Sunday, September 28, 2008

Moving Experiences

    A few weeks after moving to Maryland we got our first electric bill. It was *huge* compared to what I had been paying in Illinois. I called about it and explained the situation to a customer service rep, saying that I just wanted to be sure that the amount was correct.

    She told me - and I swear she sounded proud of it - "Yes sir, we are one of the most expensive in the nation. New York might be higher, I don't know."

    No BS runaround there.

  • A couple of years after Debbie and I split I decided to move from one apartment in Falls Church to another. Not entirely coincidentally, the new one was perhaps fifty feet from the building in which I worked.

    One of the arrangements I had to make was for the continuation of telephone service. I called the phone company and got a person who sounded like a middle-aged woman. I gave her the old and new addresses, which weren't much more than a quarter of a mile apart.

    CS Rep: "Would you like to have a new number or do you want to keep the current one?"

    Donnie: "Well, I've only had this one for three years, so either way I'm gonna have to memorize one."

    CSR, laughing: "I'm sure you're very busy."

    Donnie: "You're very kind."

  • While packing for the move, I came across a long rectangular box that weighed perhaps twenty pounds. It was still sealed with tape, unopened since the move from Illinois four years previous. The only marking on it was the unhelpful "Computer Room Closet."

    I looked at it for perhaps three or four minutes. If I haven't opened this for four years, then no matter what's in it I don't need it.

    For safety's sake I ran through a short list of important items - birth certificate, Army discharge, etc., and decided I knew where all those things were and none were in this box.

    I took it down to the trash bin, unopened.

    Several years later, back in Illinois, I told Debbie about it during one of our telephone conversations. She was absolutely beside herself over it, saying several times "I can't believe you did that."

    I threw that box away in 1996 and haven't spent one minute worrying about it, but you know how things go. Several months ago it popped into my mind that I knew what the box had contained.

    When I moved to Chicago in 1979, my boss sent me to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for a week long seminar on Matrix Management, and the box contained manuals, reference materials, completed assignments, and a graduation certificate. So Debbie, if you should trip over this blog, now you know.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Friends and Colleagues

  • One day Joey, a colleague at a a junk mail company in Virginia, told me about a brief conversation with his seven year old son.

    Seven Year Old: "Girls are different from boys."

    Joey: "Really? How's that?"

    Seven Year Old: "Boys got muscles. Girls got legs."

    Joey: "Umm. Yeah. Let's not share that with your mother just yet."

  • One morning Joey spent the first couple of hours at work with a very amused smile on his face. After a while I asked him what was so funny.

    He told me that his wife had told him that he had been tossing, turning, and mumbling in his sleep and at some point she shook his shoulder and said his name, with no effect. She tried again, harder and louder, and he sat up in bed, scowled at her, and said, "Where have you been and what are you doing with that fire hydrant?"

  • At the weekly bridge session at Sambo's in Sierra Vista, Arizona, there was a mixture of civilians, military, military wifes, retired military, and so on. Very occasionally a few of us would visit the lounge after bridge, have a drink and chat about nothing in particular.

    One night a Mrs. Moore, wife of a non-bridge playing colonel, joined us. She warned us that she had a very low tolerance for alcohol, and sure enough, about halfway through one drink she was flying.

    At some point, out of a clear blue sky, she looked across the table at me and asked "Who's your favorite poet, Donnie?"

    I decided to have some fun with her, thought quickly, and said "Ogden Nash."

    "OGDEN NASH?! He's a shitass."

    This brought down the house, of course, and I confessed fondness for Kipling and Coleridge, both of whom I consider underrated. I hasten to add, however, that I am no poetry expert.

    Several days later I ran into one of the players downtown, the wife of a captain, who told me Mrs. Moore sent her apologies for the outburst, and I asked her to tell Mrs. Moore that she had been provoked.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

South Boston: Not Even a Nice Place to Visit

A while back I advised against outsiders moving to South Boston, and here are a couple of the things that made me do that. I know nothing about how South Boston is now. I do know that it got worse, much worse, after I left, but whether that has changed is something you should learn if you ever actually contemplate living there.

These episodes occurred during the one year I lived in Southie, which was around 1973.
  • I lived on G Street, on the third floor of a small apartment house which had its own parking lot containing perhaps fifty parking spaces.

    One work day morning I walked out to the car, which was . . . gone. This sort of turns your world upside down for a minute, until you adjust to it. I took that moment, shrugged, and walked down to the police station to file a report.

    A policeman at the desk asked me a few questions and gave me a form to fill out. I did so and returned the form. He scanned it, looked through some other documents of some kind, and assured me that when and if they found my car I would be the first to know.

    (For your amusement: I borrowed an old station wagon from my stepfather, who used it to haul various carpentry work and tools around. Three or four days later that too was stolen, this time from a downtown parking lot.)

    Perhaps ten days passed. One evening I got a phone call from a woman who wanted some information about my car and its theft. I asked her who she was and she told me "I'm the owner of the car that your car hit when it rolled down the hill."


    She was one half of a young couple who had just bought their first new car. Some young Southie thugs stole my car, drove it three or four blocks, put it in neutral, and turned it loose at the top of a hill. She was able to find me by going to the South Boston Police Station, and getting the info from my stolen car report. In the meantime, Southie's finest, who knew nothing about the incident when *eye* talked to them had in fact had the car in their posession the whole time, or more precisely, had called a garage and had it towed.

    Some annoyed, I went to the police station, was greeted by the same officer behind the counter, and contemplated asking him if he knew where his butt was, but decided against it on the grounds that it could do a stranger in Southie no good at all to antagonize the local fuzz.

    With some prodding I got him to look through various files and confess that yes, they had been in possession of the car all that time, and in fact had added my car to the national stolen car registry.

    After a bad repair job I got my car back (speakers missing from the doors) and took it to my hometown for a good repair job. Some battles you just aren't going to win.

    Two or three years later I bought a new car and gave the old one to my sister in New Hampshire. A week or two after she registered it, a New Hampshire State Trooper showed up with paperwork showing that the car was still on the national stolen car list. Well done, Southie Blue.

  • On Broadway, the main drag in Southie, there was a bar named "The Elite." Locally, this was pronounced "E-light," with the accent on the first syllable. One Saturday evening, with the house mobbed, two men argued over something. One left and returned a few minutes later carrying a shotgun. He walked over to a booth and ignoring the other people sitting in that very same booth blew his antagonist away.

    The customers filed out and the bartender turned out the lights and locked up.

    The Sunday Record-American carried a short story which mentioned that police were searching for Joe Blow, the bartender. A day later they found him and it was reported to me that in answer to their questions he told them "There weren't any bodies there when I left."

    I imagine that the murder is still "unsolved," as people in Southie never ratted each other out. Whether the perpetrator is still alive might be another story, depending on the victim's friends.

  • On another Saturday night, I was driving down Broadway (which is very busy on Saturday nights). There were cars parked along the curbs as far as the eye could see, and just as I came alongside the Elite there was a double-parked tow truck. I was doing the prescribed 25 miles per hour, or whatever the limit was, as I was in the middle of a line of traffic trying to go somewhere else. Just seconds before my car passed the tow truck, a young man walked out from in front of it. I actually got my foot on the brake and the car to begin braking before I hit him, but there was never any chance of stopping short of him.

    He went ass over teakettle and was hit in midair by an oncoming car. This car, by the way, did not bother to stop.

    He wasn't exactly unconscious, but was thrashing around a little on the road. I prevented other people from moving him, put a blanket from my trunk under his head, and waited for the police and an ambulance.

    A lot of people knew who he was, so I got his name, and from one of the policemen I learned what hospital he would be taken to. The next day I went to the hospital, got a visitor's pass, and went to his room. He was awake, alert, and chipper, and his hand was being held by his girlfriend.

    I introduced myself as the driver of the first car that hit him, and he was a little surprised to learn that a second car had hit him. He told me that he was fine, just had some bruises, that he had been dead drunk when it happened, and "You know, this is the second time this has happened to me."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mandy Stories

  • My mother taught me certain modes of behavior, also known as "manners." Times change, but habits acquired when you are a child are difficult to shed. I am not the least bit unhappy that most of what Mom taught me I still practice, although not everyone feels that way, and occasionally someone is downright unhappy.

    The force that caused more discarding of these habits than any other was of course the women's liberation movement.

    "Ladies" has been replaced by the somewhat pedestrian "women" except in the case of the occasional "ladies and gentlemen." This is regrettable primarily because there is a distinct difference between the two terms even if it is not discernible by certain  ladies  women.

    It was in the 1980's and I was past forty when I finally was able to walk on the inside (without being aware of it every second) when with a female companion.

    I almost never stand these days when a woman enters a room or rises from her chair. (After all, who knows whether she's a lady?)

    I still hold a door for a woman, but plead innocent of any wrongdoing on the grounds that I still hold a door for a  gentleman  man too.

    Oh yes, Mandy. Well, one of the funniest comments on my  sexist  outmoded behavior was made by Mandy. One lunch hour in Chicago a few of us, all women except yours truly, went to Hamburger Hamlet for lunch. When we exited we had a busy street to cross, and stepping off the curb triggered its Pavlovian corollary: I took the arm of the nearest female, a young woman named Nicki.

    Now Nicki was, I think, twenty-three or twenty-four years old and much amused but not the least bit offended by this. As we reached the other side, she turned to me, smiled, and asked "Why did you take my arm?"

    Mandy, perhaps six feet away, supplied an answer: "In case you felt the urge to hurl yourself in front of the nearest oncoming car."

  • One Saturday or Sunday at my house Mandy said "Come on, Donnie, let's play a game of Trivial Pursuit."

    At some point I was looking across the table at her and she was reading the question she was about to ask and was smiling gleefully. Things went roughly like this:

    Mandy: "If you were in Europe and saw a car with a sticker that read "HE" what country would the sticker be from?"

    Donnie: "Oh, jeez, I don't know, Mandy. I don't know anything about those stickers."

    Mandy, eyes aglitter: "Go ahead, Donnie, give it a shot."

    Well, a challenge is a challenge. I went into a huddle, perhaps even a trance. Somehow I found myself thinking about my childhood stamp collecting days and instead of no answer I had two alternatives:

    · Swiss stamps often (always?) bore the word "Helvetia," the old Roman name for a large portion of what is now Switzerland

    · Similarly with Greek stamps and "Hellas," basically Greek for Greece
    Throwing a mental dart I hit the former and answered "Switzerland."

    Mandy's eyes got big and her jaw dropped.

    "What . . . .? How . . . .?"

    I cracked up. Real Trivial Pursuit players know that when your opponents want to give up you should let them. (Also, when in doubt say "Paris.")

  • Mandy and I split and several days later she called me. "The tickets for the concert arrived but if you don't want to go I will understand."

    We had promised her daughter, Beth, who was perhaps eight years old, that when Whitney Houston appeared at Poplar Creek, a local outdoor theater, we would take her to the show.

    I said, "No, that's OK, we promised to take her, let's do it."

    Came the day and I picked the two of them up a little early, and we went somewhere to get something light to eat before the show. Whitney gave a great performance, and the three of us were happy as I drove them home. Sayonara.

    About a week later I received a letter from Mandy comparing me unfavorably to pond scum.

    Your guess is as good as mine.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Couple of Dee Dee Stories

  • During the previously blogged Quebec City trip, I noticed a number of "Aigle d'Or" gas stations. This was a brand I'd never encountered, and I mentioned the large number of such stations that we had passed.

    Dee Dee immediately opined that there were more Irving gas stations than Aigle d'Or. Naturally, this became a competitive situation.

    On Monday, I did the driving for the return trip, and we kept a running count of the stations with the two brands. Carla and my dad were in the back seat, the counts remained pretty close, and after a while things settled down. After perhaps a half hour of relative quiet I heard Dad say, "Oh, Donnie! Look to your left!"

    This was followed instantly by "I HATE YOU! You're supposed to be sleeping," from Dee Dee.

    I looked to the left, saw perhaps fifteen or twenty *huge* Aigle d'Or gasoline storage tanks, and made my claim: "I get a thousand points." If not accepted, exactly, the claim was not contested.

    Perhaps a dozen years later Dad and I encountered an Irving station in New Hampshire, and nothing would do but that we pull over and take pictures of it to mail to Dee Dee, who by this time was married. When next we talked on the phone, her reaction was identical to her responses over more than a decade: "He's so cute."

  • Dee Dee and my great-aunt Bertha became great friends, and from time to time the two of us would visit her in Brockton and take her to a local chain steak house, possibly Bonanza, which was Bertha's favorite place.

    One such night was during the winter, and it was freezing cold and slippery. The plan was for me to pull up and let Dee Dee and Bertha enter the restaurant while I parked the car somewhere. Bertha was nothing if not adventurous, and the instant the car stopped she was out the door, not giving Dee Dee time to help her.

    Now it happened that the car was at the crest of a short - perhaps five foot - incline, which was iced over, and just as Dee Dee got to Bertha and grabbed her arm, the two of them started gliding down this incline.

    My heart was in my mouth as I watched Dee Dee and this eighty-odd year old woman slide to the bottom, but they reached it safely and with Bertha whooping and laughing.

    We had a great time over dinner and when it was time to go Bertha jumped up and took off by herself again. She was awaiting cataract removal surgery and was half blind, and with a right turn she made a beeline for what she thought was the exit door handle. She had a death grip on a gooseneck lamp which she was trying to pull off the wall when I reached her.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Debbie - Part VIII

aka, Part the last
  • A few months after the move to Falls Church, Debbie and I split, this time permanently. My father began referring to her as "my former future daughter-in-law," or "former future" for short. But she and I remained friends, as did she and my dad. They wrote each other and once in a blue moon visited with each other. She and I wrote, telephoned, and later emailed, and she even returned to Falls Church for a couple of visits.

  • On her first visit I told her that she was to do absolutely nothing regarding the state of the apartment - no moving things, no cleaning, no nothing. After a couple of days, as she prepared to leave, she said, "You know, there's something to be said for not emptying an ashtray every time it has one cigarette in it."

    The evening that she arrived I took her to a restaurant that was new to her, and on the way I had her smoke a little grass, something she hadn't done for several months. It really got to her.

    We arrived at the restaurant and found that it was mobbed. I gave my name to the hostess and Debbie and I went into the bar, miraculously finding an empty booth. She grabbed it and I went to the bar to get drinks. Returning, I sat opposite her and we contentedly sipped away.

    I began chattering about something and she finally said "Don't talk to me." OK, she's stoned. I can live with that.

    But I couldn't. The problem was that I was now stoned too and I kept forgetting that I wasn't supposed to talk. Finally, she leaned across the table toward me and said "Look into my eyes."

    I leaned forward and looked into her eyes and she said "There's nobody *in* there."

  • Her final visit came about because I insisted that she go with me to see John Fogerty perform in Manassas, Virginia. For the first time in many years he was going to do the old stuff, the Creedence Clearwater Revival stuff.

    Fogerty put on a wonderful show for a very appreciative audience, an audience ranging in age from perhaps eight years old to octogenarians. But as good as Fogerty was, the drummer, Kenny Aronoff, nearly stole the show and at the end had to take several bows to standing ovations. If you ever get a chance to see him, grab it.

  • Eventually I moved back to Illinois. Debbie and I stayed in touch, both by email and telephone. From one of our very last phone conversations, circa 2001:

    Donnie: "When I look at you I see you as you were in 1969."

    Debbie, after a brief pause: "I'll be right out."

  • Debbie remarried and for a while our emails continued, but at some point she and her husband moved to Maine, she changed her ISP, and my emails apparently started falling into a black hole somewhere. Wherever she is, I wish her well.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Debbie - Part VII

Still More Vignettes

I guess I'm posting a lot of Debbie stories, but you acquire a lot when you actually live with someone for several years.
  • We moved to Maryland and stayed there a few months. Debbie got out there ahead of me and looked for a place to live, settling on a nine room house (!) in Upper Marlboro. I think the movers got there a day after I did, and the unloading was accomplished without incident. The unpacking, however, . . .

    Debbie was positively driven to get everything unpacked and in its proper place no later than yesterday. I tried and tried to get her to calm down and slow down once we had the essentials unpacked, but we had some kind of left brain - right brain experience going or something. She actually exhausted herself and it did put a strain on our relationship. We got through it and in the next several months even had guests for weekends, Jeff and Cassie from Illinois one weekend, Debbie's daughter and her boyfriend on another, and my Dad on yet a third.

    A few months after arriving we both found jobs in Falls Church, Virginia and soon moved there. We needed to save as much as we could on the moving. The company for which I worked had a vacant office and I acquired a key to it. Every morning I'd throw several boxes of stuff into the car and store it in that office, and the day we moved there was little other than furniture to deal with. There were about sixty boxes in the office, however.

    Sadder and wiser this time around, I laid down the law along the following lines: "Every day I'll bring three boxes home from the office. You may tell me what the boxes of the day are to be and I will find them. Saturdays and Sundays are 'off days.' No boxes."

    I do believe there was some reservation visible in Debbie's eyes, but she bought in without a murmur. Every work day she gave me a written description of the three boxes she desired, and I borrowed one of the company's two hand trucks to haul the boxes from the company to the car and from the car to our thirteenth floor apartment. It took a month to get unpacked, but seldom in life has a plan worked so well and with such an obvious payoff. There was no stress at all, not even for Debbie.

    In hindsight, I speculate that the first move's stress for Debbie was not due to any sort of compulsion concerning the contents of the unpacked boxes, but simply the fact that there were unpacked boxes in the house.

    As for leaving Illinois, Debbie commented that our friends were the "best group of people" she had ever known, a sentiment I second.

  • Did you know that Coca-Cola is not subject to the laws of physics?

    For the first couple of days in Falls Church, every spare minute of Debbie's time was spent cleaning our new apartment. It looked sterile to me, but not to her. She spent a whole day on the kitchen alone, a kitchen not much bigger than a shoebox.

    A day or two later, our three boxes unpacked, dinner eaten, dishes washed and put away, we were amusing ourselves with some game or other on the PC when a thirst for a cold Coke hit me. I asked her if she would like anything from the kitchen (nope) and headed for the refrigerator. Taking a can of Coke from the refrigerator door, I somehow lost my grip on it. It fell about two and a half feet, popped open, and sprayed everything on the eastern seaboard. If in the fall of 1992 it rained Coca-Cola in your neighborhood, it may interest you to know that the center of the storm was in Falls Church. Cross that off your list of unexplained mysteries.

    I grabbed the paper towels and began cleaning frantically. By my estimate I was about two thirds done when her voice drifted down the hall: "What are you doing?"

    I was six years old again, doing something I shouldn't be doing, and my parents wanted to know what I was doing.


    A piece of advice for younger adults: That didn't work when you were six and it's not going to work when you're fifty-one either.

    Hearing her push her chair back, I spent the next few seconds vainly hoping for an earthquake, or perhaps a lightning strike. No luck.

    She took it all in with one glance. I said, "Go back to the PC. I'm almost finished and I'll be right there."

    Now came the real surprise. She knew about this and I didn't.

    Without saying a word, she opened one of the cabinet doors. Now this door was behind me, six feet up, and off to the side of Coke Explosion Central. Nevertheless, the inside of that door was dripping Coke.

    Still silent, she opened the oven door. The inside of that door was dripping Coke.

    More doors. More Coke. She opened the silverware drawer and there was Coke in there.

    Do scientists know about this? I swear, there was more Coke inside these things than outside. There was more Coke dripping in various places than was contained in the damn six pack we had bought, and we still had five cans left.

    How does it *do* that? How did it get inside these areas?

    She wanted to finish cleaning it herself, but I couldn't have lived with that. We cleaned it up and returned to the PC, but for her the pleasure had gone out of the evening.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

On Not Turning Pro

I must admit that I am competitive by nature, and that when I have been attracted to some new game that interested me it has been my practice to learn all I can about it, to gamble at it, and especially to gamble at it with better players. If you can find such stituations in lower stakes games, this is the best way to learn. If you become only fairly good and confine your playing to games in which you are one of the favorites, you soon stop learning. In backgammon, for example, I was able to find a club where I could play with stronger players for a dollar a point or two dollars a point. I soon lost several hundred dollars, but the games tended to have a mix of stronger and weaker players, my losses tapered off, and I became one of the more or less consistent winners.

The club slowly died and I moved on to another, this one featuring five and ten dollar games. It's been a long time since I played, but I am certainly ahead some number of dollars in the lower five figures. However, you shouldn't be too impressed. That only makes me a slightly larger than small fish in a very large pond.

(By the way, I have found that in all such situations taking a break and playing only with weaker players for any significant amount of time weakened my game. My wallet would get fatter, but when I returned to games that included some better players I often got my clock cleaned.)

Interestingly, I have been approached by professionals in two different games with advice by one and an offer by the other. They thought I should lose my "honest" job and become a professional. These approaches occurred many years ago:
  • In the 1960s, when I was active in duplicate bridge, I came (by a bizarre road) to the attention of a bridge pro whom we'll call Taylor. He is still active today (thanks, Google).

    I was partnered at a regional tournament with an elderly woman (Fairfax Nesbitt, R.I.P.) and the movement called for two boards (hands) to be played each round. At one table we bid and made two grand slams. It happened that I was declarer both times. When Taylor saw the traveling score slip he alerted the tournament director that something might be wrong - more precisely, that cheating might be taking place - as neither hand was makeable at the grand slam level. At one point in a subsequent round a middle-aged gentleman in a suit watched our bidding and play, then left. I later learned that this was the tournament director.

    We got tops on both hands, but what actually happened during the play of the two hands was:

    1. Based on the bidding, the opening leader came up with a "brilliant" lead which was in fact the only lead that allowed me to make the contract. This was followed by:

    2. A hand with a revoke by a defender. I led a trump, she had one, she inadvertently played a card of another suit, and the penalty was two tricks, giving us the grand slam.

    Taylor had been informed by the tournament director that he observed nothing unusual. Taylor kept his eye on the score slips and found that our results were otherwise consistently normal. Between two rounds he hastened over to me, introduced himself, and asked how I had made the two grand slams. I explained and he laughed and confessed that he had put the tournament director onto us. He returned to his partner and we played our next several sets of opponents.

    When the session was over he appeared again and we chatted about some of the hands. He was, I think, testing me to decide how good or bad a player I might be. In the end he tried to convince me that I should become a bridge pro.

  • In the 1970s I played a lot of backgammon, initially at one club and with perhaps twenty more or less regular members, several of whom were strong players and the rest middle or weak players. As mentioned above, I lost an initial investment of several hundred dollars and learned a great deal. There were two players who made a living gambling at backgammon (with bridge a second source of income for one) and several very strong amateurs who simply supplemented their incomes there.

    I would say that I had about reached the level of the very strong amateurs when the backgammon and bridge pro approached me. He wanted me to turn pro and travel the country with him, occasionally being his partner in matches. He was in his mid-twenties and I was in my early thirties.
These approaches were flattering, but I rejected them both. The first advice was given when I still had several years to serve in the Army. When I went to Vietnam I was necessarily deprived of opportunities to play duplicate bridge, and this caused me to realize that I had been spending most of my life, at least most of my life outside my Army duties, with people who were ten to fifty years older than I (I was 25 when I went to Vietham), and that this was not healthy. And frankly, I still had a lot to learn about bridge and the pro life didn't seem all that attractive to me.

The bridge/backgammon offer was made when I was in my thirties, which is a bit late to switch from a more or less normal life to one of constant travel and gambling. I had been around the world and I was tired of traveling, and once again the pro gambler life didn't look all that attractive.

Whether for the right or wrong reasons, I think I made the right decisions. Today, it seems to me that such lives are shallow, or at least would be for me. Now I'm not shooting at anyone in particular here, or even at any group of people. It may be just a matter of temperament and a matter of when (at what age) you start.

I look, for example, at the international stars in poker who play for a great deal of money. They've all become millionaires that way, and I'm sure they're happy about that. However, correctly or incorrectly, I divide them into two groups: those who balance their lives to some extent, have other things that are important to them, sometimes even more important to them, and those who simply live the life of traveling and gambling (and yes, I'm aware of the perks), constantly competing.

As I have said (or will say) elsewhere in this blog, I overdo things. I suspect that had I turned pro and been successful I'd have fallen into the latter group. I think that I have lived my life in a more interesting if less lucrative way.