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Monday, August 28, 2017

Word of Mouth: Blah, blah, blah.

*Thanks to Norman Rockwell

Word of mouth takes many forms... with gossip being the most ugly, not counting lies, and pithy quotes the most interesting, not counting good news.

"So," I'd say to Alex Trebek, "I'll take quotes, for $1,000 please." (See, a pithy quote.)

I love quotes because noted sayings can often bring reflection, common sense, perspective and whimsy... sometimes doing all of these at once. I also note this person Anonymous is oft quoted.
He/she must  be very wise. Oh, as you may guess, I like the funny ones best.

Here are some favorites:

  • "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits." --Unknown
  • "Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped." --Groucho Marx
  • "In 1932, lame duck President Herbert Hoover was so desperate to remain in the White Hose that he dressed up as Eleanor Roosevelt. When FDR discovered the hoax in 1936, the two men decided to stay together for the sake of the children." --Johnny Carson
  • "I'd rather be black than gay because when you're black you don't have to tell your mother." --Charles Pierce
  • "The only time a woman succeeds in changing a man is when he's a baby." --Natalie Wood
  • "I'm no different than anybbody else with two arms, two legs and forty-two hundred hits." --Pete Rose
  • "You know it's not a good wax museum when there are wicks coming out of peoples' heads." --Rick Reynolds
  • "There will be a rain dance Friday night, weather permitting." --George Carlin
  • "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." --Albert Einstein
  • "Roses are red, Violets are bluish, If it weren't for Christmas, We'd all be Jewish." --Benny Hill
  • "The old neighborhood has changed. Hurley Brothers Funeral Home is now called Death 'n' Things." --Elmore Leonard
OK, time for a coffee break, but be back here in 10 minutes. Ready for another format?

Always remember, you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.Margaret Mead

We are all here on earth to help others; what the others are here for I don't know. W.H. Auden

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. Mark Twain

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. Isaac Asimov

Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm schitzophrenic and so am I. Oscar Levant

I never said most of the things I said. Yogi Berra

Go to heaven for the climate, go to hell for the company. Mark Twain

A day without sunshine is like, you know, night. Steve Martin

Al Franken AKA Jack Handy
Let's finish with Jack Handy because he's worth it:
  • To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other.
  • Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.
  • I hope life isn't a big joke, because I don't get it.
PS: There really is a Jack Handy who writes these. 

See, I told you they were fun. 

Last, this serious quote is a Lutheran blessing that resonates beyond prayer, no matter your belief: "May the Lord give you the grace never to sell yourself short, the grace to risk something for something good, the grace to remember the world is much too dangerous for anything but truth and much too small for anything but love. And now may God take your minds and think through them. May God take your lips and speak through them and may God take your hearts and set them on fire. Amen."

*Norman Rockwell was the one of the most admired illustrators who is best known for his 47 years of covers for the now defunct (1967) Saturday Evening Post weekly magazine. His many illustrations can be enjoyed if you Google his name.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

Perhaps Edgar Allan Poe's most noted and quoted works is "The Raven"... a fascinating poem.

Poe started writing short stories in his early teen years and one of them won a writing contest and was published in a literary journal of the day. He gained notoriety as his subsequent works were well received. But it was this poem, " The Raven," published two years before his death in 1845, that captured the attention of a broader audience and made him a household name. It is a compelling read most noted for its musicality, stylized language and supernatural atmosphere.

Poe's biography is worth more words than I care to write but it is a most interesting story ( synopsied here ) on the web page of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia. It is filled sadness, love lost, a brief military career ending at West Point, poverty, heartbreak, death, regeneration, twists and turns that, in itself, would make a tale suitable to his work. His subsequent marriage to a 14-year-old, her death and then his at age 40 could be the making for a Steven King novella.

He is acknowledged as the father of the detective story for his "Murders in the Rue Morgue," resolved by deductive reasoning--a novel approach of the day subsequently adapted by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his Sherlock Holmes tales and the many, many authors we enjoy.

But he is better known to his followers as The Master of Macabre for his short stories and poems in that genre. Raise your hand if you were one who didn't sleep easy after a good Poe read.

His bibliography lists The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher among his works.

I started writing this blog post on interesting quotes but using "The Raven" as my lead quickly compelled me to search Poe deeper and reread some of the classics that I had forgotten.


The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Friday, August 11, 2017

I met a woman named Yvonne recently and asked her where she got her name. The answer brought this bizare, long-forgotten story to light again.

Yvonne is not a 'today' name so I asked, "Were you named after Yvonne De Carlo," an attractive mid-20th century  movie star with acting roles that ranged from "The Ten Commandments" to credits with John Wayne, Bob Hope and as Lily Munster in the popular old TV show, "The Munsters."

"No," she said. "I was named after Yvonne Dionne of the Dionne quintuplets." (Ah, now I know how old you are.)

And that's what I'm talking about here. (Remember, this was before 'Octomom' Nadya Suleman who gave birth to six boys and two girls with the help of in vitro fertilization in 2009 and others who have used this fertility process to make the birth of quints almost a sidebar today.)

Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie Dionne

 Notice how happy these young quints look? That's because, they aren't. The Dionne quints were born in Ontario, Canada in 1934, near the peak of The Great Depression, and a world so thirsting for any good news that was available.

The quints were the first to have survived from infancy to adulthood and became instant celebrities. Their remarkable births (of that day) and the years to follow pushed them into unnatural circumstances that shaped their lives.  They were dubbed, "The most famous babies on earth," and became the next thing to "circus freaks" on the world stage.

Four months after their birth, the quints were made wards of the King (Quebec, remember) by virtue of the Dionne Quintuplets Guardian Act of 1934 enacted just for them, as you might guess. What followed allowed the government and those around the girls to exploit them for profit. It provided tourist revenues in the millions of dollars rivaling even Niagara Falls.

Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie were put on exhibition and used as a tourist attraction for Quebec. Think I'm exaggerating?

"The province of Ontario swooped in and took them from their parents," reported the New York Times, "declaring that they had to be protected from exploitation. Then it exhibited the children three times a day in a human zoo called Quintland, to be raised as a sort of science experiment. Three million visitors came in the 1030s"

Quintland offers a most fascinating and complete story. This site is a must it if you are curious of what happened from there.

The Dionne sisters were constantly tested, studied and examined with records being taken of everything, notes Wikipedia. While living at the compound, they had a somewhat rigid lifestyle. They were not required to participate in chores and were privately tutored in the same build where they lived. 

Cared for primarily by nurses, they had limited exposure to the world outside the boundaries of the compound, except for the daily rounds of tourists, who, the sisters' say, were generally heard but not seen. They also had occasional contact with their parents and siblings. 

Every morning they dressed together in a big bathroom, had doses of orange juice and cod-liver oil, and then went to have their hair curled. They then said a prayer, a gong was sounded and they ate breakfast in the dining room. After 30-minutes, they had to clear the table. They then played in the sun room for 30-minutes, took a 15-minute break and at 9 o'clock had their morning inspection with Dr. Dafoe. 

Every month they had a different timetable of activities. They bathed every day before dinner and put on their pajamas. Dinner was served at precisely 6 pm. They then went into the quiet play room to say their evening prayers. 

Each girl had a color and a symbol to mark whatever was hers. Annette's color was red and her design, a maple leaf. Cecile had green and a turkey. Emilie had white and a tulip. Marie's was blue and a teddy bear.  Yvonne's was pink and a bluebird.

There is one story of exploitation that the girls were all dressed in Girl  Scout uniforms for a photo shoot and press release, then the uniforms were taken away and never part of their lives. They were on exhibition at fairs and gatherings where their presence could draw a crowd. They were the subject of songs and together, made several movies.

Not all of their recollections are dire but their circumstances controlled their early years and treatment more as commodities than young girls. They were moved from normal to not in a mother's heartbeat.

The girls were finally returned to their family at age nine and 9-year old normal was not really normal at all.

Today, only 83-year-old Annette and Cecile survive. They were recently interviewed for the first time publicly.  This is their story looking back with heavy hearts and seeking little.

"I want all the problems and wars to pass away," Annette said of their birth house, which the city plans to move to a fairgrounds nearby without any mention of its heritage. "It should become a symbol of peace and happiness, respect."

Cecile added, "Especially respect."  

Reader hint: The two links in this post open to a very interesting story of the miracle of birth turned into the tragedy of being a "freak."

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How to get rich on someone else's money... and how to get poor on your own.

Years ago when my job took me to New York City regularly, I would often ride the subways and read the advertising banners posted along the top of the cars. There was an ad for a court stenographer like this one promising "f u cn rd ths... " you could really "mk mo $" if you just learned to misspell words correctly. Well, I was cursed with a good grasp of spelling so I was out of luck. But my desire to have more money stuck with me, a young father with a growing family. It isn't that easy to find extra cash, as we all know... or is it?

A gold mine
In the seat cushions of America's couches, there is estimate to be as much as $100 million in spare change. So after a fervent search of my couches, I am well on my way with $3.17. (I'm a big tipper.). Yes, I know it is probably my money, but it feels like pure profit.

Actually, it does seem a little absurd, but if you figure there are 350 million people in the United States, then even counting for
families an the homeless, there are easily 100 million couches. And if the average change lost per couch is say one doller--5 dimes, a quarter, two nickles and  15 pennies--there's your $100 million! But there are, no doubt many more couches and old chairs out there. And some, like mine, are gold mines.

Well, how easy is that? All I need now is more seat cushions. Now that's how you get rich!

Our gold mine gone!

A confession: Before we were that smart, we sold our old couches and chair to this lovely couple for $100. Yes, it was a concession but they really needed these and didn't look like they could afford much more. HOWEVER, they are now probably very rich with all the couch money that we just said good-bye to. Silly us.

OK, here's how you get/stay poor:

We recently had to replace our refrigerator and dishwasher. And because we were swept away in an appliance-buying frenzy, we also replaced our double oven and we SAVED more than $3,000. (Am I missing something here?)

Anyhow, my clever wife had, over time, put aside almost $4,000 anticipating this need to purchase. Believe me, she had to look under many couch cushions to find that much. (See how easy it is!) To pay off the balance, we took advantage of a 12-month, no interest payment plan.

Our first invoice--showing the total amount before our down payment--stated that if we chose, we could pay as little as $100/month for 23 years. How simple is that?

Then there was a chart showing that if we chose the minimum payment, we would actually wind up, including interest, of paying $23,254. And that is just to pay off $6,645.18 at 26.24% interest! So, if you are not good at math like I am, we actually saved the original $3,000,,, PLUS the interest charges of $16,608.82 or $19,608.82 in total savings!

Hmm, looks like we are rich. I just didn't think of it that way. Our check, I'm sure, is already in the mail.

But sadly, paying the minimum is a terrible burden to those have to. It's called "Death of 1,000 cuts" OR "Death by paying $100/month for 276 months, at which time your appliances are 23 years old and themselves, dead."

It's no secret that the rich get richer easily and the poor, well they can just as easily get poorer,  simply by living. And we wonder why lottery tickets sell so well in those parts of town.

Wisdom from the ages: 

"Money is not the only answer but it makes a difference" Barack Obama

"A fool and his money are soon elected" Will Rogers

"A rich man is nothing more than a poor man with money." W.C. Fields