Tuesday, November 30, 2010

42

Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (A Trilogy in Five Parts), called it the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

It is also the name of a domino game people in Texas played when I was a kid. They still do. Not the same people, of course. It has bids and trumps and is something like bridge. I have never heard of it ever being played anywhere else.

It will be, for a few more weeks, the age of the youngest of my three children.

But I have devoted a whole post to the number 42 for one reason and one reason only. As of a couple of days ago, it is the number of official followers of this blog. Unofficially, however, there are at least 17,643 of you lurking about. I can feel it in my bones.

At the rate I am gaining official followers, I should be able to give a victory speech in a park in Chicago in about three or four million years.

(Photo by Michelle Marcotte, appeared in the Nacogdoches, Texas, Daily Sentinel)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's so special about November 28th?

On this day in 1962, Jon Stewart was born. On this day in 1967, Anna Nicole Smith was born. On this day in 1976, Rosalind Russell died. On this day in 1980, Queen Mother Wilhelmina of the Netherlands died. On this day in 1582, in Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway paid a £40 bond for their marriage license.

But to me, probably because I am married to an Albanian-American, November 28th is and always will be Albanian Flag Day. Click here to see the Albanian flag and to hear the Albanian national anthem.

Today also would have been the wedding anniversary of my parents-in-law. They were married on November 28, 1926, in Fier, Albania, when Ksanthipi (the bride) was 19 and Dhimitri (the groom) was 31. In 1963, I married their daughter.

Here they are in 1930, in Philadelphia, on their fourth anniversary.

And here is a closer view:


They were married almost 57 years. Dhimitri (who became Jim when he became an American citizen) died in 1983 at the age of 88. Ksanthipi (who became Carrie) died just three years later, in 1986, at the age of 79.

I created this post on Albanian Flag Day and their anniversary in their memory.

Here are some other interesting facts about November 28th.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lo, how a what???


Here are two facts:

1. Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent.
2. I’m finally beginning to lose it.

I am usually quite accurate about spelling (I always won the weekly spelling bees in school), but this week I had one of those moments. Most of you know that I was hired this past September to provide music at a Methodist Church. To be technically accurate, the church doesn’t have an organ or a piano; it has an electronic thingie called a Yamaha Clavinova that can make a plethora of sounds. It can do everything but toast bread. However, of the many possible toots and bells and whistles settings available, I confine myself to using just three: grand piano, tubular chimes, and pipe organ. The rest can just disappear for all I care. Some people somewhere may actually want to hear “Holy, Holy, Holy!” played badly on the saxophone or a rendition of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” on the tuba, but they won’t be hearing either one from me.

When I began, the pastor asked me to select the hymns each week in addition to playing a prelude, an offertory, and a postlude. The names of the prelude and postlude are not printed in the weekly bulletin, but the hymns and offertory are.

Anyhoo, on Tuesday I told Patty, the church’s administrative assistant, that the offertory for this Sunday (the First Sunday in Advent, remember?) would be “Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming.” I wrote it down for her. What I should have written, of course, was “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (the English title of a 15th-century German carol called “Es ist ein Ros ent­sprung­en”).

Ere and e’er mean two different things.

A rose ere (before) blooming is no rose at all, just a bunch of foliage and thorns, but a rose e’er (ever) blooming, now that’s something to contemplate while the offering plate is passed.

Normally the church office is staffed Monday through Thursday. However, because this week was Thanksgiving week, the office was staffed on Monday and Tuesday only. Normally Patty puts the bulletin together on Wednesday and prints it on Thursday morning. By the time I realized my error, it was Tuesday evening, Patty had long since gone home, not just for the day but for the week, and the bulletins were already printed. Come Sunday, my error is going to be out there for the local Methodist churchgoing public to see, and for those with discerning eyes I shall be exposed as less than a perfect speller.

Oh, the shame of it all.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little melodramatic, or as The Amplified Bible might put it, “Okay [fine, all right], maybe [possibly, perhaps] I’m [merely] being a little [more] melodramatic [than usual].”

I will try to see the bigger picture. So I misspelled a word. Big deal.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and I must bring this post to a close.

Before you leave, though, please pick Door #1 . . . . . Door #2 . . . . . or Door #3.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

From the archives: Thanksgiving Day

Norman Rockwell said it much better with paint than I can with words, but the familiar words of an old song are my prayer for America today:

Bless This House

Bless this house, O Lord, we pray,
Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out.

Bless the roof and chimneys tall,
Let Thy peace lie over all.
Bless this door that it may prove
Ever open to joy and love.

Bless these windows shining bright,
Letting in God’s heavenly light.
Bless the hearth ablazing there,
With smoke ascending like a prayer.

Bless the folk who dwell within,
Keep us pure and free from sin.
Bless us all that we may be
Fit, O Lord, to dwell with Thee,
Bless us all that one day we
May dwell, O Lord, with Thee.

(copyright 1927 by May H. Brahe & Helen Taylor)

[This post was first published in November 2008 and again last year. The only change I would make is to say that the words of the song are my prayer for families all over the world, not just in America. --RWP]

Monday, November 22, 2010

Orchids

(click on photo to enlarge)

But not just any orchids.

Phalaenopsis.

A dozen of them. On our dining room table.

My version of the most famous quatrain from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám would go like this:

“A Dozen Orchids underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
Ah, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”

because a Dozen Orchids will beat a Book of Verses every time.

The plant with white flowers that are speckled with purple was a gift from a friend who came to dinner about 14 months ago. The plant with purple flowers I purchased myself about three months ago from our local Kroger supermarket’s florist section to help make Mrs. RWP an even happier camper.

I apologize for the quality of the image. It was made with my cell phone, sent to my daughter’s cell phone, and returned to my computer in an e-mail message. Such are the measures one must take when one (a) doesn’t own a digital camera or a scanner and (b) refuses to pay money to the cell phone company for broadband.

Wikipedia says there are over 26,000 species of orchids. The only ones I know are Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium, Cymbidium, and those enormous ones all the girls used to wear to the proms.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jethro, you may qualify for a government grant.

So said the e-mail I received the other day. Fortunately, my ISP (Internet Service Provider) kindly and accurately put it into my spam folder, but still...

There it was, plain as day: Jethro, you may qualify for a grant.

Here’s the rest of the message:

“How can you take advantage of your own tax dollars?
Apply for a government grant!
Each year thousands of people just like you receive grant money from the government.
Federal grants can be used for:

* Individuals, housing, healthcare
* Education for minorities
* Small businesses, Non-profits, and more!

Why not see if you qualify? Apply now!
Apply for a government grant today!”

There is a Jethro residing at my address. He has lived here for nearly five years now.

The only problem is, this is Jethro:


I believe the operative word in that offer is may...

Mr. Internet Peddler, Jethro appreciates it, really he does, but please take your wares elsewhere! If I'm not mistaken, there’s a black Labrador down the road from me who has a few tax dollars to spare.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Comparing apples and oranges

In two recent columns at the online edition of the Daily Mail, John Humphrys wrote about two seemingly unrelated topics:
(1) conditions in today’s China and (2) the appalling way English teenagers speak their language.

The second article says the young folk are not using their “full linguistic potential.”

I think they’ll be just fine. Eventually they will grow up and become contributing members of society. Not all of them, of course, but enough. Happens every generation.

But the phrase “not using their full linguistic potential” could be put to better use in the other article to describe the plight of the 1.3 billion persons living in the People’s Republic of China, where there is a decided lack of true freedom of speech despite their own protestations to the contrary. Things have greatly improved, they insist.

Great gains have been made in recent years, granted, but the authoritarian Communist rulers remain firmly in control.

For example, this world-famous photograph from 1989 is still banned in China, as is any mention of the events that occurred in and around Tiananmen Square, Beijing.


All things considered, English teenagers have things pretty good. Our Chinese friends, not so much.

[Editor's note: I created this post about a week ago, before the recent riots by young people in London and before the release of Aung San Suu Kyi after seven years of house arrest in Myanmar, but those events just underscore what I'm saying, I think. -- RWP]

Monday, November 15, 2010

X'32', X'45', what’s a few years among friends?

Last Friday, Mrs. RWP and I were invited to lunch at Greenwood’s, a great restaurant located in an old house in Roswell, next door to a restaurant/bar/live music venue called The Swallow in the Hollow, which is just down the street from a city hall that makes the town look as though it could be the capital of a small country. I’m not kidding. Out in front of Greenwood’s, along the street, were multitudinous strawberry pots filled with blossoming flowers and odoriferous garlic plants (next one to use the words multitudinous and odoriferous in the same blogpost wins a years supply of tompoezen or Jaffa cake, take your pick). In the entrance courtyard I spotted a bust of Elvis. A small lizard ran up a brick wall, pausing halfway. We are a strange bunch in Georgia, but it simply can’t be helped. I blame it on the fact that the Yankees won The War.

An old friend and former manager, Jim R., was in town on his yearly trip back east from his retirement home along the Pacific Ocean in northern California. Another old friend and former manager, Linda S., had gathered a small group together for a small celebration.

It turned out great. Tim R. was there, who was 24 when he came to our group and is now 48, and Larry A. and his wife Diane, along with Mrs. RWP and me. A few years back, Larry was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis but appears to be doing well. Another friend, Pat T., wasn’t able to attend because of a long-scheduled dental appointment that simply couldn’t be put off.

Mrs. RWP and I both had shrimp and grits, a dish that makes people in other parts of the world and even other parts of our own country go “Eeeewwwww!” but is really quite tasty. Then we shared a huge slice of coconut cream pie. Don’t make a face at the combination; some of the others at the table had catfish and blackeyed-peas and blackberry pie.

I told you we were a strange bunch.

We reminisced about old times and old friends for nearly three hours at our table in the back room. We laughed and laughed. In the end, Jim R. paid for the whole shebang even though we all protested, and he said we must get together again next year.

About this post’s title, when I turned 50 I was presented at the office with a cake that was decorated to look like an open grave in a cemetery. The epitaph on the headstone said R.I.P., X'32' (50 in decimal is 32 in hexadecimal, a base-16 numbering system that computer professionals understand; 16 times 3 equals 48, plus 2 more make 50. Get it?). Now I am X'45' (I bet you can figure it out for yourself). In case you were wondering, the hexadecimal digits are
0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, and F.

I joined that group of what is now called IT professionals in 1980, three weeks before I turned 39 (X'27'). Some had been together in Western Electric Company (WECo for short) since the mid-sixties, and most of the group stayed intact through thick and thin, expansions and contractions, divestitures (thank you, AT&T), spinoffs (thank you, Lucent Technologies), and outsourcings (thank you, IBM Global Services) until retirement caught up with us all.

I repeat, what’s a few years among friends?

Unforgettable, that’s what.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater

November is Jacaranda time in Brisbane, Australia. Check it out.

November is also Jacaranda time in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia. Check it out.

(The two links above take you to the blog of a woman named Helsie who lives in Australia.)

And November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Check it out.

In November 1966, my dad underwent exploratory abdominal surgery and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It had already metastasized. On March 3, 1967, he succumbed to the disease.

Over forty years later, the statistics have not improved, according to actor Patrick Swayze’s widow. She said on Good Morning, America this week that the life expectancy of someone after having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is three to six months. Patrick, who had the disease, lived for 22 months after diagnosis because he was an extraordinary human being.

Here’s hoping that an emphasis on wearing purple ribbons each November will result in the same sort of attention and funding increase for pancreatic cancer research that an emphasis on wearing pink ribbons each October has done for funding for breast cancer research.

I’m going to do my part.

I apologize if the title of this post offends you. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but it was one way of getting your attention. The more I think about it, though, it describes the monster that is pancreatic cancer very well. And I bet you’ll never think about purple in quite the same way ever again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Separated at birth?

Actor Woody Harrelson:

Casey Cagle, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Georgia:

Monday, November 8, 2010

What we have here is a fail-yah to communicate.

[start semi-rant mode]

We have just come through the American election of 2010.

The liberals think the conservatives don’t get the message. The conservatives think the liberals don’t get the message. The president thinks the American people don’t get the message. The American people think the president doesn’t get the message. The Democrats think the Republicans don’t get the message. The Republicans think the Democrats don’t get the message. The Libertarians and Tea Party members think no one else gets the message. Everyone thinks he or she is right. It’s the other person, obviously, who is wrong.

Clearly, in the words of Strother Martin in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, what we have here is a fail-yah to communicate.

President Obama now says (in an interview aired on November 7, 2010, on the CBS-TV program 60 Minutes) that he doesn’t plan to change his agenda but will attempt to communicate better because people failed to understand his message. My own opinion is that people now understand his message very clearly. Perhaps they didn’t two years ago, but now they do, based not on what he has said but on what he has done. And a very clear majority of the American voting public have firmly rejected it (except in a few apparently very liberal places where people like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer and Barney Frank managed, astoundingly, to get themselves re-elected). The president, however, seems to care more about what people in other countries think than what the majority of Americans think. We are expected to follow like sheep and accept whatever he has decided is best for us.

I have an announcement, folks: The American system doesn’t work that way. In fact, it works just the other way; he is supposed to do what the American voters want. In what used to be America (that is, according to the U.S. Constitution), the people were in charge. Abraham Lincoln probably phrased it best as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” (and just so you know, Abraham Lincoln was not a Democrat; he was the first Republican president.) But right now President Obama does not appear very Abraham Lincolnesque. Instead, he seems to be Strother Martin and the rest of us have become Paul Newman.


Denial, my friends, is not a river in Egypt.

[end semi-rant mode]

If you are a U.S. citizen, whether you agree or disagree with me, I’d love to hear from you. But for this one post, if you are not a U.S. citizen, please follow Archie Bunker’s advice to his wife, Edith, and stifle yourself.

However, if you want to move here and become a citizen of the United States and vote in our elections, I say, in the words of Edith Bunker herself: “I welcome you with open arms.”

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mrs. RWP tried something new for Halloween...


She made a pumpkin cake! Well, actually she didn’t. She made a chocolate cake that looks like a pumpkin, which is different. Isn’t it? A pumpkin cake would be made out of pumpkin. Wouldn’t it?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away...

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, my nearly 70 years, my almost 840 months, my over 25,000 days of living on this planet of ours, I was a poll worker at an election precinct. I was not, as alleged by my daughter-in-law’s mother, a poll dancer. It’s a play on words, get it? Poll dancer/pole dancer? I think she was joking. I pray to God (with apologies to Snowbrush) that she was joking.

To become a poll worker, all I had to do was fill out an application back in August, submit it to our county’s Board of Elections, be accepted, be assigned to one of the county’s 44 precincts, and attend a half-day of training at the county office building in October. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to the precinct in which I vote, so I didn’t have far to drive on election day.

It turned out to be a long day. I had set my alarm for 4:50 a.m. because 6:00 a.m. was the time we had been told to arrive at the precinct. However, I awoke awaked awakened woke up opened my eyes at 3:15 a.m. and never shut them again. Shortly after 6:00 a.m., we raised our right hands and swore or affirmed certain things and went right to work following the laminated procedures so that the polls could open at 7:00 a.m. for the voters waiting in line. And all over Georgia, in 159 counties and over 2900 precincts, other people were doing the same things. In all 50 states, lots of other people were doing the same things.

Nearly 1150 persons voted in our precinct on Tuesday, and I knew only about 25 of them personally. The rest were complete strangers to me. The county provided us with various 21st-century electronic devices (scanners, computer data bases, touch screens) to help us carry out our assigned tasks. By “us” I mean two groups, the seven persons who were assigned to our precinct and all of the poll workers in all of the other precincts. During the day I had the pleasure of helping four new U.S. citizens who hailed from Brazil, Australia, Ireland, and Vietnam vote in an American election.

The polls closed at 7:00 p.m. and our work ended around 8:00 p.m., 14 hours after we had raised our right hands and 17 hours after I had started my day. I drove home and slept the sleep of the just.

It was a wonderful day. It was a memorable day. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I plan to. For once, I had served my community instead of expecting my community to serve me. Some of us are old enough to remember having heard President John F. Kennedy say something about that at the end of his inaugural address in 1961.

Don’t tell anybody, but I actually felt like dancing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

When October goes...

Barry Manilow has never been my favorite singer, and I have heard him when he was in better voice, but there’s something about this particular clip that reaches way down inside me and turns me inside out.

When October Goes (4:50)

I get the almost-a-cliché metaphor about a person’s lifespan (“Oh, it’s a long, long time from May to December, and the days grow short when you reach September” and so forth), and the leaves have turned red and gold and many of them have already fallen, and flocks of geese are in the air making their way south, and my mother died in the month of October in 1957, so this time of year always makes me a bit melancholy, but still...Barry Manilow?

There’s a little quiver in his voice -- and, yes, it may even be fabricated for effect -- but when he sings this song he somehow seems on the verge of losing his composure altogether. Maybe that’s what I’m responding to viscerally, I don’t know, the fact that we’re all in this thing together and we’re all putting on some sort of act and we’re all always dangerously close to losing control and letting everybody see how we really feel, and we certainly wouldn’t want to let that happen. Would we?

But still...

Barry Manilow?

Or it could be that it’s the day before the American elections.