on the ground.
Won’t you please, please help me?

Help me, help me, Ooh.

 

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The Questions…

1. What is a lunette?

2. From 1987 until 1995, twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen played the role of young Michele Tanner in the TV series Full House. As the girls matured, what special accommodation became necessary on the set?

3. Lake Baikal in Siberia, at one mile deep, is the world’s deepest lake. What other superlative does Baikal have going for it?

4. Movie trailers have been around since 1913, when the Loew’s theater chain showed the first preview of an upcoming film. If previews are shown before the feature film, why are they called “trailers”?

5. Why is the Statue of Liberty green?

The Answers…

1. A lunette is the thing on a guillotine that holds the subject’s head in place. It consists of a bottom half, where the neck rests, and an upper half, which is lowered onto the back of the neck to immobilize the subject.

2. The twins lost their baby teeth at different times, so they had to be fitted with prosthetic teeth to maintain the same appearance.

3. It’s also the world’s oldest lake at some 25 million years old.

4. In the old days, trailers were shown after the feature film ended. That was a short-lived practice, since most people were busy leaving the theater and didn’t pay attention, but the name stuck.

5. The statue turned green because of oxidation of the copper. The original color in 1885 was dull brown. 30 years later, the green patina had formed. It protects the copper from further erosion.

Execution By Guillotine Taking Place

SL

 

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Queen of the Dolls

When my boys were growing up, they owned the usual succession of popular guy toys. Naturally, they had no experience with dolls and other girly stuff.

(G.I. Joe action figures don’t count as dolls, do they? Certainly not. Perish the thought.)

On the other hand, thanks to TV commercials, friends, neighbors, etc., we were plenty familiar with the girl toys on the market. We never had an actual Barbie around, but we knew all about the perennial queen of the dolls.

Barbie-1

Fashion Model Barbie, 1977.

All these years later, Barbie remains a genuine cultural phenomenon and a sales and marketing juggernaut. I’m uncomfortable with how advertisers manipulate kids, but still, you have to be impressed by the masterful job they did with Barbie.

I did some research to fill in the details, and the story is fascinating.

———

It’s another tale of a business started in a garage.

In 1945, two Southern California product designers formed a company called Mattel Creations. The designers were Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler. Mattel was a combination of their names.

Working out of Handler’s garage, the men built picture frames using shop equipment purchased from Sears on the installment plan. In addition, Elliot began using the wood scraps to make doll furniture.

Elliot and his equally enterprising wife Ruth had a host of potentially marketable ideas. Among them were a child-size ukulele and a jack-in-the-box.

Mattel was not the Handlers’ first business venture. In the late 1930s, newly married, they formed Elzac (named for Elliot and his then-partner Zachary Zemby), which made and sold costume jewelry and brooches. Most were inexpensive and often whimsical.

Barbie-2

An Elzac brooch from the 1940s.

Elzac was a successful venture, but the Handlers, having greater ambitions, put their hopes in Mattel.

And Mattel was profitable from year one. The ukulele (the Uke-A-Doodle) was a popular seller. In 1947, the Handlers bought out Matson, and Ruth and Elliot became co-CEOs of Mattel.

By the early 1950s, Mattel was focused exclusively on toys, and business boomed. In 1955, it surged exponentially when Mattel began advertising on TV.

When the Mickey Mouse Club was set to debut on television, Disney and ABC approached Mattel about sponsoring a 15-minute segment of the program. The deal required a commitment for the full 52-week season, at the sobering cost of $500,000.

At the time, that was almost Mattel’s entire net worth. But the Handlers understood the potential and took the deal.

The television exposure was transformative. Within a few years, Mattel’s annual sales topped $1 million, then $5 million, then $14 million.

For several years, Ruth had been musing about an idea she got when her daughter Barbara was a pre-teen. Barbara often played with paper dolls, making paper clothes for them and acting out fanciful stories and adventures.

Ruth also observed that Barbara had outgrown her doll babies and always treated the paper dolls as adults.

Ruth wanted to give girls like Barbara a replacement for both traditional dolls and paper dolls: an adult female doll with a wardrobe of clothing made of fabric, not paper.

But Ruth couldn’t convince Elliot or the Mattel staff. They insisted parents wouldn’t buy their daughters a doll with the figure of a grown-up. Ruth had to bide her time.

In 1956, the Handlers took their then-teenaged children Barbara and Kenneth to Europe on vacation. During the trip, Ruth discovered a new German sensation, “Bild Lilli.”

Bild Lilli was a comic strip character in the tabloid Bild. Lilli was a gold-digger — single, seductive, and always scantily dressed. Men regularly pursued her, and Lilli deflected them with witty comments.

The comic strip became so popular that a doll in Lilli’s likeness was made. It was sold in gift shops as a novelty for men, not as a doll for children.

But Lilli was almost precisely what Ruth had in mind.

Barbie-3

A Bild Lilli doll.

After the trip, Ruth created a prototype doll based on Bild Lilli, but slightly modified. She named her creation Barbie after their daughter. Elliot and the staff quickly were on board.

Mattel’s new Barbie doll debuted at the New York Toy Fair in 1959, enjoying modest success. But soon, following a barrage of TV commercials — which advertised the doll directly to little girls, not their parents — Barbie, Mattel, and the Handlers were rocketed to toy business stardom.

Barbie-4

The first Barbie doll.

In 1959, 300,000 Barbie dolls were sold for $3.00 each. Clothing sets cost from $1.00 to $5.00.

By Barbie’s 50th birthday in 2009, over one billion Barbie dolls had been sold.

FYI, the last Lilli cartoon appeared in Bild in 1961. In 1964, Mattel bought all patents and copyrights to the Bild Lilli doll, and production in Europe ended.

Ruth and Elliot Handler guided Mattel for the next 30 years. They introduced a wide range of Barbie-related dolls and merchandise, as well as the Chatty Cathy doll and the Hot Wheels line of toy cars.

In 1972, somewhat unexpectedly, Mattel reported a substantial loss. The government investigated, and in 1974, Mattel was charged with filing false reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Handlers chose to plead no contest and agreed to resign from Mattel management.

After the departure of the Handlers. Mattel rebounded and continued to grow. Over the years, the company acquired Western Publishing (Little Golden Books), Fisher-Price, Tyco Toys (Matchbox cars), Pleasant Company (American Girl), and the Learning Company (educational software).

At various times, Mattel also made licensee deals to manufacture Disney Princess dolls as well as toys for franchises such as Harry Potter, Superman, Batman, Justice League, Loonie Tunes, and others.

Ruth and Elliot Handler were inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 1989. Barbie was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.

In 2002, Ruth died from complications of surgery for colon cancer. She was 85. Elliot died in 2011 at age 94.

———

To round out the story, here is some Barbie trivia…

— Barbie had seven sibling dolls over the years, plus an English cousin, Francie Fairchild.

— Christie, the first African American doll, was introduced in 1968.

— Mattel always uses the color Barbie Pink (PMS 219) in its logos and merchandise.

— In 1971, Barbie’s eyes were changed from looking coyly sideways to looking directly forward. In 1977, Barbie’s mouth was modified to reveal her teeth and form a smile.

— In 2016, Mattel began offering dolls with seven skin tone options and three body types: “tall,” “curvy,” and “petite.”

— In 2015, Barbie was given adjustable ankles so she could wear flat shoes.

— In 2003, Mattel released a pregnant version of Barbie’s friend Midge Hadley. The doll featured a removable baby that was held in place by a magnet. Pregnant Midge received mixed reviews.

Barbie-5

— In the 1960s, an elaborate backstory was created for Barbie in a series of books.

— Occasionally, celebrity dolls are sold in Barbie world, among them Elizabeth Taylor, Twiggy, Cher, Elvis and Priscilla Presley, and Nicki Minaj.

— Barbie and her boyfriend Ken (named for the Handlers’ son Kenneth) broke up in 2004, but got back together on Valentine’s Day 2011.

— Barbie has held over 150 careers.

— Mattel has released a “Barbie for President” doll every election year since 1992.

For 2019, Mattel debuted a doll with a prosthetic leg as well as a doll in a wheelchair.

Barbie-6

— Today, a Barbie doll is sold somewhere in the world every three seconds. Barbie-related merchandise generates annual sales of about $2 billion.

— A live-action Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie is in the works. For real.

Barbie-7

Kenneth, Ruth, Barbara, and Elliot Handler.

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1457, King James II of Scotland banned golf and football (soccer), which he said were interfering with the military preparation of the populous for Scotland’s ongoing war with England. The ban was lifted after England and Scotland signed a peace treaty in 1502.

The first Academy Awards were presented in 1929. The award for Best Picture, then called Outstanding Picture, went to the war film “Wings.” At the time, only silent films were considered. The first talkie to win an award was “The Broadway Melody” in 1931.

Hawaiian is a Polynesian language related to Samoan, Tahitian, and Tongan. It was an oral-only language until the 1820s, when New England missionaries worked out a modified English alphabet that allowed Hawaiian to be written for the first time.

The Hawaiian alphabet consists of five vowels (A, E, I, O, and U, each having both a long and a short pronunciation), seven consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, and W) and assorted combinations thereof. For example, AU = the OU sound in OUT.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, was only the beginning for author L. Frank Baum. He wrote 14 full-length novels about Oz, the last published in 1920 after his death.

Since then, Baum’s publisher has released 26 more Oz books by a series of writers. The most recent books based on the world of Oz are a trilogy published in 2005, 2006, and 2014.

Oz books

In 1972, electrical engineer Nolan Bushnell founded the popular video game Atari. In 1977, he opened the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain, which he envisioned as a place where kids could eat pizza and play video games.

Bushnell’s Law on the subject of video game design states “All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth.”

The idiom hands down can describe winning with ease (“He won the competition, hands down.”), or can mean without a doubt (“Hands down, Mom is the best cook in town.”).

The expression originated in horse racing. When a jockey was certain of victory at the end of a race, he could lower his hands, relax his hold on the reins, and stop urging the horse on.

In 1912, when the London Symphony Orchestra was invited to perform in the U.S. for the first time, the group booked passage on the RMS Titanic. However, the maiden voyage of the Titanic was delayed, and the orchestra switched to the SS Baltic to stay on schedule.

Modern dentures are made of acrylic resins and plastic over a metal base, but in olden times, other materials had to be employed. The Romans made partial dentures out of human and animal teeth. In the 1500s, the Japanese invented wooden dentures. In Europe in the 1700s, dentures often were carved from ivory and animal horn.

But by the 1800s, the most popular source was human teeth, which were not only denture-ready, but widely available from medical schools, graveyards, and battlefields. After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, scavengers closed in to collect teeth from the thousands of casualties.

Dentures

Adolphe Monet, the father of French painter Claude Monet, was a prosperous retailer of groceries and ship’s supplies. He was greatly displeased when Claude became an artist instead of taking over the family business.

When young Claude was conscripted into military service, Adolphe declined to purchase his son’s exemption, which was the usual practice among the wealthy at the time. Take that, you ingrate.

The average elevation above sea level in the Kingdom of Bhutan, located in the Himalayas between India and China, is 8,000 feet, which is the highest average in the world.

Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy founded in 1616. All government policy is guided by the concept of Gross National Happiness, an index of the collective contentment and well-being of the populace. Let that sink in.

Atoms are composed of a nucleus (consisting of protons and neutrons) and one or more electrons. The electron was discovered in 1897 by English physicist J. J. Thomson. The proton was discovered in 1917 by New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford, who was a student of Thompson. The neutron was discovered in 1932 by British physicist James Chadwick, who was a student of Rutherford.

The world’s largest functioning guitar is 43.5 feet long, 16 feet wide, and weighs 2,255 pounds. It is a replica of a 1967 Gibson Flying V, with strings made of aircraft cable. The guitar was built in 2001 by the Academy of Science & Technology in Houston to demonstrate principles of acoustics. The big fella is on display at the National Guitar Museum in Orlando.

Guitar

 

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Wash and Wax

Friends, you may ask yourselves, what do old retired guys do every day? Well, in my case, I stay as busy as if I were gainfully employed.

Every day, tons of stuff needs doing. And sometimes, the things that need doing catch you off guard.

That’s because life hurls all kinds of unpredictable pitches at you. Fastballs, curveballs, sliders. All you can do is step up to the plate and address the ball. (No, wait. That’s a golf metaphor.)

Swinging away at the random pitches life serves up — that’s my job now. Well, I also have the blog.

———

– Slippery When Wet

Last winter was especially wet, and it was unkind to the Rocky Smith residence. By spring, unwanted stuff had begun to grow on various outdoor surfaces.

The concrete — driveway, sidewalks, and patio — was coated to varying degrees with a yucky layer of blackish-brown something that turned slippery when it rained.

Several walls of the house were afflicted with an unpleasant green mold or mildew or whatever.

And, instead of being a cheerful white with natty blue pinstripes, my RV was a depressing gray with blue pinstripes.

When Paul the yardman showed up to cut my grass for the first time, I asked, “Do you do pressure-washing?”

“You bet.”

I told him the concrete desperately needed cleaning. He gave me a price, came back the following week with a behemoth of a pressure-washer, and did the job in half a day.

When he finished, I asked, “Do you do houses?”

“You bet.”

He walked around the house to assess things, gave me a price, came back the following week, and did the job in half a day.

When he finished, I asked, “What about RVs?”

“You bet.”

He gave me a price, came back the following week, and spent an hour or so pressure-washing the van with unexpected thoroughness. It looked almost as good as the day I bought it.

– Prohibited by Law

My next task was to give the RV a protective coat of wax. Being retired from washing and waxing vehicles myself, I took it to a full-service car wash. I wasn’t after any fancy detailing. I just wanted a basic wash and wax.

Last year, I found a place that does good work at reasonable prices. It’s a big operation, part of a chain. While you wait inside watching TV, a dozen or so young guys are outside swarming like ants over the vehicles. A thorough, buttoned-up operation. I stopped to ask them about the RV.

The response was a knuckleball.

“Sir, we can wax the RV for you, no problem,” said the earnest young man at the counter. “But you’ll have to wash the vehicle before you bring it in.”

Say what?

“But… you’re a car wash. You wash cars. Why do I have to wash it before bringing it to you?”

“State regulations, sir. We recycle our water. The drains under the building collect the wash water so it can be treated and used again. Your vehicle won’t fit inside the building, so we would have to wash it outside. And that’s prohibited by law.”

“Prohibited by law.”

“Yes, sir. But I have an option you might want to consider. I do jobs on the side all the time. I could do the wash and wax at your place.”

Aha. A sensible solution. I gave him my phone number, and he said he would call to work out the details.

The week wore on, and the little so-and-so never called. Time to explore other options.

– Mr. Clean

I’m a relatively intelligent guy, and this was a relatively simple problem. I needed to find a car wash designed for larger vehicles.

Trucks, for example. Trucks need washing, right? People out there are in the business of washing trucks, right?

Indeed they are. In fact, truck washes are everywhere. I didn’t know that because truck washes were never on my radar screen.

One place that had good online reviews was Mr. Clean Truck and Car Wash in Athens. I stopped one day to check them out.

Mr. Clean was a little more bare-bones than I expected — basically, just a small shed that served as an office, two more sheds stocked with supplies, lots of ladders and hoses, and a paved parking lot full of trucks and busy workers.

In the office was a middle-aged black guy sitting on a stool, staring at his cell phone. “Can I hep you?” he asked without looking up.

“You wash trucks, so I’m betting you can wash my RV,” I said.

“No problem,” he said, still focused on the phone. “Just bring it in. No appointment necessary. We’ll fix you up.”

I described the RV and asked the price of a wash and wax.

“Won’t know till I see it,” he said, still staring at the phone.

I said okay, but I need at least a rough idea of the cost.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I tell everybody,” he said, looking up finally. “Bring $100 cash, and that should more than cover it.”

– 32 Minutes

A few days later, I drove the RV to Athens and pulled into Mr. Clean’s parking lot. Four employees were busily cleaning a semi. Two others big trucks were waiting their turn. I went inside the office where the black guy was sitting on the stool with his phone, still supervising.

“I brought my RV for a wash and wax,” I said. He went outside, took a look, and returned.

“We use liquid wax,” he said. “Sprayed on, not hand-rubbed.” I took that as implying that spray wax is inferior. But I’m not picky. I nodded in agreement.

“75 dollars,” I understood him to say. I got out my wallet, took out four $20 bills, and handed them to him.

“What the hell is this?” he barked. “I said 35 dollars.” He handed back two of the bills.

“Sorry, I misunderstood,” I said. “This is my first time.”

Stone-faced, he gave me $5 change and said his boys would be ready for me directly.

The four guys doing the actual work were an interesting bunch.

One was a large, muscular black guy who was suffering mightily in the 90-degree heat. He kept gesturing to the others to hose him down.

Another was a young white guy who was so heavily tattooed — arms, legs, back, torso, face, neck, even the top of his shaved head — that he looked like a Maori tribesman.

W&W-1

The other two were tall, lean white guys, typical Southern dudes. Somehow, their cigarettes stayed lit even though their clothes were drenched.

All four worked at high speed, but were surprisingly thorough and meticulous. The trucks ahead of me took half an hour each to clean. By that measure, I figured the RV would be done in 10 minutes.

Wrong. By the clock, they spent 32 minutes climbing over, under, and around the thing, scrubbing, spraying, and rinsing at a frenetic pace.

W&W-2

When they finished, it looked better than the day I bought it.

W&W-3

The boys moved on to the next vehicle. I stuck a $20 bill in the tip box and headed home.

– Reality Bites

Back in Jefferson, I learned why sprayed-on liquid wax is inferior to the hand-applied variety.

For one thing, the RV was wet when I left Mr. Clean, and it air-dried on the way home. Thus, the glass and chrome ended up covered with water spots.

For another thing, the lower half of the chassis was covered with streaks where the wax dripped down and dried. From a distance, the vehicle looked great; up close, it had issues.

Mr. Clean’s wash and wax job accomplished what I wanted, but alas, fell a bit short. Live and learn.

With a sigh, I got out some rags and glass cleaner and cleaned off the water spots.

Next, I put some wax on another rag and began buffing out the streaks on the body. The buffing wasn’t hard, but it took a while.

Finally, I put a coat of Back to Black on the bumpers, door handles, and trim. The treatment worked well, but will need redoing in about a month.

It also occurs to me that, if next winter is as unkind as the last, I’m destined to do this all over again.

W&W-4

 

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